Film captures ‘wild’ ride of being young

Film captures wild ride of being young

After years of false starts, delays and threats of reshoots, the film version of “Where the Wild Things Are” has finally made it to a theater near you. The wild and wooly translation of the popular book was well worth the wait.

For a story about a hyper kid with an overactive imagination, “Being John Malkovich” director Spike Jonze seems like an adult version of the book’s hero Max. Bursting with energy and creativity, he builds the world and inhabits it with wonderful players like the main actor, 12-year-old Max Records.

Jonze and novelist Dave Eggers were also tasked with stretching a short children’s book into a feature-length film. In the process, they create a backstory for Max’s antics with a single mother with a new boyfriend, an uncaring sister and some school bullies. James Gandolfini, that frightening teddy bear and mob father from “The Sopranos” is perfect for the warm but temperamental Wild Thing/father figure for Max. With Gandolfini giving such a bravura voice performance, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker and Catherine O’Hara kind of fade into the beautiful scenery rendered by cinematographer Lance Acord.

The film is surprisingly violent. The first time we see Max, he’s hunting down the family dog with a fork. While it’s all in good fun and the dog doesn’t get hurt, the mischief between Max and the monsters might frighten younger audiences.

It’s wonderful score by Yeah Yeah Yeah’s singer, and Jonze’s ex Karen O is up to the task of following every mood swing. Done with what literally sounds like a choir of children shouting their brains out, it is playful and chaotic, completely matching the tone of the film.

The film has so many contradictions it’s hard to know where to start. It’s not a conventional children’s film, if it can even be considered one. The range of emotions here is something you can’t find even in the most mature Pixar films: joy and sadness to name a few, and the least common in the kiddie flick genre, anger. Some newspaper articles have reported that upon seeing the test marketing results, Warner Bros. didn’t know whether it should just scrap the footage and reshoot the entire thing. With a glowing review of the film by the book’s writer Maurice Sendak, indifference from critics and almost enough money to cover its hundred million dollar budget, it’s a miracle that the studio had enough faith in seeing such a risky picture through to the end.

The film captures what being a 9-year-old is about, warts and all. The urge to belong, to create and destroy pulls kids like Max in one direction one minute and another the next. The film pulls the viewer in all sorts of directions, and by the end of it, you just feel grateful for the ride.