Based on one of the most famous childrenís books of all time, the safe/popular/easy thing for Spike Jonze to do would have been to make a film for children. Instead, he chose to make a film about childhood, for adults. The catalyst who transports us back to our youth is young Max (played with unashamed sensitivity by newcomer Max Records). Max is friendless, restless, and mischievous in his suburban neighborhood. His imagination soars as he spins fantastical tales of vampires, soldiers, and sailors.
He builds his own personal igloo and tries to get everyone to come enjoy it, but his family is either too busy or just plain uninterested. 9-year-olds obviously cannot understand the responsibilities of being an adult (or the social inclinations that come with being a teenager), and this is where Max's frustrations lie.
So once Max finally does hop a sailboat and head off to the imaginary land where the wild things are, it makes sense that these massive beasts (voiced by an amazing cast) evoke the emotions inherent in Max and the people in his life, and eventually, help him to get a better grasp on the real world around him. And thatís one of the more beautiful parts of Spikeís film- the relationship between Max and his emotional, beastly buddies.
Jonze made the extremely wise choice to create the creatures practically. Rather than awkward CGI drones, the creatures are controlled by humans in beautiful, massive costume. The voicework by the likes of James Gandolfini, Catherine OíHara, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker and others is nothing short of remarkable and achieves a depth across the board rarely accomplished in voice work (Jonzeís brilliant recording process, shown in the Special Features, helps show why).
If there are any shortcomings to this film, it may be its failure to appeal to a mass audience. The story does not have a clear conflict or narrative (feels more like a window into Maxís adventures). The monsters, and their complex emotions, may be scary and/or confusing for young children, though their frequent jubilation and constant ruckus, all brilliantly enthralling to behold, will bring a smile (and in the end, maybe a tear) to all ages. The risk here seems worth the potential reward.
Give this film a chance.
Maurice and Spike (3:15) - A nice little heartwarming bit about the working relationship between author Maurice Sendak and auteur Spike Jonze. Needless to say, Sendak approves of Spikeís vision.
Max and Spike (6:37) - Documents the father/son-like relationship between the filmís 9-year-old star and its child-like director.
The Records Family (6:45) - A portrait inside the family of lead actor Max Records, featuring interviews with his father and 4-year-old brother.
Carter Burwell (4:39) - As the title implies, a short featurette on the filmís well-known composer, giving us a cool look inside his process.
The Absurd Difficulty of Filming a Dog Running and Barking at the Same Time (5:32) - Exactly what the title implies, by the end it becomes pretty funny.
The Big Prank (3:23) - ďThe Weird PrankĒ would have been a better title for this. Not quite sure of the motivation behind the Vespa, but, Iíll take it.
Vampire Attack (0:51) - Even weirder then the one before it, this is pretty fun though.
The Kids Take Over the Picture (4:53) - Profiles the many, many children Spike made sure to have around set at all times and all the mischief and fun they got into. I donít think I could love this guy any more than I already do.
HBO First Look (13:15) - The only true making-of feature on this disc (unfortunately), which rehashes footage from several of the other featurettes, but provides some insight into my much hoped for voice-recording sessions.
The Blu-ray also comes with a combo disc that contains both a DVD and Digital Copy of the film.