King for a Day

Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book Where the Wild Things Are is a cinematic crystallisation of the spirit—and occasional sadness—of being a kid. Sick of being taunted by his teenage sister and her friends, and tired of being told what to do by his mother, Max (played by the awesomely-named Max Records) sails across the sea to a make-believe land inhabited by giant furry manic-depressive monsters.

The film features a terrific array of talent, with a voice cast that includes Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker and Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose, and Catherine Keener in the real-life role of Max’s mother. Some of the darker emotions explored in the film would probably scare kids, making it all the more obvious that Jonze intended the film to be seen mostly by grown-ups. (The film is similar in tone to his brilliant recent short film I’m Here, which can be seen in its entirety at imheremovie.com) Jonze’s regular composer Carter Burwell collaborated with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the soundtrack has a home-spun feel to it that fits perfectly with the film’s visual mood.

While the plot tends to sag a little when there isn’t an immediate set-piece to look forward to, there is a nice symmetry to sections of the dialogue—elements of Max’s home life are replicated, sometimes outside-in and downside-up, on the monsters’ island—and the script faithfully enlarges Sendak’s brief haiku-like book to fill the big screen.

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