DIRECTED BY SPIKE JONZE
STARRING: MAX RECORDS, JAMES GANDOLFINI, LAUREN AMBROSE, FOREST WHITAKER, CATHERINE O’HARA, PAUL DANO, CHRIS COOPER with MARK RUFFALO and CATHERINE KEENER
Through the ages, naughty-kid-films have always been about a titular protagonist (as in ‘Home Alone’ or ‘Dennis the Menace’) standing tall amidst the ruins he’s caused, in a mask of innocence. Yes, it’s a mask as ‘Garfield’ was right to point out. Grounding him won’t work, silent treatment would mean testing your own patience than his. Animated characters, on the other hand, have forever been well-behaved when painted pretty, twisted when not. Lightning McQueen came in sparkly red, the worst that Woody’s ever come across is a rip on his sleeve. Even Sully (from Monsters Inc.) was crafted to be loved, in both sound (where he was voiced by the warmth of John Goodman) and image. Randall, on the other hand, boasts of higher care in being made to look repulsive, same as Darla (the girl with the retainer in ‘Finding Nemo’); I won’t even have to tell you about the Vulture Vlad (in ‘Horton Hears a Who’) or ‘Chick Hicks’ (who wins the Piston Cup). ‘Lotso’ the bear could be the only exception.
In ‘Where the Wild things are’, however, we witness a double-breach. Max (Max Records) is not just mischievous; he's ‘out-of-control’. He lives in the igloo of his own wild world, growling at anyone who posed a threat. Intruders shall be spared no mercy. If you are a sister, he’d give you his heart only to break it anyway, with an addition of a sodden carpet that you won’t be able to tread upon for days. If you’re his Mother, he’d insult you in front of your new boyfriend. Plus, he bites. We don’t know if he’s a product of dysfunction. He likes being pampered, but his wild side doesn’t fill in for the absence of it; it’s a parallel existence. It’s an obvious fact, the child-fascination of power and its exhibition, often channelized into heroes and role models. Our Max is raw, though. And ruthless. He wouldn’t want to save the world – he’d rather break it to pieces before the Sun went down, for that would bust all his worries.
If our Hero is bad, we find his ‘wonderland’ to be worse. It’s deserts and destruction; dirt-clods and dreary creatures that reflect his age, rage and mental makeup. Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) has a runny nose and is irritable like he has a cold. Alexander (Paul Dano) is meek and sounds the youngest. The two of them are partial manifests of Max himself. The rest are either objects of his fantasy or a childlike fear that his stupendous ego tries to outrun. Judith (Catherine O’Hara) and K.W. (Lauren Ambrose) could be his versions of ‘the Mother he thinks he has’ and ‘the Mother he wishes he had’. In Douglas (Chris Cooper), we see a Father, a mark of wisdom and unsurpassable levels of tolerance. In Ira (Forest Whitaker), it’s a pompous Uncle who likes to be the butt of a joke merely out of largeness of heart. Again, in his wife (Judith), we find the opposite. It’s just my opinion that he fashions a family out of them all, intimidated by some, inspired by others and influenced primarily by Carol, in whom he sees the part of himself he actively nurtures. His love is aggressive, his hatred bitter. “Don’t go. I’ll eat you up and love you so” is what he wants for a parting comment. A howl is better than the best of tears – his smile, even more. There’s no real evidence that his adventure was an actual trip and not a fantasy; it doesn’t matter either. For all we know, he could have run down an adjacent street and gotten back, scared of the dark. That’s just another story untold.
Maurice Sendak, the author of the picture-book that forms the basis of ‘Where the Wild things are’, oversees its production. The casting is perfect, its actors from all over the spectrum. James Gandolfini in his nasal tone is Carol personified, with a voice that whines even when terrifying. Lauren Ambrose adds serenity to her K.W, a character that endears by itself even otherwise. It’s the same with Ira, although he’s an added reflection of all that’s warm and friendly about Forest Whitaker. Catherine O’Hara, who played a reproachful mother in ‘Home Alone’ is back to nagging – no one can nag better than her! Paul Dano is distinctively young among the lot, like how Chris Cooper is specifically more serene. I try to take the place of the author for a second, watching his characters in the hands of his actors who know what they’re doing, in turn directed by a man who’s as crazy as he was when he wrote the book. Everyone is active in their efforts to lift their character to originality instead of playing an active stereotype. “Max is Max!” as Catherine Keener was so accurate to point out in an interview. The film in itself is organic – there’s nothing fictitious about it. It’s a real, human fantasy of a child who’s scared back into happiness after seeing what sadness and misery could do to a ‘wild thing’ like him. An essential nightmare that’s depicted to perfection.
I’m not in a position to decide upon the suitability of the film for its younger audiences. They might not understand, they might even get bored for there’s nothing ‘lively’ about the film save for a soundtrack that’s so good-natured that it’s fun. I’m sure, however, that they’d learn two things. One: It’s not cool to be destructive. Two: love or the expression of it is nothing to be ashamed of. To the parent, it’s an opportunity to cherish their little brat even more in an invitation to a world away from everything that’s calculative about adult life. The film works best, though, for those who still haven’t outlived the wildness in them, for they’d come out beating their chests, roaring and howling like their little Hero.
Quite like how I did. What about you?