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Imaginative tale comes to life

Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener and Mark Ruffalo.
Directed: Spike Jonze.
Rated PG (Mild violence and scary scenes).
101 min.

Reviewed by Peter W. Sheehan

THIS film brings to the screen the much loved 1963 book by Maurice Sendak, which tells the story of a little boy called Max (Max Records) in a wolf suit, who gets sent to bed one night without dinner by his mother Connie (Catherine Keener) after she brings her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) home and Max jealously misbehaves.

Max’s imagination takes him to a vast sea where he sets sail to the Land of the Wild Things.

There, he encounters strange and mythical beasts which aren’t living harmoniously together; in fact, they are a neurotic bunch of difficult animals.

The wild things become suspicious of Max and want to eat him, but he eventually convinces them that he has magical powers that will bring them harmony.

The untamed beasts promptly crown him as the “King of the Whole World”, but tension mounts among the beasts as they see Max favouring some of them over others.

One of the creatures, Carol, has anger problems just like Max’s, and is the problem beast of the pack.

Eventually, Max decides to depart, and the wild things sadly escort Max to the boat that brought him to their land.

With the help of the wild things, Max has given vent to his impulses. Love and affection now replace anger and resentment, and he is welcomed at home by his distraught mother.   

This has to be the must-see PG movie of the Christmas season.

The season is inundated with animated movies which are produced efficiently and geared to draw breath as much as to delight.

Set on the rocky coast of Australia, this film has its fair share of computer effects, but it features wonderful, large, furry animals that lend an amazing look of realism to the story, and the film is a delight to watch.

Almost seamlessly, it mixes live adventure, costuming that reflects Sendak’s unique vision and digitalised facial expressions that make the animals more human.

Director Spike Jonze, who worked with Maurice Sendak on the movie, has brought a wonderful imagination to Sendak’s story to reflect the confused world of a problem nine-year-old child.

Jonze’s rich imagination is allowed to roam broadly and free.

The book is just 373 words long, and much has been included necessarily to elaborate and extend the original story for the film, but integrity is maintained.

Parents must decide whether the film is too scary for their children to see. Due for release early in 2008, the movie was pulled back after children at preview screenings said they were frightened by what they saw.

The revised version still has scary scenes, but when scenes such as huge wild beasts’ violent temper tantrums appear on the screen they can have special impact.

Not surprisingly, the beasts are lovable, but the movie is dark and contains threat.

This is an emotional movie with scary moments, and parents should be prepared to deal with the issues it raises.

Laying this proviso aside, the cinematic interpretation of Sendak’s story is superb.

It is quite simply one of the most inventive depictions of a classic fantasy tale yet produced for the screen.

Not everyone will share this judgment, however.

For some, parts of the movie will be seen as too adult in tone, which distracts from the child-like simplicity of the book.

However, Max has to face and solve complex, human problems.

He is terrified by his own behaviour and runs away to a fantasy land, where the conflicts he faces and tries to solve make him a better person.

He leaves his imaginary land, because he knows he has caused hurt to others, and wants to put things right.

That is a moral lesson that makes a real point and the message will not be lost on parents and children alike.
In conveying this message, the movie is deeply affecting.

Max’s journey back home as the would-be king, who failed, isn’t just a return to reality, but represents a child’s step forward to adulthood.   

This is a quality film.

Parents need to be warned about it, but once warned and proper judgement is made, this is the best imaginative movie around. It is a beautiful and disturbing film about childhood, and it is visually stunning.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.


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