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Where the Wild Things Are


Stars: Max Records, Catherine Keener. Voices: James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dano, Lauren Ambrose

Director: Spike Jonze

There's a very specific (and perhaps limited) audience for this film: very young children, and all those who've enjoyed the best-selling picture book by Maurice Sendak. The story centres on a hyper-energetic, somewhat out-of-control nine-year-old, Max (played a truly annoying, ever-grinning kid called Max Records), who's the despair of his single mom (Keener).

Angered over the destruction of his snow-built igloo by his sister's teenage friends, Max explodes one night, and, dressed in his wolf costume, runs off into the dark. Finding the coast, and a boat, he battles through storm-battered seas and ends up on an island where he meets the Wild Things, great galumping creatures who punch holes in trees, destroy their own homes and sleep in a heap.

Most of them have horns and are vaguely ox-like, but there's also a sort-of-goat, a bird who looks like Sam the Eagle from The Muppets, and a vaguely humanoid giant with a huge nose. When Max spins one of his stories about defeating Vikings, they proclaim him king. But Max soon finds the leader, Carol (voiced by Gandolfini), who initially befriends and champions him, is quick to turn against him when Max suggests something he doesn't like.

Carol, of course, is a metaphor for Max himself, but it's hard to tell what level the film thinks it's on. This was never my favourite Sendak book (that would be The Bee-Man of Orn), and this version of the story tries to meld cuteness, smartness and moral lessons into a pretty resistible whole. And combining animation with actors in big furry suits doesn't help to draw one into an already unreal world.

Another star name, Mark Ruffalo, appears in a almost wordless cameo as mom's boyfriend. One assumes that most of this role must have ended up on the cutting-room floor.

David Quinlan

USA 2009. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Technicolor.
101 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 06 Dec 2009