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Originally published October 15, 2009 at 3:00 PM | Page modified October 15, 2009 at 5:31 PM

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Movie review

Expect the unexpected when you go 'Where the Wild Things Are'

A review of Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are," which Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald says is not remotely like any children's film coming out of Hollywood these days. It opens in Seattle Oct. 16.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Where the Wild Things Are,' with Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker. Directed by Spike Jonze, from a screenplay by Jonze and Dave Eggers, based on the book by Maurice Sendak. 101 minutes. Rated PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language. Several theaters.

Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are" is about how yelling makes a small person feel big, how a wolf costume makes a skinny kid feel scary, and how a 9-year-old can long for independence and yet still badly want his mom. It's a creative, thoughtful and at times downright odd adaptation of Maurice Sendak's brief, beloved children's book — a story of childhood, as Jonze has repeatedly said, that's not necessarily for children. Some children, I think, will love this film, some will find it frightening, and some will be bored. Adults, likely, will experience it the same way.

All this is to say that "Where the Wild Things Are" is not remotely like any children's film coming out of Hollywood these days: It has little resolution, no goal achieved and no lessons learned, and it looks like a jittery symphony of browns. Its story is simple: Max (Max Records) behaves like a brat and annoys his hardworking mom (Catherine Keener), which leads him to run out of the house in a temper and find his way to an island populated by Wild Things. These lumbering and vaguely scary creatures are drawn to his wildness ("I like the way you destroy stuff," says one), crown him their king, and have vague conversations with him about the world for a while. Eventually, he realizes that he needs to go home.

Count me among those who wasn't sure Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" needed to be stretched out into a movie at all; there's a perfection to its few words and vivid pictures that needs no further amplification. ("His ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around" always gave me a shiver as a kid; nothing Jonze does here comes close.) But there's something genuinely moving about Records' performance, as he careens from anger to vulnerability and back again, and the look that Keener gives him near the end of the film will stay with you for a long time. Jonze's movie seems to be about many things (including a vague environmental message) but in Keener's eyes, we see that it's about parents and children, and, ultimately, about love.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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