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Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

tomatometer

72

Average Rating: 6.9/10
Reviews Counted: 254
Fresh: 184 | Rotten: 70

Some may find its dark tone and slender narrative off-putting, but Spike Jonze's heartfelt adaptation of the classic children's book is as beautiful as it is uncompromising.

62

Average Rating: 6.4/10
Critic Reviews: 50
Fresh: 31 | Rotten: 19

Some may find its dark tone and slender narrative off-putting, but Spike Jonze's heartfelt adaptation of the classic children's book is as beautiful as it is uncompromising.

audience

57

liked it
Average Rating: 3.3/5
User Ratings: 297,071

My Rating

Movie Info

Visionary director Spike Jonze brings Maurice Sendak's beloved children's book to the big screen with the help of hipster icon Dave Eggers, who teamed with Jonze to pen the adapted screenplay. A mixture of real actors, computer animation, and live puppeteering, Where the Wild Things Are follows the adventures of a young boy named Max (Max Records) as he enters the world of the Wild Things, a race of strange and enormous creatures who gradually turn the young boy into their king. ~ Jason

Mar 2, 2010

$77.2M

Warner Bros. Pictures - Official Site External Icon

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Latest News on Where the Wild Things Are

May 8, 2012:
Maurice Sendak: 1928-2012
Celebrate the award-winning author's career by watching Spike Jonze's documentary about his life.
December 11, 2009:
The Effects of Where the Wild Things Are
Spike Jonze's eagerly-anticipated adaptation of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are was...

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All Critics (256) | Top Critics (50) | Fresh (184) | Rotten (70) | DVD (6)

'Where the Wild Things Are' stands out for its unusually potent evocation of the timbre of childhood imagining, with its combination of the outré and the banal, grand schemes jumbled up with delicate feelings and the urge to smash things up.

December 11, 2009 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

[Jonze has] achieved with the cinematic medium what Sendak did with words and pictures: He's grasped something true and terrifying about love at its most unconditional and voracious.

October 16, 2009
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Wild Things, you do not make my heart sing.

October 16, 2009 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail | Comments (11)
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Intellectually interesting, visually arresting and filled with invention, there's just one crucial thing Where the Wild Things Are is missing: wildness.

October 16, 2009 Full Review Source: Detroit News | Comments (5)
Detroit News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Spike Jonze, we salute you.

October 16, 2009 Full Review Source: Denver Post | Comments (3)
Denver Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Director Spike Jonze gets that Max's subsequent journey to the far-off island of the wild things is nothing less than an odyssey into his mind.

October 16, 2009 | Comment (1)
Dallas Morning News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Unnecessarily gloomy and emotionally convoluted, Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers' script for Where the Wild Things Are is a melancholy adaptation of the one-two punch that is the heavily illustrated, scantly written book by Maurice Sendak.

March 5, 2014 Full Review Source: Stop Smiling
Stop Smiling

Does leave a lingering impression--but more due to the nagging feeling that it never quite connects than to Jonze actually meeting his grandiose thematic ambitions.

January 27, 2014 Full Review Source: TheMovieReport.com
TheMovieReport.com

Spike Jonze adapted a book with less than 200 words into a 90-minute feature and it's simply wonderful.

August 28, 2013 Full Review Source: Gordon and the Whale
Gordon and the Whale

What Spike Jonze is doing is trying something completely new, messing with the idea of what exactly a movie is, what a narrator is, what a filmmaker is, really, and doing it with a beloved franchise and a $80 million budget.

June 22, 2013 Full Review Source: Deadspin
Deadspin

Jonze has created a world in which even "wild things" can be full of personality and fun to be around.

September 24, 2012 Full Review Source: Examiner.com
Examiner.com

Stretches to spectacular, big-screen proportions the soaring, roaring fancy of Maurice Sendak's classic 1963 bedtime tale.

September 29, 2011 Full Review Source: American Profile
American Profile

It's kind of astonishing when something this odd slips through the cracks of the Hollywood mainstream.

April 4, 2011 Full Review Source: Movies.com
Movies.com

If you want something light and fluffy to take the kids to see, you're better off looking elsewhere.

February 3, 2011 Full Review Source: What Culture
What Culture

It's almost as if they were afraid to redefine the book, and left things as free-floating and ambiguous as possible. ... it's all meandering, abstract non-story that isn't helped by the muddy color palette

January 31, 2011 Full Review Source: Las Vegas CityLife | Comment (1)

This is not a coming-of-age film. It's an end-of-innocence film. And that makes every moment, be it funny or sad, so beautiful and so heartbreaking at the same time. You'll want to hug it and hold onto it, as if it were your childhood sailing away.

October 27, 2010 Full Review Source: Quickflix
Quickflix

If you ever laughed uncontrollably while engaged in a childhood snowball fight, built intricate forts out of your grandmother's afghan blankets, or made up the rules to complex playground games, in the middle of the game, then this film is for you.

July 4, 2010 Full Review Source: DCist | Comment (1)

A beautiful and languid testament to the importance of remembering how powerful our childhoods really were.

April 15, 2010 Full Review Source: Fan The Fire | Comments (2)
Fan The Fire

Never having read the book, it must be better than this.

April 7, 2010 Full Review Source: MovieCrypt.com | Comments (11)
MovieCrypt.com

For me, it was a hard, uphill climb just to say I'd reached the top.

February 25, 2010 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis | Comment (1)
Movie Metropolis

Sendak sums up the joy and miracle of creative passion, even as he acknowledges dreaded mortality lurking in the existential shadows.

February 16, 2010 Full Review Source: NewsBlaze | Comment (1)
NewsBlaze

Where the Wild Things Are imaginatively evokes the childhood fears and wonders experienced when trying to make sense of the world.

January 31, 2010 Full Review Source: Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema
Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema

Uma espécie de "Anticristo" Jr., o filme abraça o universo psicológico de seu protagonista como estrutura narrativa, levando o espectador para uma viagem por vezes perturbadora - mas sempre tocante - à psique de Max.

January 15, 2010 Full Review Source: Cinema em Cena | Comment (1)
Cinema em Cena

The conversations and interactions [Jonze] orchestrates, whether real, imaginary, spoken with an inner voice, or cried aloud, are delivered with the unmistakable rhythm and in the grandiose rubber and glue terminology of children.

January 6, 2010 Full Review Source: Bangitout.com | Comments (2)
Bangitout.com

Bring the Prozac . . .

December 29, 2009 | Comments (11)
fantastiqueZINE

It's a divisive and sometimes difficult film, but if you let it into your heart, you'll end up grateful.

December 22, 2009 Full Review Source: SFX Magazine
SFX Magazine

Audience Reviews for Where the Wild Things Are

There's always a certain amount of trepidation when a filmmaker gets their hands on a book that you loved as a child. Even if we overlook the general risk that the whole project may become a cynical Hollywood cash-grab, the director's vision may be so different to your childhood imaginings that it ends up tarnishing the original experience, perhaps permanently.

We find ourselves in precisely this predicament with Where The Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak's 1963 book has become a classic in children's literature, beloved for generations and in various stages of development hell since the early-1980s. Spike Jonze is a director with a glowing reputation, but a seven-year gap between features isn't immediately reassuring. Fortunately, the results are very good, and while the film is by no means perfect, it remains a touching and compelling work.

There has been a fair amount of debate as to whether Where The Wild Things Are can be called a children's film. Certainly its marketing didn't position it as such: its trailers played more on the indie cred of Jonze, highlighting the soundtrack work by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and using a re-recorded version of Arcade Fire's big hit 'Wake Up', which doesn't appear in the film.

This is a touchy subject given that Sendak's book has become so iconic: surely any successful adaptation must be considered a children's film? Additionally, I've railed against many so-called children's films which are blatantly not for children - films like Ratatouille and much of Dreamworks' output, which are films aimed at an adult audience disguised as children's animations. But what becomes quickly apparent is that Jonze didn't want to make a typical children's film - not by a long shot.

Instead, Jonze wanted to make a film about what it felt like to be a child - a film not just for children in a demographic sense, but about children in a behavioural sense. He wanted to capture the burgeoning, pre-pubescent energy of Max, exploring how his rage and frustration manifests itself as the Wild Things and how he comes to grow in realising how hard is it to govern one's personified rage. Certainly there's nothing about the film that could be called cutesy or sanitised, which comes as a relief given Disney's involvement in the early stages of development.

The next issue that any adaptation would have to confront is the story. Where The Wild Things Are is barely 10 sentences long, and sure enough there isn't a great deal of plot in the film. In a more extravagant fantasy vehicle, such as the ongoing Hobbit trilogy, the paucity of story would either be stretched out with ancillary material or serve as a jumping-off point to take things in a new direction. But again, Jonze does it differently: he completely acknowledges the limits of the source novel, delivering a film which is more about mood than story.

The visual tone of Where The Wild Things Are is one of whistful melancholy, into which the great pockets of childish energy can invade. The colour palette is rooted in earthy, wooden browns, pale yellows and the greys of faded stuffed toys, giving the world of the Wild Things an instant feeling of age and mystery. Lance Acord, who has worked with Jonze since Being John Malkovich, emphasises the scale of the Wild Things and their isolation; they tower over Max in the close-ups, but otherwise the landscape towers over them.

In creating this whistful tone, Jonze succeeds in both rooting the angst of Max and conveying the way in which time passes for a child of his age. Young children do not have the same grasp of efficient narrative storytelling that we embrace as adults; in their fantasies they often feel like they've been away for years, even if they can't describe everything they did in that time. Jonze beautifully captures the feeling present in the book that Max's adventure is like a half-remembered dream - and, as a bonus, works around the fact that not very much happens.

The film also deserves credit for the realisation of the Wild Things. Having toyed with various CG options between the early-1980s and mid-2000s, the creatures were eventually brought to life through the Jim Henson Workshop. Despite being partially created with animatronics, they have none of the creakiness or jerky movements that we associate with this form of puppeteering. And while some CGI was involved to sync up the dialogue with the characters' lip movements, they still have an amazing and distinctive physicality, without which the film would simply be a failure.

This brings us on naturally to the cast, who are generally very good. James Gandolfini is the stand-out among the voice actors, bringing a lot of anger to the part of Carol but also conveying the age of the Wild Things. Catherine Keener doesn't get a great deal of screen time, but she does convey the sense of frustration that sets the story in motion. As for the lead, Max Roberts takes a little while to bed into the role, but his performances is naturalistic enough to be convincing in the end.

The other great success of Where The Wild Things Are is its subtlety. The book has often been interpreted as a Freudian text, in which the Wild Things are different manifestations of Max's anger. The lazy thing to do in these circumstances would have been to divide up Max's personality traits and deal them out to the Wild Things, so that each one would represent something at the expense of proper characterisation. Instead, Jonze leaves it open to us to decide the different Wild Things' significance, letting us be as imaginative as Max is.

There are a couple of small problems with Where The Wild Things Are. In spite of consciously addressing the lack of plot and the choice of pacing, the film still feels slow or baggy in places. For everything that I've talked about, and all the successes in Jonze's approach, there remains a nagging feeling that more could have been done with the characters, which would in turn have justified the cinematic scale.

Another smaller problem is the sound mixing. While the musical soundtrack fits pretty well with the action on screen, at times it is difficult to discern what the Wild Things are saying, particularly during their first encounter with Max. This becomes less of a problem as the film goes on and the acting becomes more boisterous, but it prevents us from getting in the zone with the characters sooner, which may put younger viewers off.

Where The Wild Things Are is a very interesting achievement which will go down as one of the most intriguing and original children's adaptations in recent memory. While not everything about the story or its execution is entirely satisfying, Jonze deserves a lot of credit for capturing the mood and tone of Sendak's story, and for his realisation of the titular creatures. Whether as a playful exploration of a child's imagination or a complex Freudian journey, it is something that remain with you for a very long time.
May 21, 2014
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Often moody and somber, Spike Jonze's 'Where the Wild Things Are' is strangely an emotionally hefty film. The pathos created is unexpected, but captures the tone of the film well. I've never seen a film so vividly encompass the emotional roller coaster we call childhood. A great soundtrack and amazing imagery definitely work in the movie's favor. A solid film, but it ends on a note that really isn't too upbeat, which is surprising for a film about a children's book. Jonze has definitely captured the soul of childhood, but the real question is whether or not he can capture his audience.
December 6, 2012
Kase Vollebregt

Super Reviewer

Its a great Spike Jonze film! The music by Karen O. gives a playful tone for one of the most imaginative films of 2009. Even though the film wraps itself in catharsis behavior which leads to dark scenes for a PG film, there is a heartwarming feeling of nostalgia left at the end of this wonderful piece of cinema.
September 18, 2012
paul o.
paul oh

Super Reviewer

[img]http://images.rottentomatoes.com/images/user/icons/icon14.gif[/img]

I didn't enjoy Where The Wild Things are the first time I saw it, probably because it was so unexpected. I've watched it since and im proud to say that I did enjoy it the second time round. Its far from perfect but it's perfection for telling a story that isn't coming of age but the end of one's innocence.
April 2, 2012
Directors Cat
Directors Cat

Super Reviewer

    1. KW: Step on my head.
    2. Carol: No. Forget it. I'm not going to step on your head...just to make you feel better.
    – Submitted by Rex John A (8 months ago)
    1. KW: Don't go. I'll eat you up, love you so.
    – Submitted by Shen S (15 months ago)
    1. Douglas: Will you keep out all the sadness?
    2. Max: I have a sadness shield that keeps out all the sadness, and it's big enough for all of us.
    – Submitted by Typhon Q (2 years ago)
    1. Carol: I don't apologize to owls. Owls are stupid.
    – Submitted by Chris P (3 years ago)
    1. Judith: Happiness isn't always the best way to be happy.
    – Submitted by Chris P (3 years ago)
View all quotes (5)

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