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Spike Jonze?s subversive ?Where The Wild Things Are? is a complex meditation on childhood anxiety-and better suited for grownups than kids
HOW DOES ONE TURN A 48-page book into a 100-minute feature film? That question is further complicated by the fact that the book in question is the beloved 1963 Maurice Sendak classic, ?Where The Wild Things Are.? It was all up to directorial wild boy Spike Jonze to figure out.

Thus Jonze introduces us to Max (the cherub-faced Max Records), a kid whose insular world is being torn apart by the little earthquakes of his life. When it all comes to a head in a dinnertime dustup, Max is sent to his room but he instead runs away, eventually landing in the land of Wild Things, a strange, shifting place full of mysterious bones as well as the titular monsters and their secrets.

There, Max is named King by the giant creatures, but something is amiss and soon Max finds himself in the middle of unexpected danger and disappointment. ?Will you keep out all the sadness,? asks the Wild Thing named Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini (?The Sopranos?). ?I have a sadness shield that keeps out all the sadness,? Max disingenuously promises. ?And it?s big enough for all of us.?

Free from limitation

Together with novelist Dave Eggers, Jonze writes a screenplay that takes the book and sets it free from limitation and expectation, turning it into the nucleus and then building the universe that is the film around it. The film assumes that what happens in the book (which actually makes an appearance in the movie?see if you can catch it) is somehow true and ?Wild? grows from there. The result is as breathtaking as it is unpredictable.

Carrying the film is Records, whose impossibly expressive eyes alone could tell stories. His Max is fiercely confused and infects the viewer with his fury and angst at a world that simply won?t let him win. By the time the wolf-suited Max picks up his familiar scepter and dons his crown, the audience can no longer imagine anyone else as Max. But ?Wild? goes only as far as its monsters take it. A startling blend of costume, animatronic and CGI, the Wild Things transcend mere mascots; in Jonze?s hands they?re Muppets gone Emo. Gandolfini is unforgettable as the hopelessly insecure yet desperately hopeful Carol. The other Wild Things boast a similarly formidable voice cast that includes Chris Cooper and Forest Whitaker. The jangly music by Carter Burwell and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Karen O. gives ?Wild? a sense of exuberance that is balanced by the startling and deliberately awkward silences Jonze plants around pivotal scenes.

The real heart of the Wild Rumpus is Jonze?s sweeping vision of Sendak?s tale. The last act of ?Wild? becomes subversive, confidently reinterpreting what the book is trying to say. Equal parts wonder and melancholy, ?Wild? is Jonze?s rich meditation on the anxiety of separation and loss in a child?s changing world. It?s a very scary place. As a result, the movie is truly unsettling and better suited for adults rather than young children. Parents should consider themselves warned.

At one point, Carol describes a fort they?re building: ?It?s going to be a place where only the things you want to happen, would happen.? Jonze?s film is the polar opposite, a portrait of the forces of childhood clashing, of what happens when we don?t get what we want. ?Where The Wild Things Are? is a complex, heartbreaking film that reminds us of all the lost kingdoms where we are king and the fortresses we built stand forever.

Warner Bros.? ?Where The Wild Things Are? will be shown starting Feb. 3 exclusively in Trinoma, Glorietta 4 and Greenbelt 3 cinemas.