Wild Things a moody mix

By Susan Woods

Taking on an enormous task, Director Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation") has made a fiercely innovative but uneven film based on Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book.

The 40-page book of dark drawings has only 10 sentences of text. With so little to go on, Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers (“Away We Go,” “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”) have little choice but to open up the setting and story. They tell us more about the book’s bad-tempered, solitary hero, Max, hinting at some of the reasons for his bad behavior.

In the book, Max is sent to his room without supper for being a “wild thing.” His imagination fills his bedroom with a mysterious, wild forest and stormy sea. In the movie, Max runs away, finds a small sailboat fashioned after a child’s homemade toy and sails off to the land of the Wild Things. There he scales cliffs to find enormous hairy beasts with famous voices. There’s Carol (James Gandolfini), the bad-tempered leader; Judith (Catherine O’Hara) the bossy miss-know-it-all; Ira (Forest Whitaker), the gentle giant who loves Judith; KW (Lauren Ambrose) an independent girl who is the object of Carol’s affections; the feathered bird Douglas (Chris Cooper) and the goat, Alexander (Paul Dano), who whines so constantly that no one ever hears him. The creatures are fleshed out by actors in 6- to 8-foot-tall costumes, with some additional animatronics and computergenerated faces. The costumes were created by The Jim Henson Co., which was responsible for the Muppets and “Labyrinth” creatures.

Max Records (“The Brothers Bloom”) is amazingly good at showing the rollercoaster emotions of a small boy with a ver y large imagination. His performance is mirrored in the second half of the film by the wild things themselves. Each of them seems to represent an aspect of Max’s character temperamental and destructive, bossy but insecure, hungry for affection and attention, lovable and enabling, never heard, and, finally, independent.

At first the creatures are threatening, but Max stands up to them and becomes their “king,” giving orders to make a fort or bombard each other with dirt bombs. This is where the film becomes uneven. Even though the world of the Wild Things is supremely imaginative, the battles among these beasts become tiresome. When Max gets tired of lording it over the wild things, his return home is a relief.

‘Where the Wild Things Are’

Directed by Spike Jonze. Rated PG. 101 minutes. -  3.5out of 5