Where the Wild Things Are is a creature feature for grown-ups

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This adaptation (by the guy who directed Adaptation, Spike Jonze) of Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book, has everything going for it … and against it. Lit hipster Dave Eggers wrote the screenplay, and the rumpus-starting monsters are played by real people in giant furry costumes (though some CGI is used to bring them to life). But the book — about a little boy who creates a fantasy land to deal with his fears —isn’t exactly long in detail and narrative. But you’d be surprised what Jonze and crew do with the story in this wonderful film (which nostalgic grown-ups will appreciate more than kids). For one thing, young Max (Max Records) is given a backstory: He’s a product of a broken family living with his loving but harried mom (Catherine Keener). Not so surprisingly, he has abandonment issues. So when his overeager imagination leads him to a forest populated by various sad monsters (voiced by a wheezing James Gandolfini and Forest Whitaker, among others), Max finally feels in control of something and declares himself king. Then Where the Wild Things Are takes off. The movie’s images become dreamlike, almost shrouded in a hazy, protective gauze. Still, the wild things’ personalities manage to poke through. If the film doesn’t quite make the emotional connection you hope for, it certainly comes close several times. And its rampant ambition almost matches it subtle (or not-so-subtle, depending on your perspective) symbolism. Childhood and all of its joys, doubts, responsibilities, fears and, most of all, adventures have rarely looked this fantastic onscreen. *** 1/2

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