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Just let your heart sing

By Raja Sen
January 22, 2010 17:26 IST
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There is nothing as unfettered as a child's imagination. You and I might try to dream up warped universes, but our jaded, mostly overcinematic conjurings are nothing compared to the wondrousness kids can instantly materialise, their imaginations leaping over tall buildings (with a single bound) while ours staidly colour inside the lines.

Where The Wild Things Are is a magical exploration of just such an overactive imagination, a child bolting from a high-pitched tantrum straight into a fictional universe, where he finds friends and helps them along, learning more about himself all the way.

Director Spike Jonze has done incredible work before with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman -- Being John Malkovich, Adaptation -- but this new film is the most flawless of his works, a celebration of the irrepressible spirit of a young boy, not yet ten. The film revels in this indefatigability, and sucks you in early enough to coax out your inner children and let them run wild -- war-whoops mandatory.

Fabulously free-spirited Max Records plays Max, an easily-bored lad too frequently left alone by his mother and older sister, the kind of fellow who seeks succour in stuffed animals and a shaggy wolf costume. One night, after his mother (Catherine Keener) refuses to come to his makebelieve spacecraft -- and instead neglects him to spend time with boyfriend Mark Ruffalo -- an enraged Max yells at her, bites her, and hightails it out of the house, mother in tow.

As the youngster easily outpaces his mom -- a realisation that just makes him gallop faster -- he finds a sailboat, scratches his name on the side (something he does to everything, including the Warner Bros logo preceding the film) and sails off to an island, where the Wild Things are.

The Wild Things are a group of oddball furries who may well have escaped from Fraggle Rock, and they're an intriguing mix of personality types. Standouts among them are Paul Dano, who plays the attention-seeking Alexander, and Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini, who really taps into his vulnerable side. It has been quite a fun year for Gandolfini, the Sopranos actor shining in films like this one and the excellent In The Loop.

An interesting ensemble they may be, but the Wild Things are about to eat Max when the fanciful boy fibs and claims to be a king -- of vikings, no less. The creatures believe and this leads us all into a fascinating story, revealing the plot details of which would be quite a shame.

The film is based on a classic 1963 Maurice Sendak story, but one which is only 350 words long -- significantly shorter than this review. It's a threadbare, lovely novella and it has been loyally and astonishingly been woven into a screenplay by Jonze and novelist Dave Eggers.

And while this is a film children should all be encouraged to watch, it is nuanced and textured and just plain beautiful enough for us all to marvel at. And one that helps us make believe we're that young again.

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Raja Sen in Mumbai