It's An Adult Film About Childhood
Often, when a film is as delayed as Where The Wild Things Are was, it ends up being the sort of film you go to laugh at, not learn from.
But, watching the finished cut, you'll understand exactly why it was pushed back. And it's not quality control.
Because Where The Wild Things Are is a brave and stunning experiment.
It's adapted from one of the most successful kids books of all time, but it's not the kids' movie Warner Brothers would have wanted. It's a movie about being a kid, and it's for cult audiences to adore.
It's not an easy sell. It's not one of those kids' flicks packed with grown-up gags that nod and wink to the parents in the crowd. The inevitable Happy Meal tie-in will feel insincere.
There's no sentiment here, no whimsy. This is as brutal and realistic a depiction of how cruel and confusing childhood can be as we've seen. Kids will enjoy it, sure, but it'll take both hindsight and insight to get the most out of it. It's layered, elegiac, honest, and - dare we say it - intensely profound.
And it stars blokes in big monster costumes, go figure. No wonder the studio suits were baffled.
But emotional complexity isn't the only thing that would've held it back...
It's Genuinely Scary
You'll know by now that Max is threatened by the Wild Things when he first steps into their world. You'll have heard that they want to eat him up.
But what hasn't been properly conveyed is just how genuinely terrifying the scene is. It's as gripping as any horror flick and - in the moments where Max glances at a pile of human bones crackling on a fire - as gruesome.
Subtly nasty dialogue as the monsters approach - "I hope he doesn't have those little chicken bones" - enhances the air of intense menace. Your kids will cry. Sorry about that.
Still, they should see it. If only to learn a thing or two about another key kid emotion. Because, where there's fear...
It's The Best Film About Anger, Ever
If you've walked on eggshells around a friend, family member or partner with anger issues, Where The Wild Things Are will resonate more powerfully than a wolf howling into the Grand Canyon.
When Max's tantrums spiral out of control, he scares himself. When lead creature Carol gets mad, it scares us.
The first time you see lead creature Carol he's in full tantrum mode, and his propensity for violence creates an air of tension that pervades every scene he's in.
Which leads to a unique viewing experience. How many cuddly movie creatures have you seen that could genuinely brutally kill the kid lead at any moment?
It perfectly replicates the queasy feeling of dealing with a person in the midst of a mood swing - you're careful with everything you say, but it doesn't matter, your words can still be twisted into an anger explosion.
When we first heard that Tony Soprano was going to be voicing the main monster, we didn't get it. But having seen it, it's perfect casting. Gandolfini is like a cuddly bear one minute and a terrifying grizzly the next in The Sopranos; his voice conveys that dynamic in Wild Things.
But his isn't the only impressive performance...
Max Records is a revelation in the lead role.
His character's moods change like water on a stormy sea - crashing from kind to cruel, wise to naive and back again, often within the space of short scenes.
His layered performance would trouble most adult stars, but Records, guided by Jonze, is mesmerising to watch.
All of the monsters are metaphors for the varied struggles raging within Max - struggles we see him silently experience through slight shifts in his facial expressions.
If Records isn't up for Best Actor at the Oscars next year, we'll have our own temper tantrum.
And it's a turn made all the more impressive by the fact that he makes you connect with his character, despite one important issue...
The Lead Isn't Likeable? Good.
Some people might complain that Max Records' Max is a nasty brat - in one key scene he encourages a Wild Thing to toss a clump of mud at his vunerable friend, with a glint of mean glee beaming from both eyes - but the Max of the film is the same brat of the book.
He's the same brat that parents have to tell to stop pulling their sister's hair. He's the same brat that shines a magnifying glass onto an ant colony and giggles as they curl up and fry.
If you're expecting Christopher Robin, you've come to the wrong world.
And Jonze's bravery in making Max as difficult for audiences to deal with as he is for his mother has paid off - this is the most realistic child lead we've ever seen; he's an adorable angel one minute, a cruel terror the next. You love him, and it's an unconditional love.
And he's not the only aspect of the movie you'll fall in love with...
The Music Is Beautiful
Scenesters will have already stolen Karen O's soundtrack from a handful of music blogs, but they're doing themselves a disservice. The best way to hear these songs for the first time is in the context of the film.
Karen O's childlike melodies and simple instrumentation fits perfectly into every frame. Often, the soundtrack sounds like a child humming away to herself. That's a good thing.
O is, again, the perfect choice for this film. Her stage outfits look like she made them at home from stuff she found in her parents' wardrobe, her random primal yelps sound like bear cubs at play and her performance persona occasionally rages wildly out of control. She's the female Max, basically.
You'll be singing the songs when you step out of the cinema, but it'll be more than music that'll get stuck in your head...
It Stays With You
Sometimes, you won't like a movie on the first watch, but you’ll find it grows on you when you see it again. Often, they're the best films.
Where The Wild Things Are is different. We’ve never seen a flick that we loved so much on first watch, and yet our memories of it makes us adore it more and more.
Thinking about it is like picking up an old dusty photograph album packed with pictures of people you love. You’ll be hit by memories of moments that go straight to your emotional core.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself welling up on the tube a week later, when you suddenly recall a particularly moving scene. That’s perfectly normal.
The Locations Are Stunning
George Lucas and James Cameron should have a screen showing Where The Wild Things Are strapped to their faces for the next five years.
On the day they get to take them off, they can pick up a Super-8 camera and forget about all this green screen digital nonsense.
Because this is how you create an alien world. You go out and shoot our world, with imagination and verve. Do it right, and you won’t even need fancy 3D technology. Because it’ll look real.
Dense forests, sparse beaches and rocky mountains, all made magical by monsters. Monsters that you'll probably recognise from other films, from a very specific era...
It's Like An '80s Kids' Movie
Where The Wild Things Are has many influences. Spike mentioned films like 400 Blows and Year Of The Dog when we spoke to him.
But we don't hear Jonze and his mates mention flicks like Labyrinth and The Neverending Story. Maybe they're subconscious influences, but they're there.
Both of those flicks have kids from the real-world stumbling into dangerous fantasy lands mostly populated by muppets; lands where the stakes are high. Very high.
Bastian's facing the end of the world. Sarah's trying to rescue her baby brother Toby from a fate worse than death. And Max is trying to save himself from being eaten. Kids enjoy movies that matter.
And the creatures from all three films could step into each other's worlds without so much as a haircut and fit right in. Though, we wouldn't recommend the Goblin King handing Toby to the Wild Things to babysit. They'd definitely consider him a light snack.
All three films are packed full of heart. And, on the evidence of this film, if anyone has a good heart, it's Spike Jonze. Which leads us nicely to...
It's Spike Jonze's Masterpiece
Being John Malkovich was stunning, but cold. Adaptation was incredibly impressive, but slightly distant.
Together, they’re like a pair of austere parents; you know you love them, but it’s hard to give them a hug.
Well, Where The Wild Things Are is the hip uncle of that family.
He still looks like he’s related to your parents, but the cool music on his iPod, his scruffy beard, the affectionate way he ruffles your hair, and his sense of wide-eyed wonder as he takes you for adventures in your local park makes him your favourite member of the family.
Where The Wild Things Are has all the invention and experimentation of Jonze’s previous films, but with added heart and emotional honesty. It’s his best work. We can’t wait to see it again.