Who's In It: Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano
The Basics: Well you already know that Max sails in a boat to the Wild Things place, subdues them, starts a wild rumpus, threatens to eat them, then leaves and goes home. But that's not much, really. How do you take a book that's got about 10 sentences in it and make it into a movie? Give the kid a backstory, give the monsters names, personalities and complicated emotional issues (there are moments where you think they could have just called it Where The Needy, Passive-Aggressive Things Are), but then detour from the usual formula of turning a kid book into a kid movie and give it to weirdo director Spike Jonze, avoid pandering moves like monsters suddenly doing hip-hop dance moves and making farty gags and sidestep your way around easy emotional catharsis. In other words, you treat your kid audience like they might not be idiots and give them a movie they can love even after they grow up.
What's The Deal: It's kind of astonishing when something this odd slips through the cracks of the Hollywood mainstream. It's perfectly suited for your kids (unless people in big monster costumes freak them out, which probably means they're about five years old; and if you're an attentive parent you should probably already know if your kids are easily scared) but it's also for adults. It takes the original book's open-ended quality and infuses it with a depth that doesn't feel tacked-on. It's rough and raw instead of slick or safe, right down to the art direction. If you're tired of how kid book adaptations usually get it wrong, you can feel safe buying a ticket to this one. It's a beautifully grubby work of art.
Who's Great: Max Records as "Max." First of all his name sounds made-up, so that's cool. And his performance is the kind of natural, unmannered thing that other cuteness-bingeing child actors would do well to emulate. And James Gandolfini, the voice of the most heartbroken and "Max"-like Wild Thing, brings a built-in, Tony Soprano-like element of menace that shows itself even when the puppeteers and CG tech people are creating the saddest of all monster faces.
Stop Harshing On Karen O.: I've been reading a lot of cranky hipster internet comments lately about the weird kid-like songs the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman wrote with composer Carter Burwell. That's what happens when this stuff leaks early and it's out of context. Because yes, you're not going to drive around singing along with these songs on your car stereo. It's clanking, shouty and half-sung--sometimes not well-- by Ms. O. and a gang of backup children. Alongside what's on screen, though, it all works perfectly.