I am thoroughly charmed. Spike Jonze’s lovely, honest, elegant without being egregiously arty adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic picture book explores emotions on the level of a child’s imagination and an animal’s instincts. Its combination of nature and fantasy is as gnomic and elusive as Andy Goldsworthy’s stick-shell-and-stone sculptures. The movie seems simultaneously homemade and otherworldly.
The film essentially captures a child’s problems of incorporating himself into a scary yet fragile world—a galaxy with a dying sun and overwhelming egos, towering adults with their weird combinations of sexual yearning, physical exhaustion, and lonely affection, and the cruelty of feeling and exuberance. Perhaps no film has so affectingly captured the way a child's sense of self blossoms through something close to confabulation—and perhaps no film has so accurately depicted the clash of values between childhood and adulthood (previously, only Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits has come even close).
Special kudos to the effectively naturalistic special effects by a host of technicians combining puppetry and CGE, the voice-work of James Gandolfini as the monstrous Carol, and the musical score of Karen O and Carter Burwell. The screenplay by director Jonze and Dave Eggers, adapting a book consisting of only ten sentences, is a work of wonder.