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updated 10/26/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/26/2009 01:00AM

Where the Wild Things Are

Max Records, Catherine Keener, with voices by James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O'Hara | PG |

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ADVENTURE

Most movies based on popular books chop out characters and plot to stay within a reasonable running time. But what to do when a book is just 10 sentences long, as is Where the Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak's classic 1963 kids' tale about Max, a boy who sails off to a land populated by wild beasts who "roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws"? Director Spike Jonze (Adaptation), who cowrote Wild's screenplay with author Dave Eggers, pads wildly to stretch Sendak's story into a 98-minute live-action film. While there's still only a thin tissue of plot, the beasts now all have names and personalities, and Max (Records) is the junior Frank Lloyd Wright of fort building.

This is an art-house movie about childhood, an imagistic tone poem recapturing a time when getting what you wanted when you wanted it was all that mattered. It's wonderfully imaginative, but also a little odd. When the massive, hirsute monsters clomp about and speak of their despair, it's like watching H.R. Pufnstuf as written by Samuel Beckett. Note: Kids under 7 will find it all way too scary.

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