Monday, October 19, 2009

REVIEW: 'Where the Wild Things Are'


Where The Wild Things Are is not so much a kids’ film as it is a film for adults about being a kid.

The filmmakers state this clearly by opening with a scene wherein young child protagonist Max chases the family dog around the house with a fork. All adults - and dog owners - should be upset if they witnessed a kid doing this in real life. For this reason among others, I’m not too jazzed about the idea of impressionable kids under the age of eight watching this film. On the other hand, as someone who remembers my own childhood, I would be a liar if I said the portrayal of such dangerous and manic behavior in a young person was not accurate.

Director Spike Jonze and his co-writer Dave Eggers take bold chances like this throughout the film, starting with the casting of Max Records as the lead. More natural and plucky than cute or marketable, Records does a fantastic job of portraying the raging id of a child. He pitches a most realistic fit while giving his mother grief for spending time with her boyfriend instead of admiring the lava-proof fort he built in his room via sheets and bedposts. When she tries to calm Max down, he growls, bites her and runs away into the woods nearby. Alone with nothing to keep him warm but a tattered wolf costume, the boy finds a small dinghy boat, and sails to an island inhabited by a small troupe of wild, ten-foot monsters who call themselves “Things.”

Voiced by James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker and Chris Cooper, critics have described these monsters as being “too scary,” “depressed” and even “whiny.” At times, all of these statements are true, but more than that, these monsters represent Max’s inner turmoil and childish character flaws that will cause him many problems as an adult if he doesn’t start to wise up by the end of the film. His biggest flaw of all is represented by head Thing, Carol (Gandolfini), who is incredibly selfish as all children can be, and because of his enormous size and strength, is prone to destructive behavior if he feels threatened or ignored. By embodying these flaws in such large creatures, the effects of Max’s real-world behavior is amplified. So much so that he can observe the ramifications of his own behavior and leave the Thigns’ island in the final act with the hope that he is en route to becoming a better person.

On the same note, the film takes a grave misstep by allowing Max to leave the Things – especially Carol – before they achieve the same closure that he does. Perhaps Jonze was simply out of money by this point, but this choice makes the already somber film a little bit sadder than it needed to be. Abandoned, the Things look to Max while howling and on the verge of tears. Sure, they’re probably sad because their new friend must return home, but I was sad as well because they lacked same resolution that Max achieved.

Critics have made a big to-do about how director Jonze and Eggers attempted the impossible when adapting this film from Sendak’s original book. Yes the book was 38 pages with fewer than 350 words, but where Jonze and Eggers earn their kudos is the fact that instead of filling the feature length gap with dirty jokes or pop culture references, their additives consist of unspoken insights into their personal interpretation of Sendak’s brief text. With questions instead of forced answers and bogus sentiment, and many scenes devoted to child’s play instead of screenwriting contrivances and poop-humor, Where the Wild Things Are is a much better adaptation of a short children’s book than the dreadful recent films based on the works of Dr. Suess and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

If it should have been adapted at all, that is.


Blogger Matt Cravey said...

Excellent review of a great film.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Boatwright said...

Him leaving the Things on the island are a symbol of him leaving his childhood. Its painful and it hurts. I dont think a kid like Max or any of us for that matter resolves his problems neatly. There are always things we wished we could have said or done, but time moves forward and we're left with what could have been.

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Samantha K said...

the young actor who took the lead role in this movie did quite an impressive job; I predict that he will be a giant in the movie industry someday

4:27 AM  

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