Review: Where the Wild Things Are

A visually amazing experience that never quite provides the emotional connection to the childhood memory of Maurice Sendak‘s book.

After about twenty years, an overblown budget, four years of filming and arguments on whether this should be a cartoon or live-action, we have as close to an adaptation of Where the Wilds Things Are as we’re going to get. This was a movie I had to see, tapping into my pre-pubescent life the way a Transformers or G.I. Joe movie can’t.  My inner child says, “Hasbro toys are make believe, the Wild Things are as real as you and me.”

Max Records plays Max.  A little boy who has no friends and a sister that ignores him so his only refuge is his imagination.  Whether in a front yard igloo or a blanket spaceship, Max desperately wants a playmate and can’t understand that his family has other interests.  Whether it’s his mom’s focus on “adult stuff” or his sister’s teenage attitude, he can’t seem to contain his anger and his frustration over a situation he can’t control.

Enter the Wild Things.  A group of huge, big-headed monsters (think Sweetums from the Muppet Show with a better vocabulary) who have the same frustrations and issues as Max.  Max befriends their sorta leader, Carol, and becomes king.  The movie is basically an adventure towards, but not quite to, adulthood as Max sees his own behavior in the form of the Wild Things, helping him deal with his own problems.

I sooooooo wanted to like this movie more.  I honestly can’t think of anything that could have made this a more faithful adaptation of the children’s book.  Director Spike Jonze (Three Kings, Being John Malkovich) was a great choice and his collaboration with the author has resulted in a visually amazing movie.

Notice I keep mentioning how great the movie looked?  And it did.  And the actors were top shelf too – James Galdolfini, Chris Cooper and Catherine O’Hara were fantastic voicing the creatures.   Thanks to their talents and the work of Jim Hensen’s Creature Shop, the monsters quickly become characters, not special effects.  Newcomer Max Records does a great job as Max, the king of Wild Things. (I have got to get a pair of those pajamas.  I’d wear them now.   Yes, I’m 34).  Add Catherine Keener into the mix as the mom and this is a well acted movie.

But it’s not the book.

The problem I had with this movie is that it represented something I had a childhood attachment to that just can’t be replicated.  Anything would have been a let down.  It’s an adult memory of a childhood book put on screen.  Maybe if they’d put more time into establishing the “real” world and Max’s frustration rather than ¾ of the movie in monster land, I would have had more of an emotional connection to the characters.  That wasn’t the case.   The book allowed you to fill in the action with your own imagination and personality.  This movie has none of that magic….as much as I wanted it to have, I’m not five anymore.

3 stars – good movie, take a friend. If nothing else, go for the eye candy.  This is not a children’s movie, it’s a reimagining of a book that provided enough imagination on its own.  “Where the Wild Things Are,” are still in my bed, curled up in my Underroos, while my mom tells me of a story of a lonely boy and his adventures.  A cherished memory of my childhood.

Coming Attractions:
Ninja Assassin – um.  Ninjas.  Go see ninjas.  Especially when they’re assassinating.  The only way this could sound more awesome (or awesomer) is if they were fighting pirates.  Or robots.  My geek meter says, “yes please.”

Randomly Recommended
Let the Right One In (2008)– I had wanted to see this movie for a while and it did not disappoint.  Beautiful, shocking, scary, amazing.  A Swedish vampire movie that is both original and creepy.  Take that emo-Twilight.  (FYI – There’s a recent Esquire article on the Twilight/True Blood phenomenon that stated its popularity was based on the female desire to have a relationship with gay men. Oooooh snap! Discuss!)

Dark Crystal (1982) – I would have gone with Labyrinth here but the singing throws me off.  Sorry Bowie.  This one too is a little dark for the kiddies but it still tells a great story with amazing puppeteering and set design.  It may take some getting use to…a live action movie with no live people, but it’ll grow on you.  Go with it.

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  1. I loved the trailer and was really excited for this movie but found its not a kids movie- in fact a little kid asked to leave the theatre in the middle of it- but its not really a movie for adults either.

  2. A little girl left midway through my movie too. It’s too loud and too intense for little kids. With the book, kids can use their imagination for how scary it is. Unfortunately this movie takes that option away from them.

  3. Responding to the kids leaving the theatre – I think this is a problem that we will continually face with Hollywood’s capitalization on our generations childhood memories and current adult paychecks.

    Case in point – Transformers 2. Although I know that this movie is a complete piece of crap, I will still end up watching it because I loved Transformers. However, I can’t take my nephew because it’s rated 14A. 14A? So we are making movies about toys that only people that don’t play with toys can watch (or should). But hey…it still made a titanic amount of money.

    Responding to the book made into a movie – our own vivid, unlimited imaginations will always outperform the limits of film. Maybe Avatar will make me eat my words, but for now, my expectations will always be lower for film made from print. As long as you accept this, you may enjoy the film more.

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