When I first laid eyes on the poster for Where the Wild Things Are, I was immediately turned off. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of watching a movie with a bunch of disturbing looking creatures for an hour and a half. I will admit that before this, I had no idea what this film was about.
Where the Wild Things Are is a children’s picture book that was published in 1963. The book has sold over 19 million copies worldwide and is a favorite amongst many children, teens, and adults. In the book, Max, a young boy who causes trouble one night, is sent to his room without supper. In his room, a forest and sea grow from his imagination and he is welcomed into the land of the Wild Things.
In the movie, Max does what any child would do when they are not getting attention – throw a tantrum. But he takes it a little too far when he jumps on the kitchen table and proceeds to bite his mother. Scared, he runs out of the house into the night, through the woods, and to the ocean where he climbs on a small boat and overcomes a storm to get to the land of the Wild Things.
Where the Wild Things Are seems to be a story of growing up and realizing that no one can love you like your family. You know, like the typical Wizard of Oz “there’s no place like home.” My biggest fault with this plot line is the question of what exactly can be plaguing a boy that is not even ten years old? What does he have to escape from – getting sent to “the corner” or to bed early? Yes, the film has a very nice sequence of Max braving a storm to get to this fantasy land but I prefer the original storyline in the book as it is much more realistic.
The cinematography and direction of the film is very well done. Director Spike Jonze does a great job of capturing the emotion of the film and bringing out the necessary acting skills needed from the lead to portray a young boy struggling to fit in and see he’s loved. (Again, this still baffles me – wait till he hits 16). The comedy relief is a great addition to lighten up the mood of the film. The CGI is overall also very well done – the creatures look as realistic as they can get. But, there are a few moments where I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the very obvious use of green screen.
I have been told that in the book, Max finds a bit of himself in every Wild Thing. If this is true, then it does not come across on film. Yes, he can relate to Claire and one of the other creatures but the rest of them seem to add nothing but comedy and also because there needed to be more creatures. Yes, die hard fans of the book will tell you that it’s all “symbolism” and “meaning” but of course, anything to salvage a precious childhood favorite.
The biggest problem is a lack of a core emotional attachment to the story. A child watching this movie would loose focus and/or not even understand the story, while an adult would clearly understand Max, but not be able to connect with him emotionally. We never truly understand his sudden attachment to creatures that can easily kill him. And while the end of the film is done very well and is applauded, it could have connected better. Yes, the silence speaks many words but also, what parent would allow their 8 year old to run away without calling the cops? “It’s all part of the meaning” I hear. I completely understand and agree – but the meaning would have been much stronger had the mother been broken about her child running out into the night and when he finally returns, leaving the questioning cops and finally turning all of her attention to her son – something he longed for since the start of the film. Again, had it stuck to the original story of it being his imagination in his bedroom, it would have made much more sense. Also, we never see him learn anything from his experiences with the Wild Things…isn’t that the point of the film?
I have not read the book and am writing from my research on it. This is not a bad movie whatsoever. As a matter in-fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Did it have its flaws? Yes. Could it have been done better? Yes. But I had my moments of laughter and points where I understood Max. Some may think I missed the message of the film but I can assure you I have not. The message, in my opinion, is inspiring but as a film, Where the Wild Things Are is too contrived, uneven, and lacking.
Overall Rating: 4/5 = B-
By: Kenni Nwajagu
Contributing Editor for Gossip On This
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