Where the Wild Things Are (Warner Bros., PG)

film_wild-things_sm.gifThe book has a smaller word count than this review, but its story and themes are monster-sized, so it balloons nicely into a feature film.




Where the Wild Things Are is a great movie. But how great is it? To be honest, I can’t tell; my brain is still too fogged by the years and years I’ve been waiting for it. The story of the making of the film is almost legendary at this point. One of our generation’s most imaginative directors (Spike Jonze, of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation fame) and one of our generation’s best writers (Dave Eggers, of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What is the What and Zeitoun fame) adapt one of the most beloved children’s books of the century for the big screen, and when the (almost) finished film surfaces, the studio that financed it (Warner Bros.) balks at how dark it is, and threatens to either butcher it or not release it at all. Uh, have they read the book that it is based on?

After seeing that magical trailer (Arcade Fire! Big, costumed wild things with wet noses! Flying through the air!), my own excitement for the movie, along with most of the rest of the world’s, was at fever pitch. Besides, I love that the studio thought that the film was "too dark"; that sounds like it was made just for me! And now, after having seen the film, I can attest that it is very dark, much more so than I think a lot of people will be expecting, and I love the film for it. Again, if this tone seems wrong to you, go back and re-read the book.

The book, of course, has a smaller word count than this review, but its story and themes are monster-sized, so it balloons nicely into a feature film, especially in Jonze and Eggers’ more than capable hands. At the film’s start, we find Max (relative newcomer Max Records, quite a find) running around causing trouble, just like a real boy. He terrorizes the dog (in a brilliant pre-title card scene), he builds an igloo in the front yard, he nails his sister and her friends with snowballs. Max is kind of out of control, and it isn’t long before he gets in trouble for it. Instead of taking his punishment like a good boy, he disappears off to the land of the wild things, where giant, friendly monster-ish things reign, and Max appoints himself their king. Max and the wild things have a lot of fun together, and Max learns his lesson, without the means of traditional punishment, about why it is important for him to behave. And in the meantime, there’s lots of talk of eating people, killing people, cutting people’s brains out, etc., that is sure to make the no-fun parents in the audience squirm.

And while this type of thing is rather unusual for what is being marketed as a children’s film, that’s really only because we as a society have gotten so lame and safe over the past decade or two. Don’t you remember The Wizard of Oz? That’s a pretty damned scary kid’s movie. Or maybe a more apt comparison is Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth, which shares a lot of the same themes, to say nothing of each film’s costumes by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. (I always thought Ludo would make a good wild thing…)

Like I said, though, while I feel confident that Where the Wild Things Are is a great film, I won’t really be comfortable saying exactly how great it is until I’ve had the time to sit on it a while, maybe watch it another time or two, and see how well it holds up. Seeing the finished film is not much more magical than seeing the trailer for the first time, but that’s an unfair standard to judge the film by, as seeing the trailer for the first time was a revelation. And that’s how I can feel confident saying that the film is great: Any film that can instill an unmatched sense of wonder in me by merely screening a couple minutes of its footage can’t be all bad. | Pete Timmermann

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