Where The Wild Things Are

I’ve seen quite a few films lately so I’ll be updating this blog throughout the next week or so. Anyway, here’s the first of about 8 incoming reviews, my thoughts on Where The Wild Things Are.

Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

If there’s anything harder than successfully adapting a book for the big screen, it’s adapting a well-loved children’s book for the big screen. This is because by the time the film version comes out, the children who obsessed over the lovely likkle words and pictures have grown into cantankerous adult bastards who will accuse the director/actors/whoever of “raping their childhood” if even the slightest thing is amiss. Feel sorry then, for Where The Wild Things Are, an attempt to bring the modern children’s classic book to life via technical wizardry. You’ve got to admire the cajones of anyone who takes on the task of stretching a sparsely worded (there are a total of nine sentences in the whole book) children’s masterpiece into a feature length film...

“You’re the king, and look at me -I’m big! How can guys like us worry about a tiny little thing like the Sun, hmm?”

As I mentioned above, the film is based on the Maurice Sendak’s book of the same name. Whilst the film messes about with some of the book’s key bits (the transforming bed and sea monster encounter scenes are not present) the basic story is the same. Max (Max Records) is a badly behaved little squit who argues with his mother (Catherine Keener) and can’t relate to his older sister. After an almighty fight that culminates in him biting his mother, Max runs away to a fantasy land to escape reality. It is here he meets the Wild Things- a group of big, lumbering monsters who like to play rough. The plot is great and surprisingly multi-layered. As with the book, the Wild Things are open to all sorts of psychological interpretations which sets it aparts from your standard kiddie flicks. I thought Max Records (!) was fantastic as the screwed-up kid Max and managed to not annoy me. James Gandolfini was also great as lead Wild Thing Carol, although it was slightly odd hearing Tony Soprano’s voice coming out of this. Paul Dano also makes an uncharacteristic appearance as a whiny bitch, further cementing him as the go-to guy for all your whinging needs, be it in the guise of a monster or not. He’s still good though.

The first thing you’ll notice is how good this film looks and sounds. Director Spike Jonze really put great effort into bringing the essence of Sendak’s pictures into a fully realised film and it shows. Some of the shots are truly beautiful and could have easily appeared in the original book. The decision to score the film with cooler-than-thou indie tracks also works surprisingly well. The Wild Things themselves are great, although on first sight they look scarily like massive Ewoks, however once the film settled down and I stopped shuddering, the combination of costumes, puppetry and CGI that brought Carol and co. to life really started to work.

The film is undeniably sweet at times. The scene where Max and the Wild Things all sleep together in a big, warm pile had me cooing like a concussed grandmother. There’s also something strangely powerful about the simplistic speech the Wild Things communicate in coupled with Max’s childhood innocence. There’s a bit where Wild Thing Douglas (Chris Cooper) asks whether Max will “keep out the sadness” to which Max replies: “I have a sadness shield that keeps out all the sadness, and it’s big enough for all of us.” I don’t know whether I was feeling extra girly that day or what, but I got a lump in my throat from that.

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops though, as there’s an element of darkness to it all that pops up every now and again to combat the syrupy sweet moments. For instance, when Max first encounters the Wild Things he quickly glances a pile of human bones strewn on the woodland floor. There’s also a scene where Max tells a chronically depressing vampire story about rejection and abandonment to his mother. These may not sound like much, but these little touches add the necessary shadow to this well-rounded film.

“Who threw Richard?”

I’ve come to the conclusion that Where The Wild Things Are isn’t a kids’ film. Its nowhere near bombastic enough to keep your average ADD ankle-biter entertained. The visuals and the lack of the Baha Men on the soundtrack would also suggest a more mature target audience. It won’t be for everyone though, as the film does drag in places and uses some cheap emotional tricks to try and get the poncier members of the audience to shed a few tears, but I was quite charmed by it all. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot of heart and a surprising amount of brains.

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