Not Just Child's Play in Where the Wild Things Are
- Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2009 16 Oct
DVD Release Date: March 2, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: October 16, 2009
Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Adaptation
Run Time: 101 min.
Director: Spike Jonze
Actors: Max Records, Pepita Emmerichs, Catherine Keener, Steve Mouzakis, Mark Ruffalo, James Gandolfini (voice), Chris Cooper (voice), Catherine O' Hara (voice)
Clocking in at a mere 338 words, Maurice Sendak's beloved children's book Where the Wild Things Are easily proves the "less is more" adage that a truly powerful story can be told without going on and on and on.
When that aforementioned book, classic or not, is optioned for big-screen treatment, well, it's going to take a substantial effort, namely a smart screenplay, to make a truly memorable transition.
I'm guessing this is something that director Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) anticipated, too, so with Sendak's blessing, Jonze eventually recruited acclaimed novelist Dave Eggers, who co-wrote Away We Go, another sparse indie pic that also frequently favored style over story development.
Even with two talented writers onboard and a mostly faithful rendering of this seminal coming-of-age story, Where the Wild Things Are is ultimately big on imagination and arresting visuals but seriously slight of script. Truth be told, not much actually happens, which isn't exactly the best use of 101 minutes. Or enough to satiate most people's need for the plot to keep moving.
Unlike, say, the recent adaptation of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs where the source material's themes and takeaway value were creatively stretched to feature film length, Where the Wild Things Are starts off promising and quickly peters out after the first 30 minutes.
In fact, if you're thinking this is a flick for the whole family to enjoy, you'll probably want to think again. Not only is the mostly melancholy movie a decidedly adult look into a child's world, but Jonze's more abstract, artsy storytelling approach won't likely impress anyone under the age of 14.
But for anyone willing to look past the film's flimsy, wafer-thin storyline, there are still plenty of cinematic treasures in Where the Wild Things Are nonetheless.
While it definitely has the independent movie spirit, right down to the use of humans in giant monsters' costumes a la The Muppet Show rather than opting for fancy CGI trickery, the filmmakers make up for a lack of bells and whistles with an intricate, gorgeously crafted landscape.
Adding further artistic embellishment and a sense of drama is a delightfully whimsical soundtrack featuring Jonze's ex-girlfriend, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O. Rather than simply steering the proverbial ship from an emotional standpoint, the music effectively captures every conflicted mood without invading any of the characters' space in the process.
And considering that many movies' soundtracks feel like nothing more than a vehicle for encouraging everyone watching to download the songs to his/her iPods once the credits have rolled, this is a true accomplishment.
Also making the flick potentially worth the price of admission is the skillful, unpretentious performance of the lead character Max (Max Records). As a lonely, misunderstood kid who runs off one day (to where the wild things are, natch) when he no longer feels loved by his mom (an engaging Catherine Keener) with a new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo in what's essentially a cameo), Max isn't just another cute, precocious child actor. Instead, he's real and relatable, full of rage and playfulness just like any other kid on the planet.
With fantastic acting, thrilling visuals and the occasional wild escape to the forest with the furry, lovable and sometimes scary monsters in tow, this time-honored story is brought to exquisite, vivid life. However, given the slow pacing and severe lack of action, there's a good chance that some adults will probably enjoy the journey more than the kids will.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Max's mom and her date drink wine.
- Language/Profanity: "Hell" is used once.
- Sex/Nudity: None.
- Violence: There are a few scary moments and action scenes in the woods with the "wild things."
- Tone: Although this is a much-beloved children's book, the slow pacing and melancholy feel make it more appropriate for adults than kids.
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.
For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.