Where the Wild Things Are

By | Begun 10/16/2009
Posted in Movies | ,
James Gandolfini and Max Records get acquaintedPhoto: Warner Bros.

It’s magical.  It’s brilliantly executed.  It’s a wondrous trip inside a boy’s imagination and world view.  It completes a divine trilogy with Home Alone and A Christmas Story.

Where the Wild Things Are is one for the ages.

I must admit I’m flabbergasted by some reviewers’ remarks that it “doesn’t quite jell,” is “a parade of negative emotions,” is “uninvolving,” and is likely to leave eight-year-olds in “bewilderment.”

With all due respect… What?!?

If I may be so bold, it “doesn’t jell” because boys’ minds don’t jell; it’s a “parade of negative emotions” because the situations (and not all are negative, by any means) are borne of Max’s profound inner upset; is “uninvolving” and “bewilderment[-inducing]” because perhaps, just perhaps, the worst thing in the world has happened: one has forgotten the imagination natural to childhood. [end rant]

The film is glorious.

Within moments of its beginning, peals of children’s laughter rang across the theater, and as the credits rolled, growls and howls could be heard from as far away as the lobby.  (And not all of them were children’s ~ even a few ushers were involved.)

With author Maurice Sendak serving as one of the producers, Co-writer/Director Spike Jonze and company simply nailed it.

Of obvious concern is how Jonze would expand the story to feature-film length (nightmarish scenarios of doomed Muppets skits spring immediately to mind).  Not to fear, the added content flows forth as seamlessly as had Sendak conceived it himself.

Jonze also contributed surprising juxtapositional elements that at first seemed jarring, then melted perfectly into Max’s unpredictable environment ~ such as individuals’ names being Judith, Douglas, and the like.  Familiar yet initially off-putting, disconcerting but somehow okay… but able to turn sinister and unfamiliar seemingly without provocation (just like Max’s real-world experience). He also captures the syntax of children’s speech and playground dynamics with remarkable accuracy.

And as recognizable as the child’s world is, the actors behind the voices are not.  I love that.  James Gandolfini can’t help but be obvious (much like Reese Witherspoon in Monsters vs. Aliens), but everyone else melts beautifully into their characters.  If you haven’t seen the cast list, I’m not going to spoil it for you here; identify them if you can.  Karen O and Carter Burwell deliver an astonishing score reminiscent of The Shipping News in its own Wild way.

WTWTA places us squarely in the world as experienced inside a child’s mind ~ the world as a child would perceive it, orchestrate it, be intimidated by it, and retreat from it into safer territory (aka a loving parent’s arms).  Simple but turbulent, affectionate but fickle, familiar yet disproportionate.  (Perhaps not so different from the world we grownups inhabit, I suppose.)

What struck me funny as an adult is watching how incredibly rough everyone is, even in quiet moments; at the age when it was  read to me, that’s exactly what I “hated about boys.”  When they shove you down, apparently it’s because they like you.  (My response was always, “Excuse me??” [hands on hips])  Jonze’s depiction resonates completely.  Ah, boys.

So powerful was WTWTA for me that two days later as I perused a business blog I saw in print the name “Alex,” and immediately my mind’s eye referenced the dear Wild Thing.  Not the man being mentioned, but Alex the Wild Thing, completely unbidden and out of context.  That’s profound.

Sendak himself said (I paraphrase), “It gives the story a new life.  It’s its own new story, building on my book without taking anything away from my book.”

What else is there to say?

After you’ve seen the film, if you have HBO try to catch the short “Making of” documentary.  You’ll also enjoy this video featurette.  Wait until after, though!

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