Starring: James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Chris Cooper, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Forest Witaker
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Rated: PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language
Movie Released: 2009
From the first time the trailer for Where The Wild Things Are came onto movie screens around me, I heard people shriek. “Oh my god, they got the FONT right…it’s so awesome!” That’s right, I had a group of people that were discussing a font, and not the actual movie. Now, personally all the talk of fonts makes me geek out a bit. After all, as a journalism student in my earlier days, I once took a class that devoted half a semester to the study and formation of fonts. Secondly, as one of the few fans of the light-hearted romantic comedy, America’s Sweethearts, my thoughts were swept away thinking of Hal Wideman (Christopher Walken) sending the studio the opening credits of his film and asking, “Do you like the font? I can also do it in blue.” In all my years of watching movies and being surrounded by people who love movies, this is the first time I have ever heard a font geek-out moment. And to the credit of the makers of Where the Wild Things Are, they did get the font right in this live action adaptation of the beloved children’s book.
The film tells the story of a little boy named Max, whom is constantly ignored by his siblings and even his parents. One night, after being a very bad little boy while playing make believe in his “wolf suit” his mother sends him to his room. Trapped alone in his room, Max travels to an imaginary land of the wild things where a group of over sized monsters make him their king. But as Max and the wild things both learn, sometimes being one big happy family is harder than anyone can imagine.
What is so weird about this film is the way director, Spike Jonze, made this film to be a cross between two genres that normally don’t mix. In many ways the film has the look and feel of an “indie” or “art” film, however follows a tale that is a beloved children’s book. Somehow, Jonze was able to craft the two together to get a “art-house worthy kid flick.” This is both a good and bad move for the film. In many ways, Where The Wild Things Are breaks the mold of the standard children’s tale. While it still keeps many of the elements of a flick aimed at younger audiences, it visually dares to be different. Because of its dare to be different the film is a breath of fresh air. However, the direction this film took also has its setbacks. Because of the slower moving pace and “different” feel of the film, I don’t think it was a film that would keep the attention of a younger child for the entire run time.
Where the film does succeed is by bringing to life Maurice Sendak’s “Wild Things.” Through the use of over sized animitronics, Jonze finds a way to bring to life the colorful characters that covered the pages of the classic kids book. In many ways, the creatures looked so life like, and yet so imaginary at the same time. It was amazing to see the delicate balance between the two work so well. Lending a hand to the success of the wild things was the voice talents of James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Catherine O’Hara and Forrest Witaker. Each of the voices seemed familiar, yet worked well with the characters they were portraying, although it was hard to hear “Tony Soprano” as a large talking beast with an anger management problem.
Where this film goes wrong is in the storyline. Jonze took a book that is 48 pages long and has only 338 words and tried to adapt it to a full length feature film. Since Sendak’s book was low on the word count (and you can’t only have a 1 hour wild rumpus), Jonze and friends create complex characters. Carol (played by James Gandolfini) in many ways mirrors young Max in the real world. Someone who has a creative imagination, is starved for attention and is quick to lose his temper. On the other hand, Alexander also shares traits with Max- attention starved and ignored. Max must learn in the land of the wild things that anger controls your life if you let it. He must learn that it takes hard work from all involved to be part of a family. He also learns that sometimes you can’t always be right and have to compromise with others. However, this heavy themed film may go right over most kid’s heads. After all, Sendak’s original book was aimed for the ages of 4-8 year olds and the film is very obviously geared towards an older crowd.
Oddly enough for a “family” film, the flick is very depressing in many facets. There film is heavy on the anger issues, physical “cartoon” violence, and deals with issues like abandonment and depression. The film even sort of ends on somewhat of a “downer” note. Mixed in amongst these themes are some great one liners and some classic memorable scenes. But the problem is these memorable scenes are too few and far stretched.
I have a hard time saying that Where The Wild Things Are, is a family film. It’s obviously geared toward a “older” family. Young kids are going to have a very hard time sitting still through this film as it is slow moving and filled with a lot of dialogue. Older crowds may find enjoyment in the visual nature of the film but wonder how their beloved book got made into this film. When it comes right down to it, I have a very hard time recommending this film despite finding tidbits of enjoyment in it. In many ways, I think you and your family and friends are better off reading the book, or finding a way of starting your own “wild rumpus” rather than watching this flick.
I did however want to point out that one of my favorite things was a special feature on the film’s dvd. There is a section titled “The absurd difficulty of filming a dog barking and running at the same time.” The segments title tells it all. It’s a 5 minute segment of Jonze and friends trying to film a 5 second clip of a dog running and barking at the same time. Turns out it’s harder to do than you think!