Where The Wild Things Are Review (3.5 of 5)

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Director Spike Jonze’ take on Maurice Sendak’s children’s book Where The Wild Things Are’ is a visually stunning movie that lacks in story.  Jonez, along with cinematographer Lance Acord (and the rest of the art crew), have put to film one of the best looking films I’ve seen since Tarsem Singh’s ‘The Fall’. Acord last teamed with Jonze (I believe) on Adaptation (one of my favorite movies). They work well together it seems.

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I don’t think anyone could have done a better job capturing the look of Sendak’s art and translating it to the big screen. I think the Kroft people will be inspired to revive H.R. Pufnstf after seeing the ‘Wild Things’ come to life.

wildthingsLandscape2The FX team should be commended for the nearly seamless combination of the live action monster suits and the CGI monster expressions. The only time I was aware that FX were being provided were the times when the ‘Wild Things’ performed some leaps and falls. The creatures looked strangely right at home whether they were in the forest, the desert landscapes, or the beaches.

This really looked like a big screen movie. There are so many films made that completely lack any kind of visual imagination. But sometimes when so MUCH emphasis is put on the artistic aesthetics they forget about the story or storytelling.  That’s not completely true with this movie, but it is partially true.

In a way, this was sort of an Elementary School Holy Grail Quest.

In a way, this was sort of an Elementary School Holy Grail Quest.

Sendak’s book was fairly simple about a little boy named Max (dressed as a wolf) ‘makes mischief’ of several sorts. His  mother calls him ‘wild thing’ and sends him to bed without supper for throwing a tantrum. But a  jungle grows in his bedroom and he sails away in a boat, finding an island inhabited by other ‘Wild Things (theses of the monster variety’. He is crowned their king and parties with them until he gets lonely and decides to go home.. When he gets home, supper’s waiting on him (and it’s still warm). That’s it. The whole story.

The screenplay was written by Jonez along with Dave Eggers. It is a competently written, and elaborates on the source material. For the most part, the pages of the book are expanded upon and make for startling imagary. The short sailboat sequence was spectacular.

The ‘Wild Rumpus’ was a little silly, but it was right out of the book. The main thing from the source material that I felt the filmmakers should have used and didn’t was Max’s bedroom becoming the jungle. I think that would have made for another very neat visual, but they chose to spend their FX money elsewhere I suppose.

Even said this in the movie...

Even said this in the movie…

Another thing going for the screenplay was that it captures the mild psychological aspect of the original story and expands on it with some effectiveness. Whereas in the book the imaginary wild things were a reflection of Max’s mischievous side; in the movie they become stand-ins for the people in his life, mainly his mother and his absent father. This will go right over the heads of most kids. It’s an adult take on a childhood imagination. But kids will still like the big lovable looking monsters.

MaxCarolPiggybackThe main problem I had with the story was that there wasn’t much to it. They stuck to the basic gist of the original story in which not a whole lot happened. There is a severe deficiency of ‘conflict’ other than the self-reflective sort which is what Max is doing through his imaginary monster friends. There isn’t really a villain. There are many lulls of excess exposition; sequences where the monsters are nothing more than ‘talking heads’ standing around looking at one another. There were just too many of those moments where nothing was happening. Spike Jonze style is kind of aloof and to this point it seems if he doesn’t have the right material to work from, his stories tend to bog down and meander aimlessly. Maybe some editing  would have helped the pacing. There were times when there were ‘punchlines’ provided that would have been more effective if the audience hadn’t been lulled to sleep with long periods of  inaction.

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There was one entertaining scene that involved a dirt clod fight. There should have been more dirt clod fights. It wasn’t  really advancing the story, but it was entertaining. The character of Richard made for a couple quick gags. I won’t tell you who Richard is.

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The other main drawback I had with the movie was that all of the Wild Things weren’t really that wild at all. In the book, they seemed to be having a good time. In this they were all sour, depressed or angry. For once I can say the animated characters in a live action movie weren’t animated enough. Carol is the Wild Thing leader until Max show up and is crowned their king. Meant to be the fiery one as the father figure stand-in, he was less than mercurial (voiced by James Gandolfini who plays every role with the same Tony Soprano accent… Isn’t he an actor?).

Carol

Carol

Judith voiced by the affable Catherine O’Hara is sour. Ira voiced by Forest Whitaker, sounds depressed. Douglas is soft spoken and melancholy. The Bull (who has one line voiced by Michael Berry Jr.) is bashful and sounds depressed when he finally speaks.

The director talking the volatile actor back down...

The director talking the volatile actor back down…

Don’t let me leave out Alexander. There’s a word for him, but I won’t use it here. I’ll substitute the words Prima Donna. Wouldn’t want to work with that guy. His character was also (surprise) downtrodden and oppressed/depressed. A kids’ movie with GIANT MONSTERS and a kid running around in a white wolf costume shouldn’t take itself quite so seriously.

The actor having a self described 'moment'.

The actor having a self described ‘moment’.

The voice work for the wild things  left something to be desired. I think there were decent actors cast (Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, etc..), but the voices didn’t seem to fit the characters to me, with maybe an exception for Cooper as the chicken-like beastie Douglas. The voice still didn’t fit the look of the character, but it fit his personality. When I say that tyhey didn’t fit, the only way I can explain that is by example: Vin Diesel’s voice was perfect for The Iron Giant, the same way George Sanders’ voice fit Shere Khan the tiger in the Jungle Book, or Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies. There was no ‘acting’ in this, really. Just the actors doing their normal voices.

Max as Max.

Max as Max.

The human characters in the story were all played adequately. Max, the main character is played by the appropriately named Max Records. He appears to have done all of the things the director asked of him. It wasn’t the greatest child actor performance ever, but he certainly wasn’t Manakin Skywalker, either. He delivered some funny lines and did a decent job for having to help carry a feature film.

Records And Keener having a Holywood moment.

Records and Keener having a Hollywood moment.

Catherine Keener was adequately motherly as the single Mom, and Mark Ruffalo makes a brief appearance as ‘Mom’s boyfriend’. With the exception of Max, the human characters were onscreen probably about 15% of the film.

MaxCarolPrspctLandscape

With all that said, kids will probably find this a little slow and adults won’t get enough to hold their interest. Again, no real villain (and lack of conflict) to me has been the ultimate downfall of a lot of ‘kids’ movies’ of late, such as Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emproium.

Jonze with Sendak...

Jonze with Sendak… (along with Paul Dano in foreground).

I recently saw the short promo of ‘Wild Things’ that featured a conversation with Sendak, the book’s creator, along with Spike Jonze. Sendak mentioned how it was not well received by ‘critics’. However… After it got into libraries, they found that it was always checked out. Always! Apparently, kids didn’t feel the same way as the critics. I can verify that. I remember in elementary school (grades kindergarten to fifth), I  wanted to check out that particular book. I was a book fiend as a kid and regularly checked out the 3 book limit. Where The Wild Things Are had very appealing art to me. I wouldn’t have put it in these terms as a kid, but Sendak art style has  a sense of fun to it.I couldn’t have told you why I liked it, just that I liked it. I loved monsters and visual stories (comics) and had enough inherent interest in art that I would decide to make it a career at some point in my life. But, in the ENTIRE 6 years that I attended Elementary School I was unable to check out this particular book (along with a few Dr. Seuss books). THE ENTIRE SIX YEARS. Please excuse the short digression.

Where the Wild Things Are

On final analysis, I think I liked this movie, but felt it could have been very easily improved. This was not GI Joe. Instead of cheap and flashy FX as in that movie, the effects were high quality. The whole movie didn’t look rushed, it felt like a labor of love. The story and characterization fell a little short of making this a cinematic ‘masterpiece’. It was still a fine effort. 3.5 whatevers out of 5.

Where the Wild Things Are

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3 Responses to “Where The Wild Things Are Review (3.5 of 5)”

  1. […] both wrote and directed was his big screen re-imagining of the popular children’s book ‘Where The Wild things Are‘, a film that I both liked and was disappointed by. I’ll wait if you want to check out […]

  2. Crash! Landen Says:

    Thanks for reading! It’s greatly appreciated.

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