Yearning for escape and adventure, a young boy runs away from home and sails to an island filled with creatures that take him in as their king.Yearning for escape and adventure, a young boy runs away from home and sails to an island filled with creatures that take him in as their king.Yearning for escape and adventure, a young boy runs away from home and sails to an island filled with creatures that take him in as their king.
The point I'm making is that the original book didn't have much of a plot; its charm is in the imaginative illustrations. So the task of adapting the book to a 1 hr 41 min feature film was very ambitious, to say the least.
Let's complicate matters. In the original story the main character, Max, isn't a very likable protagonist. In almost every drawing he is shown with a malicious smirk on his face as he causes mischief such as chasing the family dog around with a fork, and then later commanding others to do his bidding with a tyrannical ferocity. I won't go into a discussion of Sendak's book, but let's just say it's not your typical cutesy fable or morality play.
Quirky and ofttimes cynical director Spike Jonze (known for the excellent "Being John Malkovich") was well suited for the job. During production, Jonze consulted Sendak himself, so we can guess that the author's original intent was mostly preserved. The result is that this is definitely no Disney flick. If you're looking to take your kid to a "Beauty and the Beast" entertainer, hmm, you might wanna look elsewhere.
Great, so if that didn't scare you off, let's talk about what's good about this film. One: they didn't corrupt the original bratty concept of Max. Although he's considerably softer around the edges than the fork wielding demonchild in the book, he's still not exactly likable, and so he's almost an anti-hero. Of course he's still a cute kid, so you can view him as that, but I like to think he's a troubled juvenile with some serious psychological issues brewing.
Two: the visuals & special effects are primo. The master puppeteers of Jim Henson's group (Henson himself died a few years prior to filming) provided amazing 7ft tall animatronic puppet suits with actors inside which were augmented by subtle cgi. In other words, to all my fellow cgi haters, this was done very tastefully. Sets and landscapes are jaw dropping, having been filmed in the majestic forests & deserts of Australia.
Three: the music is pretty cool. Composed and performed by Karen O (The Yeah Yeah Yeahs), the score and songs are edgy but still cinematic enough to blend with the film. Most of the songs are simple haunting melodies with an alternative rock vibe. If you're not familiar with Karen O, think of maybe Bjork.
Four: it has a pretty complex message that may be lost on young kids, but adults may get it. It's the idea that life's problems aren't so easy to solve, even when everyone does exactly as you say. You might even sense socio-political overtones as Max attempts to create order in his imagined kingdom while learning that you can't please everyone all the time. This is where the film deviates from the book where Max is a tyrant who imposes his rule over obedient and mostly mindless subjects. Here, the creatures have individual personalities and opinions. So in the film, Max faces the reality of making mistakes. He isn't so sure of himself, and his choices often lead him to deep regrets. I count this as a big plus, even though it may confuse young kids who are expecting a simple, digestible fairytale. Don't be surprised if your child comes out slightly confused, if not disturbed. (Note, there's a bit of violence... no blood, but a character or two might get slightly maimed).
I would categorize "Where the Wild Things Are" with other fairy tales for grownups, like "Willy Wonka" (as well as the recent remake "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory") and an obscure 70s gem with Gene Wilder "The Little Prince". This film is probably closer to the children's side than those others which were clearly skewed toward adults. That's probably where it lost a little punch in my opinion. But it's still a great flick that does a nice job honoring a classic book. By the way... wtf? Did I just use the word "socio-political" to describe a children's flick? I need to get out more :/
- Feb 1, 2017