What I see when I get a moment to pause and make a little sense of the world
Will I like it?
I did, but not as much as I would have without my kids. I love Maurice Sendak’s book and truly adore the videos and movies that Spike Jonze has been involved with. The trailers for Where the Wild Things Are had me prepared to be whisked away with nostalgia and feel-good sentiment. I was certain it would be an emotional ride — and to an extent, it was. I thought the characters of the monsters were representative of a lot of the fears, tribulations and uncertainties we face as adults. But rather than be drawn in, no matter how badly I wanted it to happen, I never felt much of an emotional connection with either Max (who seemed a great candidate for Ritalin) or any of the Wild Things. While Max’s first night in the land of the Wild Things comes close to capturing the warmth and closeness of the book, his following days give way to coldness and inanity. Still, it was a gorgeous film and I appreciated all of the details (especially the soundtrack) that contributed to the movie’s sense of childhood whimsy.
Will my kids like it?
I thought so … at first. It was all smiles and giggles when Max was wreaking havoc on the family dog, his sister and mom. But once he went to the place where the Wild Things are, the movie took a dark turn. As the wild things announced they would eat Max, my kids snuggled in closer. One of the monsters had a frightening paranoia that led you to believe she might be violent at any moment. What’s more, these were not the gentle giants my kids had translated them to be from the book. These Wild Things were violent and very mean at times and, toward the end of the movie, there were some intense scenes of anger from some of the Wild Things that left one of my kids crying. By the end of the movie, with Max’s emotional return home, another of my seven-year-olds was in tears. On the way out of the theater, I noticed more than a few kids being consoled by their parents. I guess Maurice Sendak would probably tell me to go to hell, though.
What’s the geek appeal?
Are you serious? It’s an all-time classic book about a boy who has some trouble associating with others, a visit to a fantasy land and gobs of monsters. Does any more really need to be said?
Who’s in it again?
Catherine Keener is Max’s Mom and Mark Ruffalo has a small part as her boyfriend. Max is played admirably by Max (Records). The voices for the Wild Things are provided by Forest Whitaker, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O’Hara, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano, Angus Sampson and Michael Berry, Jr.
Any memorable previews?
Not really. There was Planet 51, A Christmas Carol and some Jackie Chan movie called The Spy Next Door. There was also a trailer for Despicable Me, which looked potentially amusing.
Will kids want to see it again?
My sample group says: no, no way and maybe. Your mileage may vary.
Does it ruin the book?
Not so much. The movie is such a significantly different interpretation of the book that Sendak’s story stands tall still. Re-reading our dog-eared, taped-together, warped-covered copy upon returning from the movie, I’m immediately reminded of the warm feeling I got from reading it, all those hundreds of times (both to myself as a child and — later — to my kids). Perhaps it’s the protectiveness I have from guarding a childhood favorite, but my imaginative interpretation of the book’s telling of the story will trump the movie every time.
How in the heck did they get 110 minutes out of 10 sentences?
The important thing to remember is that the movie, as a creative work, is fairly independent of the book and, as a result, takes great liberty with the narrative. The setup — Max making mischief — takes a substantially longer amount of time in the film. (Although, thankfully, the movie does not chronicle a sea voyage of “almost a year”.) There’s a good deal of liberty taken in what happens during Max’s visit to where the Wild Things are. And, to be fair, it’s a very decent interpretation. But it’s one that — if you were to connect the dots with the book’s storyline — would provide the biggest gap and translation of the book-to-movie. While there is plenty of creative license, Sendak signed off on the screenplay and it’s difficult to imagine anyone who could have done a better job of tackling this (nearly) 50-year-old classic than Jonze.
It’s PG, but how PG is it?
There’s a touch of language and some sequences that border on violent. However, there’s also some action that leaves Max confused, scared and crying. Mostly, as noted above, the scenes of anger and hostility may confuse and frighten kids who have a more idyllic interpretation of the book.
What’s the best time for a bathroom break?
The movie’s setup is a lot longer than the first few pages of the book. It takes awhile for Max to get to where the Wild Things are. About two-thirds of the way in, as the monsters begin to build Max’s fort, is another opportunity to sneak away for a quick break.