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Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

Where the mild 'Things' are
Where the Wild Things Are
Genres: Family, Action
Running Time: 94 min
Release Date: 2009-10-16
Tags: There are no tags.
By "Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

A picture really is worth a thousand words, or at least a few hundred ill-chosen ones.

In Maurice Sendak's beloved book “Where the Wild Things Are,” Max became king of an imaginary land of growling beasts and “tamed them with a magic trick of staring into their yellow eyes without blinking once.”

In the film written by Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers, he tells them he'll blow up their heads if they don't make him king. Aha, one replies. What if we find a way to prevent that? Well, then, Max replies, he has a secret machine that will prevent them from preventing him, and so on and so on. And as they speak, the mystery of the story dissipates like fog in the noonday sun.

A feature-length film naturally had to expand on the few hundred words of Sendak's narrative. (Or did it? Why make it at all?) So Jonze, who also directed, and Eggers imposed a larger vision on Sendak's compact jewel of a story.

But it's a blurry vision that comes into focus only intermittently. Young viewers may exult in the rare moments of physicality and identify with the fine performance by Max Records, who embodies his angry namesake. Mature folks may wonder why a simple and simply beautiful story from their youth has been buried under layers of emotion Woody Allen's psychiatrist might want to pick over.

Director Jonze starts brilliantly: We see Max trying to interact with his older sister's friends, whose boisterous and dismissive attitudes make him cry, and with his loving but busy mom (Catherine Keener), who's trying to fit a new boyfriend into her life.

Max bursts out of the house in one of his too-frequent rages and takes a boat to the island of Wild Things, where Sendak's drawings come to life: The forest and desert environments look right, and the huge creatures' costumes are virtually perfect realizations of the book's illustrations. But the magic dies when we realize that we're on the island Where the Wild Things Are Diagnosed.

Carol, voiced by distractingly recognizable James Gandolfini, is a bipolar creature with abandonment issues. (He's like Tony Soprano with literal fangs.) He's fond of K.W. (Lauren Ambrose), who drifts morosely in and out of the group. Judith (Catherine O'Hara) is overly assertive, Ira (Forest Whitaker) feebly passive. Nobody listens to mopey Alexander the Goat (Paul Dano), and Douglas the Murmuring Chicken (Chris Cooper) seems to have been medicated almost to a coma.

Jonze and Eggers plop Max among creatures who represent many childhood anxieties: fear of exclusion, of being mocked, of having a true self that remains unseen, of being more or less invisible altogether. But these aren't Max's fears: He's full of rage. Nothing on the island teaches him how to control it or channel it into a healthy path, so we don't feel he's made progress when he returns home.

In the most bizarre section, K.W. captures two tiny, blank-eyed, frightened owls named Bob and Terry. All the beasts except Max and Carol claim to understand them and say they're geniuses, though they squawk incomprehensibly.

Bob Daly and Terry Semel ran Warner Bros. in 1999, when the studio mishandled the release of the underrated “Three Kings.” Jonze starred in that movie, so he may be working out his own infantile grudge with this long, dull in-joke. I wonder if Sendak, who was also one of the producers, knew he'd be getting “Where the Wild Shrinks Are.”

Reviews & Comments
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10/15/2009 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman

Film adaptation of a children's classic is handsome, draggy and vague.

(Full review)
USER REVIEWS
Oct 18, 2009 - change4better on Where the Wild Things Are
Ethylendiomidetetraaceticacid and perambulation

People, We are talking of a 330 +or- a word or two, childrens fantasy story. The way Jonze has adapted this story and turned it into one with a plot, "unlike the book" reminds us again of his brilliant mastery of insanity and the art of storytelling. In today's view of the "High Tech", and low attention spans, it is incredible that this story even made it onto the silver screen in the first place and to make without the cheezefest
that most fliks now have, it is truly refreshing. So take off the weeney hat, Take the little bus to the shallow end of the pool and delve deep within your own hidden child and re-live that time in your life when monsters under the bed were real. When you knew there really was a place, Where the Wild things Are and you were King.... Maybe next, Jonze could tackle Steven Kings "The Talisman".

Oct 18, 2009 - Wingnut on Where the Wild Things Are
Stay Away

My kids hated it! I hated it! Stay Away!!!
Very depressing movie overall. Quick synopsis of movie is, crazy kids runs away from home and travels by boat to a desserted island where he finds depressed and defeated monsters. He claims he is all powerful and can make them happy. They make him king and everything he does to make them happy he messes up and eventually one of them tries to eat him. He leaves the island and goes home and is greeted by his mom who falls asleep while he eats cherrios. THE END!

Oct 18, 2009 - SmartestBloggerEver on Where the Wild Things Are
Painful

Taking my daughters I was excited to share something that to do this I can easily recall and reminds me of happier, safer times. So to see this movie as horrible as it was left me very dismayed and for my daughters the look of shear displeasure made it all the worse. We saw it on the IMAX but with all the motion and shaky camera scenes it made all of sick on our stomach.

Stay away and remember it with fond memories, savor it and dont destroy it.

Oct 16, 2009 - santa_claus on Where the Wild Things Are
Where the Hippy Beatnik Beasts Are

The Jim Henson costume/puppets were great and the visuals were really up there but why did the beasts have to sound like a bunch of emotional hippies? Disney should have finished the animated movie version for this they were working onback in the 80s. It showed a lot more promise. You can even view some of the tests here on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvIDRoO8KnM

(no rating) Oct 16, 2009 - JoshuaMac on Where the Wild Things Are
Have you seen Adaptation?

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I found this comment a little ironic; "Nothing on the island teaches him how to control it or channel it into a healthy path, so we don't feel he's made progress when he returns home." Of coure, Spike Jonez only directed Adaptation (the Kauffman twins wrote it...haha) but this exact idea was one of the central themes of the movie.

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