' Cinema Romantico: Where The Wild Things Are

Monday, November 02, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

Maurice Sendek's immensely popular children's book from 1963 is a mere 40 pages with only the slightest dialogue and so in choosing to adapt this for a motion picture the always adventurous director Spike Jonze, along with his screenwriter Dave Eggers, was indulging in quite the challenge. Despite its basis Jonze has said he was trying to make a film that essentially makes adults think about what it was like to be a kid. I was with him so far. An idea I can respect. Maybe this would be the kids movie, other than "The School of Rock" (that is the movie I would make my kids watch), I could latch onto. Except as I watched I never really found myself thinking about childhood and instead found myself thinking about something else.

Max (Max Records) is young boy with an active imagination and a mother (Catherine Keener) with a new boyfriend we can sense straight away Max does not particularly like. He constructs an igloo in the snow outside and desperately wants his sister to take a look but she admonishes him to "go play with your friends." He initiates a snowfall fight with a few older kids next door but that ends in minor tragedy when his igloo is crushed. Not many friends appear present in Max's life and when an argument with his mother spirals out of control Max runs away and bursts out the door and runs and runs and runs (Jonze returns to this image again and again)....and finds himself in an imaginary land of his own conceit where he confronts these monsters who, well, aren't really monsters because they are mostly too morose to be monsters.

Though they do threaten to eat Max before he thinks quickly and announces they better not since he possess special powers and in no time he has been crowned this imaginary land's King. Some of the kingdom's inhabitants seem excited about this prospect, some not so much, though one in particular is very confident this new leader will chase all their troubles away. This would be Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) who, and correct if I'm wrong, seems to be exhibiting the signs of bipolar disorder. (There's a fun filled afternoon for the kiddies! Speaking of which, I saw a matinee so, yes, there were quite a few kids in the audience and I heard more of them crying than laughing. Just sayin'.)

Max instructs them to build a gigantic fortress (righting the wrong of the igloo) and leads them in a dirt clod fight to cure ills between friends (righting the wrong of the snowball fight) which leads to Ira (voiced by Forest Whitaker) delivering my favorite line of the film: "Things were a lot better in the good old dirt clod days." (If I ever release an album of all acoustic ballads, which would be difficult when considering I can't play guitar, I will title it The Good Old Dirt Clod Days.) But will the good times last? Or, one might ask, will they really even begin?

Yes, "Where The Wild Things Are" has one wistful tone and as events progressed I couldn't help but find myself thinking over and over, "Man, it's hard to be in charge." Max's mom has trouble keeping in charge of their household and then Max has trouble keeping in charge of the kingdom and then he realizes that, hey, his mom has got it pretty rough keeping in charge of him and his sister. I can't say that if I was a kid I would want to watch a movie where I'm being shown how hard being in charge of me is. But then again it's not really supposed to be a kids movie.

All I know is I never felt much of a rush watching "Where The Wilds Thing Are". The visuals are fine and the effects with the melancholy monsters are excellent and the whole deal but if, as Jonze says, he wants adults to watch this and think about what it was like being a kid why did I spend the whole time thinking about how hard it's going to be when I become a parent?

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