Thursday, October 22, 2009

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

Rated: PG

Website: Official Where the Wild Things Are site

Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener, voices of James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O’Hara, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker

My Review: I’m going to take the easy—some may say “coward’s”—way out here, and say there’s really no way to review Where the Wild Things Are. As anyone who pays attention to movie reviews has seen, it’s had a very polarizing effect on people; they’re either liking it or loathing it. And after seeing it, I can see why.

I’m in the “like it” camp (“love” would be too strong a word to use as I’m still processing it), but I can easily see how it’s not going to appeal to some, and that’s OK; despite the flamewars that erupt over big movies like this, the last time I checked, it’s not required that we all have the same reactions and experiences at the movies. So in lieu of a review, here are my thoughts on who will like Where the Wild Things Are, who won’t, and my reasons for liking it:

Won’t Like It

Parents who can’t think for themselves anymore. It’s been stated again and again and again; this is a movie ABOUT children, not FOR children. And while I don’t think there’s necessarily anything inappropriate for children in the movie, there are a few scenes that may be a bit intimidating to the very young, and more than anything else, I’d guess most kids will just be bored by WTWTA. But that won’t stop some parents from taking their kids to see it, then declaring it a “bad movie” because it was too scary/slow for them to enjoy, and they’ve joined the parenting cult where all of their opinions are for “the children” and not themselves.

Those expecting a silly, campy romp. There’s plenty of romping, but it’s more cerebral than just “kid having fun with crazy monster-creatures.” If it’s something lighthearted you’re after, WTWTA isn’t going to deliver that.

Those who loved the book. The book is 10 sentences long and takes a few minutes to read. The average movie is at least 90 minutes long. The only way this was ever going to be made into a movie was to have creative licenses taken, but plenty of book devotees will still be upset with the directions that were taken.

Will Like It

Those who loved the book. On the flip side, plenty of people who loved the book will also love how it’s interpreted on the screen. Max’s wolf suit is awesome, the Wild Things are absolute magic to behold, and the entire movie oozes with the wonderment and darkness that is the inside of a troubled child’s mind.

Parents with troubled and/or highly imaginative kids. I don’t have kids, but I imagine having children that are difficult to understand or relate to is one of the most frustrating parts of being a parent. WTWTA provides a look into the mind of one particular troubled child, but Max’s feelings and frustrations are the same as a lot of kids who live an angry and disturbed existence.

Adults who once were troubled and/or highly imaginative kids. In my amateur opinion, the biggest draw WTWTA has is with adults who loved the book as children because they related to Max. Many adults grew up in a haze of anger, frustration, loneliness, denial, and insecurity, and to escape all that had fantastical corners of their mind to retreat to when times were bad. WTWTA embodies all of that and shows that while you may have thought you were the “weird kid” in school, you weren’t such an outcast, after all.

Why I Liked It

I found it to be a very clever and moving creation of a book I enjoyed as a child. Visually, it’s absolutely stunning, and I love how the Wild Things at one moment seem fun and cuddly, then the next moment scary and intimidating—just like people. And while the significance of these creatures are open for interpretation, I saw them as embodying the different parts of Max’s persona that he doesn’t understand. One is rude and obnoxious for no apparent reason. Another enjoys punching holes in things. Another is easily upset and feels that no one in the group ever listens to him. And they all take great pleasure in being loud and destructive whenever the opportunity arises. These uncomfortable feelings plague everyone, kids and adults, and we all handle them differently. As adults, we’re conditioned to swallow these feelings. As a child, Max invents a fantasy world where he is king and has ultimate power over everyone, presumably to compensate for his lack of power in the real world.

WTWTA isn’t without its flaws. There’s a bizarre scene where Max is at school and his teacher is lecturing about the sun dying and the end of humanity…to a classroom of fourth-graders. This inspires a conversation later on in the Land of the Wild Things, but I never got over how out of place that moment was. I was also disappointed that Max’s mother never actually calls him a “wild thing,” as she does in the book after he misbehaves. Without this accusation, I wondered where his inspiration to create the Wild Things came from. But these are relatively small complaints for a movie that, as a whole, was crafted remarkably well.

Bottom Line: You’ll either like Where the Wild Things Are, or you won’t. A trite summary, yes, but it’s a polarizing movie. But if you take a child to it and then whine about how “bad” it was for them, I will eat you up.

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