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Itís hard to imagine any child growing up in America, or indeed anywhere books are read, who hasnít come in contact with Maurice Sendakís world at some point in their young lives. As author of stories like In the Night Kitchen, or The Sign on Rosieís Door and The Nutshell Library (- Which were adapted as the animated TV special, Really Rosie, featuring songs by fellow Brooklynite, Carole King), or as illustrator to so many other books.  After sixty-plus years, Sendakís best known work is still his 1963 classic, Where the Wild Things Are.  It is only now, nearly fifty years later, that Sendak has acquiesced to having that book interpreted as a live-action feature.

Max has got troubles.  The elementary school boyís entire world is changing and Max doesnít like it one bit.  He isnít dealing well with the departure of his father from the family home.  The only security left to him, his mother and big sister, are moving on in their own ways by bringing new friends into their lives.  Now at a loss for the company of mom and sis, Max is lonely and resentful and the best way he knows how to express that unhappiness is by donning a spiffy onesie complete with whiskers and ears and running wild just like the wolf he becomes in his fertile imagination.  One fit of pique will have Max a little too close to his animal nature, causing him to actually sink his fangs into his mother and run away from home in a rabid froth.  Max runs until he finds a boat that leads him across the sea to land in an unknown world where the inhabitants are even wilder than he is.

Director Spike Jonzeís adoration for the source material and particularly the world Sendak has created permeates this film.  The attention to detail given to the appearance of the Wild Things is remarkable and will satisfy any Sendak fan.  Jonze has also taken great care to establish each creatureís very individual identity.  The Wild Things have all the flaws, quirks and insecurities as humans do, and after accepting Max as their king and surrogate parent, he learns that dealing with those personalities isnít always easy.  He forms a bond with the orneriest of the monsters, a great, fluffy horned thing with a nasty temper called Carol.  Between Carolís mood swings and unreasonable temper tantrums and the neediness and demands of the others, Max is meant to understand what his mother has gone through dealing with her fitful little boy. 

Sendakís book is a very brief tale of Max as a little hellion made to go to sleep without any supper because of his naughty behaviour.  Jonze goes much deeper to flesh out the story adding in the broken home, sisís new friends and momís new boyfriend, all meant to explain why Max of the film is so awfully behaved.  One of the problems with Where the Wild Things Are is Max is so clearly damaged by the absence of his father that he needs more than a wolf costume, he needs counseling.  The day a kid decides to take a chunk out of me and he isnít teething, is the day somebody better get a child psychiatrist or a pillow for that kidís behind, so my sympathy for Max after that sequence was sparing.  So, too, was my emotional connection to the creatures; you donít know anything more about them than their brief exposition about having had kings before who theyíve eaten.  Here is a group of creatures who Max comes to care for, but outside of briefly being playmates for the boy, we donít really get a feeling of why and when they bonded.  Thereís a strange hollowness about the whole piece and a disjointed, disconnected feeling throughout.  For living in a world of fantasy, thereís nothing particularly magical about where the Wild Things actually are.  The forest they live in is dry and dusty-looking, the fort that  Max commands them to build never looks like anything other than a slightly artsy pile of sticks, and all the creatures can pretty much do is jump in the air and roar a lot.  If you like movies with people in monster costumes running around roaring, jumping and climbing trees, this oneís for you.  I was less impressed.  For some reason, the creaturesí looks reminded me of Falkor the luckdragon from 1984ís The Neverending Story, which may have squelched some of my awe.  There are precious few comedic moments to lighten an otherwise dreary film, the majority of those come courtesy of the agile delivery and voice acting of Catherine OíHara as Judith, the curmudgeonly chronic party-pooper who is always ready to harsh anyoneís good time.  One wonders who exactly Where the Wild Things Are was meant for?  Thereís not enough eye candy, action or humour to keep the smaller ones interested and the emotional heft is too contrived and elementary to please adults.  I actually found myself bored fairly early on and no amount of lovely scenes of Max and the monsters running in dappled sunlight, jumpy hand-held ersatz home movie camerawork or twee, guitar-laden soundtrack by Karen O could resuscitate the very flatness of the film.

Jonze get praise for his complete reverence of Sendakís art, but not much else.  If only he had made a representation nearly as sharp, imaginative and magical as his source material.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

Oct 15th, 2009







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(Courtesy of  Warner Brothers Pictures)

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