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Working Out “Where the Wild Things Are”

So, a classic children’s book with a screen adaptation written by one of today’s biggest writers and directed by an equally loved visionary. “Where the Wild Things Are” has all the makings for one hell of a movie and solid investment of my $10. Though, I’m still wondering how Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze came up with the final product, and, weeks later, I’m baffled to whether I saw a truly good film that navigates through the imagination of a child or simply a mediocre (pretentious?) effort at making a “deep” movie.

I can’t say that I’m disappointed. Truth is, I did sorta, kinda like the movie. The themes are obvious – Max drawing from his real-world experiences and projecting them onto these goofy, creepy, though altogether adult caricatures. All with Karen O segues every damn three minutes. But does the fact that the movie rides on a cherished book support or hinder it? Are Eggers and Jonze completely screwed from the start, setting viewers up for an inevitable crushing disappointment? Or is it a can’t lose? We are, after all, talking about a movie adaptation to a nickel-thin picture book. Hell, anything will work. These are the questions that rack my brain every afternoon at work. Not climate change, health care legislation or even what I plan to have for dinner. “Is this movie bad?”

What’s good? This had to have been a massive project (I read Eggers’ “The Wild Things” before I saw the film. He said they began working on the script in either ’02 or ’03, which doesn’t seem possible. Five-plus and this is it?), and they had to have known going in that some, like me, would be immediately skeptical of the outcome. The Wild Things looked great; Max was great; The theme, as stated, was excellent.

The elements that bother me most about the film – the Wild Things’ adultness, for instance –  are purely subjective, a matter of personal taste. I realize the error in this. Here’s what I mean: “Where the Wild Things Are” is anchored in our minds as a colorful, dare I say heart-warming story or an escapist Max, bumbling around with some jolly things. What I saw was a distortion of that. The Wild Things weren’t roly-poly goof balls with funny voices like I had imagined them to be. They were clueless children dealing with very real issues. Adult issues. If the creator’s mission was to identify and present the child-like qualities that survive through adolescence and mutate and poison adulthood – fear, selfishness, greed – then Eggers and Jonze succeeded. Tremendously. I believe this was their vision, and it was an extraordinary achievement.

At least I think it was.

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Also, quick observation: Urban Outfitters has some of the most extensive “Wild Things” merchandise right now, which isn’t shocking considering the film features all the necessary elements of an “indie” favorite – nostalgia (check), hip director (check), anything Arcade Fire participates in (check), a pedantic, underlying sadness (check).  Not sure what I’m getting at, but I’ll stop before I start saying bad words.