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.

* * * *

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.

3 Comments

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  1. You summed up my feelings. I walked out of the theater pretty disappointed, but I like the movie more each time I think about it. Thanks for writing my thoughts down.

  2. I havn’t yet seen it but you do make some very valid points. Guess I’ll have to wait to give it any sort of critique but I will say not even having seen it yet I think the whole “indie” movie thing is a bit much, don’t you? (at least when it comes to wtwta)

  3. By all means, definitely check it out. I’d love to hear your thoughts. As far as the indie element goes, it was strange to see that spin on it, like an avant-garde perspective on a children’s picture book. It seems so absurd and forced.

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