3 out of 10
Thanksgiving has come early for Warner Bros. as Where the Wild Things Are is one big, fat turkey. A movie for grownups masquerading as a kids flick, Wild Things doesn’t succeed on either level and in turn polarizes both of its audiences. Who was this film made for? I’ll answer my own question. Director/writer Spike Jonze has made a self indulgent mess of a movie strictly for himself.
The film is meant to capture the imagination; instead it captured only my boredom. It plays like a weird version of Ordinary People starring the characters from Sesame Street. This domestic drama is brought to you by the letter Z. The events in the film, such as mud ball fights between Max and the wild things are supposed to be fun and whimsical. They are not. Instead they actually kind of come off as really strange torture porn starring overgrown muppets.
I can appreciate the artistry that went into this film, but Wild Things adapted from the beloved children’s book by Maurice Sendak, shouldn’t be a film that solely caters to artists and hipsters. Adapting a children’s book should never serve as a playground for experimental, avant-garde cinema. When setting out to make a children’s film, it is absolutely essential to serve that audience. Wild Things could’ve been funny and amusing for young ones while also exploring more adult oriented themes such as isolation and domestic strife but there truly isn’t one funny moment in the entire film.
Warner Bros. has apparently been trying to market the film to adults more than children, but while watching the trailer, I don’t get that at all. It certainly looks like a movie for kids to me. Serving an indie film up for mass consumption for children worldwide borders on a criminal act in my mind. My six year old son has never been scared during a movie. He’s watched everything from G.I. Joe to Transformers to Harry Potter and comes out smiling and laughing despite the cartoon violence that appears on screen. In fact, these films have enhanced the power of his imagination. By the end of Wild Things, my little guy was sobbing his eyes out, scared spitless by the domestic monster that Carol is. My true goal as a parent is to protect and preserve the bubble of innocence that exists in childhood and by taking my son to see this movie, I’ve failed him somewhat. I knew going in that this film wasn’t going to be a typical kid’s flick, but nonetheless, with source material like this, I truly didn’t expect Wild Things to be this harsh and unforgiving.
I know that many people will read this review and think that I’ve lost my mind and just didn’t get the film, but the truth is, I totally understand the movie. Understanding the concept and themes doesn’t take away from the fact that I was bored stiff throughout the entire film. I looked at my watch multiple times during the movie (never a good sign) and somewhere around the half way point I realized how much I hated the movie. That being said, there are elements of the film that do deserve praise.
The acting is uniformly solid. Newcomer Max Records is quite astonishing in the lead role, giving an extremely natural performance that will resonate with audiences. Records is quite the find and should have a nice career in front of the cameras should he choose to pursue it. The actors lending their voices to the furry creatures are all fine although none of them, with the exception of James Gandolfini, bring any real personality to their respective characters. Gandolfini as Carol is the lead character among the wild things and as such has more to work with than the other actors who include Paul Dano, Chris Cooper and Catherine O’Hara. As good as Gandolfini is, it’s oddly disconcerting to hear the voice of Tony Soprano come out of the mouth of a giant, furry puppet.
Jonze has delivered a beautiful film with its washed out, minimalistic color scheme but everything else falls flat. He has infused his normally, edgy filmmaking to this film and on that level he has achieved some success. While I’m all for filmmakers expressing their artistry, I just don’t feel it is appropriate to do so in a movie fashioned around a children’s book. We have plenty of time in our lives to expand our minds as we get older, but those first few precious years should be surrounded by fun and laughs.
The screenplay is over long and goes nowhere. There is really not much to the story other than that Max, feeling alone and unappreciated takes off for parts unknown only to meet up with the wild things. Feeling acceptance and love, Max thinks he’s finally found a family that can appreciate him for who he is. The wild things turn out to be just as dysfunctional as his real family and Max has a Dorothy moment (there’s no place like home) and realizes the best place for him to be is with his family. That’s the story ladies and gentlemen. Originally told in ten sentences, the story works quite well. At over ninety minutes, it feels bloated and unnecessary.
To sum it up, I truly despised this film and I don’t believe it deserves to be celebrated in any way (except for its discovery of Max Records). Don’t take the kids. They will either be bored, scared, or confused. More than likely a mix of all three. If you are a fully fledged adult, you might enjoy the beauty of the film, but that’s about it. If you are of college age and experimenting with as many drugs as I did at that time in my life, then you will enjoy every trippy moment of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are.