Theatrical Review: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

by: Chase Whale
October 15th, 2009

where_the_wild_things_are_ver3

Rating: 9/10

Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers
Book: Maurice Sendak
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Max Records, Wild Things, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Pepita Emmerichs
Voices: James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Michael Berry Jr.
Studio: Warner Bros.

Note: This review has been edited upon second viewing.

Growing up, Maurice Sendak’s children's book “Where The Wild Things Are” took a very special place in my big heart (and when I grew up, my right arm). The idea of a rebellious boy entering a foreign land on a sailboat and reigning as king over a handful of fierce monsters was beautiful. But a little panic ran through my mind when I found out the book was to be adapted into a feature length film. The only thought that played like a broken record was, “how the hell are they going to adapt a book with less than 200 words into a 90 minute feature?” My mind came to a Moby Dick-sized ease when the guy who made a heartbreaking movie about a flower was announced to direct the film. We know him as Spike Jonze, and his WTWTA adaption was simply wonderful.

Jonze stayed faithful to Maurice, creating a little spin on things to give length to the story. In our opening scene, (which also appears in the book) we see Max chasing around the family dog - fork in hand - giving the audience the heads up that Max is a bit, um, troubled. Max is a dreamer, as he builds tunnels in big piles of snow and plays (alone) inside them. His dreams come to a crumbling halt when he picks a snowball fight with his big sister’s (Pepita Emmerichs) friends and they end up destroying his freshly-built igloo. Max’s only friend is his mother, played by the uber-cool Catherine Keener. She asks Max to tell her stories, then types them word for word - with a smile - exactly how he recites them.

Things end up going sour for Max and Mom’s friendship when he discovers she has another man in her life, “Boyfriend,” in a cameo by Mark Ruffalo. Like in the book, Max has a blowout with his mom, but instead of being sent to his room without dinner and creating a forest that he sailboats to in his head, Max runs away and borrows a tiny boat from a dock, then sets out on a terrifying and dangerous journey to a land of Wild Things. When he arrives, he meets giant and surprisingly friendly talking monsters: Carol, Alexander, Judith, Ira, The Bull, Douglas, and KW (voiced by James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry Jr., Chris Cooper, and Lauren Ambrose, respectively).

Even the Wild Things get the blues, as things aren’t going well for any of his newfound friends. Our main monster, Carol, isn’t at all pleased that his group isn’t as tightly knit as they once were (think back to Max and Mom’s recent debacle), and Alexander is tired of being the center of jokes. It’s very obvious that the problems the monsters are dealing with are the same feelings Max is suffering in his head. They threaten to eat Max, so Max tells a little complex lie, resulting in the Wild Things crowning him King, trusting he'll end their loneliness and create a great place of happiness.

One of the greatest strengths of the movie - which is the most important one - is that of Max, played by Max Records. Records not only fits perfectly in the dirty wolf costume, but also sucks us in with his emotions. When Records' Max is mad, I wanna stomp my feet with him, when he's laughing, I found myself chuckling back, and when he's crying, well, let’s just say I needed a tissue.

Of all of Records' scenes, the one that stands out the most (for me, at least) is when Max suggests a war between the Wild Things. Max is fearless against the opposing team - the bad guys, a King's never a bad guy! - even with his tiny clumps of dirt compared to their large mounds of muddy death. It was nice to watch a scene that brought me back to my 9 year old self, when play fights seemed so real, and I'd lose a friend if he claimed to have shot me first.

The most important part of the film was how the Wild Things looked. In a time when you can CGI anything, Spike chose to use real people in costumes, which were created by The Jim Henson Company (the same people behind the Muppets characters). A little CGI is thrown in, however, to give the Wild Things more believable facial expressions, which is 100% okay by me. The mix ran very smoothly.

The thought of the film failing did linger in the back of my mind, even with Spike’s wonderful talents controlling WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Stretching this story into a 90 minute film could have turned into a complete disaster, but WTWTA never deserted my interest. About an hour into the film, things do slow down a bit - which could lose the attention of children - and a lot of people that are expecting more than what Maurice’s book had to offer may leave disappointed. After all, this is just a simple story about a child who just wants to play.

Commenting Rules: Comments are intended to open up the discussion to our readers about the topics at hand, and as such should be offered with a positive and constructive attitude. If your comment is not relative to the above post or is disrespectful to the authors and readers, we reserve the right to delete it. Continued abuse of our good nature will result in banishment of the offender. Additionally, if you have any burning issues to point out to the GATW crew - typos, corrections, suggestions, or straight-up criticism - please email us instead of commenting here.

  • http://gordonandthewhale.com samanthaurban

    Great review! Ohhhhh my gosh, I can't wait to see this movie! Eeeee!

  • ghardin

    –great review Chase!
    I too worried about Spike Jonze's large undertaking of adapting such a short few pages (no matter how rich in content they may be) for the big screen. I also worried it be one of two things – either a sugary sweet kids flick or an over the top, hipstered up Juno with monsters. But neither was the case. The cast, soundtrack, visuals, and everything all came together perfectly. Go see this film.

  • http://www.twitter.com/chasewhale Chase Whale

    Thanks Sam Bam! I'm not much of a reviewer -I leave that up to the real cool ones like you, Kate, James, Rusty, and Ronnie :) – but I did enjoy writing this! Hopefully I put my man pants back on and start writing more reviews!

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention gordonandthewhale.com » Blog Archive » Theatrical Review: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE -- Topsy.com

  • http://blog.gynecologistcobra.net demi adejuyigbe

    Great review, Chase! I was also surprised at how good this movie was. Someone claimed that it would “collapse under the weight of it's own hipster-coolness” before the film was released, but luckily, it didn't. It was fantastic. Also, there were parts where I was sitting there just thinking “Holy shit, this is me at 8 years old again.”

    And that soundtrack… oh my god, that soundtrack. So good.

  • http://twitter.com/LLyoungkin Laura Youngkin

    Great review, Chase. I know you've been looking forward to this one for a long time. I'm so excited to see it!

  • http://www.twitter.com/chasewhale Chase Whale

    Yeah, I was going to write something about people writing the movie off just because Urban Outfitters stuffed product down our throats, but I let it go. I firmly believe someone should love/hate a movie no matter what. If you like it, who cares if it's trendy, like it! If you hate it, then hate it!

  • http://gordonandthewhale.com KateErbland

    Awesome. Duh.

  • http://talkingontheinternet.blogspot.com/ Jude

    Movie about a boy just playing or no, I still almost fell asleep halfway through, as did everyone I was with…and I know of one actual nap that got taken. It was good, yes, but I feel like saying “Oh, well it was based on a short book for kids and now its a long movie” is robbing its credibility. That's like saying I should cut DEAD OR ALIVE some slack because it was based on a video game. WTWTA was a good movie, it wasn't amazing or mind-blowing, but it was better than most of what you can see in your local theatre, definitely. The monsters looked great, the cinematography was top-notch, the acting was above board, but the story was lacking, in my opinion. I recommend seeing it at least once, but its definitely not going to be a multiple-view movie for me.

  • http://talkingontheinternet.blogspot.com/ Jude

    Movie about a boy just playing or no, I still almost fell asleep halfway through, as did everyone I was with…and I know of one actual nap that got taken. It was good, yes, but I feel like saying “Oh, well it was based on a short book for kids and now its a long movie” is robbing its credibility. That's like saying I should cut DEAD OR ALIVE some slack because it was based on a video game. WTWTA was a good movie, it wasn't amazing or mind-blowing, but it was better than most of what you can see in your local theatre, definitely. The monsters looked great, the cinematography was top-notch, the acting was above board, but the story was lacking, in my opinion. I recommend seeing it at least once, but its definitely not going to be a multiple-view movie for me.

  • http://www.twitter.com/chasewhale Chase Whale

    OK, lol, DEAD OR ALIVE and WTWTA are two different types of adaptations. There's a difference in a well-crafted adaptation and something that was just awful. Like you said, WTWTA was good, but you found it a little boring.

    I don't think they were aiming for mind-blowing – probably just wanted to make the film as best and entertaining as they could.

    Can you elaborate on “saying “Oh, well it was based on a short book for kids and now its a long movie” is robbing its credibility?” I'm just not following you on that.

  • http://talkingontheinternet.blogspot.com/ Jude

    I know, I know. I might as well have compared it to Hitler. My bad.

    I don't think they were either, but it seems to be the hope of every shirt-dress-clad girl with dirty hair.

    That's probably just in how I'm reading it, like an excuse. I assume you mean it in the way you'd mean it if a movie based on the board game Crossfire went on to win an Oscar.

    I guess what I'm saying is, I'm really cranky on the internet.

  • AA5

    Spike Jones and Guillermo Del Toro are masters of the fluid blend of CGI and Pratical effects. Personally seeing how well the seamlessly invisible difference between the two was so refreshing. I think James Cameron was talking about WTWTA when it came to visuals. Joking of course, yet i was so entraced with the visuals and sounds. Very good soundtrack to give that warm feeling and the sense of childish urgency and aguish. You captured my complete feelings towards this visually stunning film and nostalgic story of dreams, Mr. Whale. I applaud you kind sir, well done.

  • http://gordonandthewhale.com allisonloring

    Great review, Chase! I can't wait to see this movie this weekend. :)

  • http://www.twitter.com/chasewhale Chase Whale

    Thanks everyone for the nice words! :)

  • http://twitter.com/franklinstein Chris Bryan

    I enjoyed the film. I didnt LOVE the film. It certainly succeeded on creating a magical world where the mind of a child rules, and that is both the hardest thing and most important thing to capture (in this film.) So it got the hard stuff right but the pacing was off. It wasnt slow in the middle like many are suggesting, it was simply paced differently than what we are used to (which can be a good thing but in this case it was not.) I dont even fully understand when it was supposedly “slow.” There was never a point in which action moving the story forward was not occuring, it simply did not let you know where the story was going (which made people feel like it was just mindlessly wandering.) Something that works for a short illustrated book but not for a feature film. I applaud Eggars and Jonze for immersing themselves in creating the world of a child through a childs mind, but they got it too right this time and needed to interject a little bit of structure into that childs world (as horrible as that is to say.)

    I bet kids will not think the film slow because it moves like they do, but lets face it, while kids are going to see this film, it was not made for them. So bottom line is they got a lot of stuff right, but like The Watchmen film they got a lot of stuff TOO right. They forgot they were making a fantasy for everyone to take part in, not just the fantasy of the main character of their film. I will probably get a lot of flack (like it did for saying Watchmen was too faithful to the graphic novel [minus the end]) for saying the film was too child like but hell, thats the way it is. haha.

    Overall a very enjoyable filmgoing experience, dont let me focusing on the stuff that wasnt super great deter you.

  • http://www.twitter.com/chasewhale Chase Whale

    Well said!

    I didn't mention Eggers because, well, I didn't think it was worth mentioning. Him and Spike did create a great script, but I didn't find it interesting enough to bring up in the review.

  • http://www.the-grab.com fellanie

    i LOVED it! my favorite part was the personalities of the wild things, man they were awesome. the bull was my favorite. and i cried too chase. :)

  • http://www.the-grab.com fellanie

    i LOVED it! my favorite part was the personalities of the wild things, man they were awesome. the bull was my favorite. and i cried too chase. :)

  • http://forum.aa419.org/profile.php?mode=viewprofile&u=895 no_muie

    Hello Stuart, This is no_muie again. I was thinking that your last payment was not enough. I need more money in order to continue fighting crime. People like you, in construction business, should pay us crime fighters because we work day and night to make the web a safer place for everybody. I need 1000 pounds now. If you morons don’t pay, the negative reviews of your website will be up again and this will means the end of your business. By the way, click on one of the ads if you access my blog and don’t try to report me, I will know.

  • Recent Post