Where the Wild Things Are was one of my favorite movies last year. Admittedly, I would never go so far as to say it was one of the best movies of 2009, but if you read my review you’ll see that it certainly holds a special place in my heart. That movie has a wide variety of haters. Some people have either never really been a normal child or have simply forgotten what it was like to be one.
In any case, with the release of Where the Wild Things Are on Blu-ray and DVD, I was contacted by the National Film Board of Canada and offered a screener copy for Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life, a new short film making its debut on said video release.
What’s this? A new short? Produced by Spike Jonze? Voiced by Jonze himself, along with the great Meryl Streep and Forest Whitaker? Imagine my enthusiasm to get the chance to review a new Maurice Sendak short film even if not being able to get my hands on a screener copy of Where the Wild Things Are.
Higglety Pigglety Pop! tells the story of Jennie (voiced by Meryl Streep) who thinks she has everything a terrier could ever want. But after an opening discussion with her home’s window flower, Jennie wonders if there could be possibly more. After Jennie devours the flower she sets off with her bags packed out into the world.
Soon she’s walking down a city street where she spies a sign expressing an opening for the lead in the “World Mother Goose Theater’s” production of Higglety Pigglety Pop. After a pig, wearing the Mother Goose Theater sign, explains that only an actress with experience can land the role and she only has until the first night of the full to find just what she needs for the part: experience.
Experience lands her on the delivery wagon of Milkman Cat (voiced by Al Tuck) who tells Jennie that she can get some experience by visiting the big white house where a baby refuses to eat. However, if she fails to make baby eat then she runs the risk of being eaten by the downstairs lion (voiced by Forest Whitaker.)
I have never read Sendak’s original story but with being such a huge fan of Jonze’s film, I hoped I would be in for something special and truly unique. Unique is certainly the best word to describe this short film. Running a nicely paced 24 minutes at least the proceedings zoom by quickly. It appears that filmmakers Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski (the minds behind Madame Tutli-Putli) apparently were more interested in showing what they can get away with on a low budget than whether or not their film was unintentionally frightening and possibly nightmare inducing.
Through the use of stop-motion, model sets, trick photography, puppetry and actors dressed in elaborate costumes Sendak’s story springs to life in what can literally be called a living nightmare for once. Other films have run borderline to falling prey to something similar to this, but it’s the first time that the imagery could be downright frightening. The fact that it’s attached to such a brilliant piece of children’s filmmaking makes it come off as even more brash. Imagine if you were flipping back and forth between Fraggle Rock and either Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal while having a bad acid trip and you get the idea.
Considering I know how most children watch movies (i.e. they don’t watch special features), there’s a good chance that most who run out to purchase Where the Wild Things Are won’t have to spend nights coddling their children. Some have complained that the imagery and creatures from Where the Wild Things Are were too menacing themselves, but if you happen to think just because this too is based on a Sendak story means it’s safe viewing? Consider yourself warned.