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Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

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A young child lies beneath the quilted covers of his bed, awaiting his parents to tuck him in. After the child gulps his cup of water, his mother sets his plastic cup on a small bookshelf adjacent to his bed and asks what bedtime story he would like to read tonight. The child knows no hesitation.

Where the Wild Things Are!”

Recently this same scene has played out in a different setting. Parents bring their children to movie theaters around the globe, laden with candy and soft drinks, and ask what movie their kids would like to see. The answer is the same:

Where the Wild Things Are!”

Ironically, the film is not a children’s movie, or at least not designed solely for children. Most of the film focuses on the angst of the young, lonely protagonist Max and his equally depressed and capricious monster friends. While the names and appearances of the characters find their root in the children’s book by Maurice Sendak, the storyline of the movie provides greater depth than found in Sendak’s volume or in most children’s movies.

It is a drama – there are no (or very few) comedic scenes typical to hybrid child/adult films. Much of the conflicts are redundant in principle but escalate in gravity throughout the movie. This effectively adds ample amounts of tension to the plot by driving the audience to ask how the movie will resolve, but it also serves to remove childlike blitheness from even the most innocent, cheery scenes. The audience is invited to join the young protagonist in his quest to dispel the Wild Things’ unhappiness by suffering alongside him as he uses the shallow, self-serving qualities of a mischief-maker’s mind to attempt to please everyone.

But there is even more cause for intrigue. There is an indie quality to this movie that separates it from most mainstream films. The screenplay, developed by director Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers, is one example of this. With little resolution to the plight of Max’s monster friends and an obvious emphasis on character development, I was driven to believe that there was some principle facing Max that I was supposed to cue in to. The tagline, “There’s one in all of us,” seems to supplement this idea.

Some people have criticized the motion picture for its ubiquitous melancholy and boredom-inducing protracted progression. I can share a certain empathy with these criticisms. At times the movie did seem drawn out, and I won’t deny that I was depressed throughout a majority of the film, but I don’t regret watching it. There remains an aesthetic appeal to the part Jim Henson/part computer generated monsters of Max’s adventures, and it is a good film to watch for the purpose of analyzing a producer’s or director’s intent.

On a qualitative note, much of the filming is done with handheld cameras. There are interesting camera angles throughout, and the quality is actually very good. These components make me view the movie as a high quality indie film. The soundtrack is almost exclusively composed of music by Karen O. and The Kids, which serves to magnify the yuppie atmosphere.

I have recommended this movie to my friends for the sheer purpose of wanting to know what they think. For those who want to ponder what anthropic commentary put forth through this adaptation of a much-beloved children’s book, you will not be disappointed. For those who are seeking an exciting, magical story and a wave of nostalgia — beware.

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About Trevor Clark