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Movie Review: Where The Wild Things Are – or Aren’t

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I waited months in anticipation of this movie based on my favorite childhood book, Where the Wild Things Are. My parents used to read it to me at bedtime and I recall such vivid images of Max's bedroom, the far-off land of the wild things, and those creatures with their yellowy eyes. It was oddly scary and comforting at the same time to hear that story each night. That's probably why I was curious to see what director Spike Jonze would do with the big screen adaptation. Unfortunately, this movie had few positives for me.

It's the kind of movie I wait and wait for and then wind up feeling empty once it's over. I will concede that my opinion is not the norm. I read five reviews on Blogcritics alone before I decided I must be from another planet. I felt this movie was like cheap merchandise with nothing to back it up.

The movie begins with a sort of "grunge" look to it. The beginning scene is very short and the title of the movie sort of "freeze frames" in sloppy strokes reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon. That was cool but after that we get a contrived character of 9 or 10 years of age. He is stricken with fury at his mother, his sister, and those around him in those scenes. My wife and I have a debate going over whether he shows evidence of mental illness. Make no mistake … this is decidedly not the "Max" of the original book.

The Max in the book is a garrulous young boy of about six years old. He is sent to his room without his supper. The Max of the movie is deeply disturbed and much older and he ends up running away from home. There is serious convolution of character and plot here.

When the "movie Max," played by child actor Max Records, gets to the island on his boat, the book's magic is lost. The movie has already cashed in on the book's familiar appeal.

I should say here that this movie is decidedly not for kids. My 2- and 4-year-old girls were on the verge of tears a couple times. A friend of mine has a daughter who cried uncontrollably through the opening snow tunnel scene.

One particularly scary aspect of the movie is the character Judith, played by Catherine O'Hara. She is not a playful character and seems to show direct and unbridled hate toward Max in a few scenes. I have a feeling the movie wants to be a statement about refusing to grow up. This is the opposite of the book's message, which brings acceptance of growth and maturity upon Max's return. I could accept the Judith scenes if he grew somehow. Instead, he just seems to eventually run away again.

If you want to watch disturbing images in and out of realistic fiction, this movie will appeal to you. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate disturbing images when they make a point. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed the 1970's Pink Floyd movie The Wall. It made excellent points through disturbing images. The difference from WTWTA is that The Wall didn't claim to be a big screen adaptation of a beloved children's book.

If I had to pick one positive aspect of this film I'd say it's the Jim Henson muppet wild things. They look awesome. If that alone is worth your trip to a movie, I won't steer you away. However, if you want a warmhearted adaptation of a children's book, pass on this one.

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About Damien Riley

I'm a movie fan from way back when I first saw "Pete's Dragon." In 1977, it sealed the deal when I saw "Star Wars." I write about the movies I see, whether I like them or not. Sometimes I like them more than words can express! I also write editorials on various topics once in a while. Check out all my online writing at my blog Riley Central.
  • J Smith

    Finally, a sane review! I was appalled this afternoon as I watched this movie with my 11 year old. I was an elem. teacher for 16 yrs, read this book weekly, LOVE IT!!, but not in my wildest would I have come up with is storyline. Sooooo sad and disappointing. Where did the monster names come from? Carol was psycho, disturbed, hateful, a tyrant. Judith was such a smart ass and mean. The others were pitiful abused characters that wouldn’t stand up for themselves or for right. Max needs therapy, his sister is lost, and the mother is a sorry excuse. Wow, not good. It was a great adaptation of disfunctional families. I just can’t get over what I saw. My son asked to leave 45 minutes into it. I stayed with the hopes that it would all turn around. Nope.

  • Thanks J. It was really bad and the worst thing is that they had such a powerful, warm, and intellectually stimulating base to work with. They really dropped the ball on this one. Thanks for agreeing. I’d love to get a comment from someone explaining why they liked it.

  • Rob

    You shouldn’t be taking your 2 and 4 year old children to PG rated movies.

  • Rob

    Each character reflects emotions/moods we have as children

  • I too am surprised you would bring a two-year-old. It’s obvious from the previews it’s not a toddler’s film

    “the 1970’s Pink Floyd movie The Wall.”

    do you mean the one that came out in 1982?

  • I am embarrassed I got the decade wrong! The Wall is actually an 80’s movie. My apologies. As for my daughters going with me to WTWTA, I was there to explain things so I didn’t feel it was a problem for them. They enjoyed the Jim Henson muppet people for what they were. It was overly scary and without a moral, that’s why I didn’t enjoy it.

    As for the characters being different emotions of childhood, ok. Still hated it.

  • Damien – I’m sad to say that I also was disappointed. I really liked the opening section up until Max runs away, but I didn’t think his times with the wild things would ever end. I posted my own review yesterday.

    And yeah, I noticed your Pink Floyd The Wall mistake as well, mostly because it was my favorite movie of 1982. I’m surprised the site editors let that through though. Man, they don’t let me get away with nuthin’. Good thing too because I screw up on the facts all the time.

  • Sonya

    OMG, I saw this movie today with my eight year old daughter. I too felt movie was a horribly adaptation of the book and deeply disturbing. The story started off slow and never picked up making it extremely difficult to sit through the entire movie. The characters had serious anger management issues, mean-spirited and hurtful.

  • Thanks Todd. I agree the editors at BC are knit-pickers. I think it made it through because I was using it as a general adjective “The 70’s movie” and not an exact date. If they want to change it, they are more than welcome to. Having said that, there are other knit-pickers at Blog-critics besides the editors, the writers … but I’ll leave it at that. Your articles look great, I’ll be sure and check some out.