Sunday, October 18, 2009

Where ARE the Wild Things?

Where the Wild Things Are, the classic picture book by Maurice Sendak is now a full-length film, complete with a Max (Records) playing the rambunctious little boy Max, and glorious, enormous, costumed wild things.

If you haven't read this book, please do. It is a masterful example of how profound themes and strong emotions can be conveyed in a few pages of enthralling art and a very few poetic phrases. Seldom has so little conveyed so much, so beautifully.

As Sendak is one of the producers of this film, and the New York Times gave it a glowing review, we went to watch it with keen anticipation.

The costumes are indeed impressive. They are furry, massive, 3D reproductions of Sendak's wild things, complete with claws, toes or horns in all the right places. They waddle endearingly, and withstand being bounced down sand dunes or whacked with massive dirt clods. Each wild thing has a distinct personality, and an evocative voice from actors like Forest Whitaker.

Some of the cinematography is beautiful, and the trailer will lead you to think that the entire film is filled with similarly stunning shots of mildly melancholy scenery. Although mildly overdone, the soundtrack is quite pretty and haunting.

To our dismay, however, the film takes a long time to get to the wild things. It opens with promising scenes of Max, dressed in his wolf costume, creating a ruckus at home by chasing the family dog. But that was followed by a bewildering and unnecessarily long series of scenes depicting Max's plight in suburban America-- presumably in a misguided attempt to make the story more accessible to American audiences? We were forced to share his dislike of his pill of an adolescent sister, a struggling single mother, and, to add insult upon injury, his mother's attempt to have a peaceful family dinner with one of her suitors. A simple book scene in which Max is called a "wild thing" by his mother and sent upstairs sans supper, is transformed into a shouting match in which poor Mum tells Max he is "out of control", followed by a frantic chase through suburbia before Max finally sets sail for the wild things. Unlike the book, a forest doesn't grow magically in Max's room, instead, it materialises in the middle of his suburban neighbourhood. This struck us as an unnecessary and unfortunate departure from a magical scene brimming with movie promise.

When the movie Max eventually reaches the wild things, and becomes their king, the film improves, but is too full of complicated interpersonal relationships to evoke the gay abandon of letting the "wild rumpus start". Max is very melancholy, and so are most of the wild things. This isn't a film for young children.

Party time

The film left us both feeling as though we'd eaten something deeply unpleasant, so we had to repair to the bookshop for a good dose of children's books (starting with
Where the Wild Things Are) to remove the ghastly taste of a disappointing evening at the cinema. There's nothing returning to where the wild things really are.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great review! You know my deep suspicion of the film genre, but for what it's worth, I think children's books seldom turn into good films, for the opposite reason that novels often don't make good films - there's too little material, instead of too much, and for some reason, films have been standardized at 2-3 hrs. --Jen