Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

What a curious film.

My only real criticism of the movie is that it wasn't what I thought I was going to see. I expected whimsical. And when the kid has just broken up with her boyfriend, and is feeling blue, and you say, "hey, let's go to a movie," I can tell you that you're hoping for something that Where the Wild Things Are was not. In spite of the dozens of toddlers and little tykes around me, this was not a children's film. I can't imagine what the little ones thought, but my guess is that the real-life scenes might have inspired more nightmares than the monsters on the island.

That said, I thought the film was a warm meditation on the frightening hazards of being a kid in a big, scary world. I thought Dave Eggers' script and Spike Jonze's images did a fine job of communicating what life is like in a post-Edenic universe. The yearning for something that had been lost -- on both Max's and Monster Carroll's parts -- was palpable. I'm not suggesting that Eggers and Jonze were making a movie from a consciously Christian worldview. They just happened to get the tone exactly right. The idyllic little model village that Carroll constructed, and its subsequent smash-up, were the strongest images in the film for me. For what it's worth, I didn't find the neurotic whining of the monsters particularly bothersome. I work with neurotic monsters like that every day.

Still, there are problematic elements in the movie. It’s based on a well-known children’s book, and one thing this film was not was a children's movie, although I think it's a fine film for anyone, say, ten years old or older. Why is this a big deal? Well, because it's been billed as a kids movie, and because I saw a lot of parents with toddlers and young elementary age children with them in the theater. And those kids seemed to alternate between being upset and bored. Who could blame them? What young child is going to be able to take in the concept of the end of the universe and a dying sun? If it's confusing for Max at 9, imagine the fun images in the heads of 4- and 5-year-olds.

That's my struggle with the movie. It wants to play it both ways -- kiddie romp and weighty film that addresses the uncertainties of broken families and, God forbid, the impending apocalypse -- and because of that it works well for adults. But those damn muppet costumes are going to fool a lot of parents. And some of them are going to be understandably unhappy. We need a new rating -- E for Existential Dread. G or PG doesn't even begin to cover the issues.

9 comments:

Karen said...

we're taking simon and greta this weekend. i'll let you know what they thought. :)

mikejonze said...

so your problem is not really with the movie itself but with its marketing campaign. right? because i've heard spike say several times that he did not set out to make a children's movie, but to make a movie about childhood. those are two very different things.

Andy Whitman said...

Mike, yes, the ad campaign is misleading, but it's a bit more than that. I like this film. A lot. But it's based on a book that parents read to their little kids. Spike can state, "I'm not making a children's movie," but neverthless, in the minds of millions of parents, they'll be taking their kids to see a children's movie. And that's not what they'll get. They'll get a very fine movie about childhood. Whether that will be sufficient to offset the outraged cries of betrayal from some quarters remains to be seen.

I wouldn't take a little kid to this movie. But I'd certainly read Maurice Sendak's book to a little kid. And therein lies the dilemma.

roadkills-r-us said...

Before I read your review, I kinda wanted to see this, and was debating offering to take my young niece. Now I *really* want to see it, and no way am I taking her. Thanks.

mdeals said...

Its a nice collection for kids..

Karen said...

you know, i have several friends who *have* taken their kids and every single one of them have said their kids have enjoyed it. so maybe, just maybe... maybe they are getting something out of it that you aren't seeing? or maybe you're underestimating what appeals to kids. :) i'm sure there will be some that don't like it (maybe even mine!), but so far, all i'm hearing is good things from parents and their kids. :)

Dana said...

My husband and I took our daughter to see it. But she is 17. We talked about the loss of innocence from book to movie. We also came home and watched our copy of the Maurice Sendak 10 minute cartoon which is a child's movie. We are still sorting through it.

Andy Whitman said...

Karen, yeah, this is admittedly one person's take, and it could be skewed. I hope you and your kids enjoy the movie.

Emily Wilkes said...

While Where the Wild Things Are is based on a children's book, this particular children's book contains some really tough psychological stuff for kids to deal with. When it first came out, psychologists even cautioned parents about reading the book to their children. It is possible that Where the Wild Things Are is really intended for an adult audience. Adults would get more from it and see it as a way to revisit their childhood nightmares, while children would want to play up on the imaginative features of the story.