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Davis, California

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

I was surprised to find out that more people haven’t read Where The Wild Things Are than I thought. So when I showed them the epic Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” version of the trailer, I was disappointed that they weren’t as moved as I was.

Mind you, I had been anticipating the premiere of this movie ever since Warner Brothers broadcasted the release date – I bought my tickets on Fandango.com, listened to Karen O and the Kids (OST “Worried Shoes!”) on repeat, changed my desktop background to one of Sendak’s book illustrations and re-read the book countless times.

So there is much to say about the adaption of this 37-page book into a full fledge feature film. First, let me just say this: I hate first impressions. Which is why when I wasn’t wowed the first time I watched it (and yes, I watched it twice) I had hope that the second time around, my thoughts on Spike Jonze’s interpretation of one of my favorite children’s books of all time, would be different.

But it wasn’t. Unfortunately, the problem with turning a children’s book that had limited dialogue and plot line to begin with is that you don’t have much to work with besides the illustrations and a few catch phrases here and there.

In the book, Max is sent to bed without his supper. His bedroom begins to turn into a forest as he sails away to a place where hairy looking beasts make him their king. After sending the beasts to bed without supper, he returns home to find his own supper waiting for him.

I realized now that I didn’t actually understand the message of Sendak’s book as a child or even the significance of his supper being “still hot.” I probably enjoyed the silly beast illustrations and the fact that it was clearly an easy read. Being able to watch Jonze’s version of the book as a college student, I have to say the movie ebbed a darker tone then I remembered. It made me wonder if the movie was actually intended for children, and if not, it was a little on-the-verge boring for adults.

It was clear that Director Spike Jonze had his own aesthetic vision of Maurice Sendak’s book – just as any artist would, naturally. So don’t get me wrong. I think, visually, it was a masterpiece.

Lance Acord’s cinematography left a lasting impression, just as the book’s illustrations did so long ago. I appreciated the angles in which the camera followed Max’s perspective (played by debut actor Max Records) and the realities of a neglected child with divorced parents.

But, the way Jonze portrayed the beasts with freakishly whiney voices (played by James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker and Chris Cooper) took away from the playfulness I had originally envisioned for these characters. The beasts were scary-looking, even for me.

And I think the reason why I was a little bored when watching this movie was because there was no driving force or climax in the plot. This isn’t Jonze’s fault, per se, but let’s just say it is. He probably would have received a lot of criticism from die-hard fans if he added to the nature of the book. Even so, there was so much potential for creativity that was disappointingly unmet.

Jonze failed to explore the depths of the imagination of a child but instead took a profoundly heavy message about childhood that was originally absent from the book. He adapted a beloved, classic children’s book into a thought-provoking feature film.

We follow Max’s looming sadness, disappointment, fears (big and small) and anger that hang over him throughout the entire film. It is the absent father, negligent sister, preoccupied mother and lack of attention thereof that makes this film hard to watch – for any adult who could relate.

I think the movie was too heavy for a seven-year-old child and had too many silent pauses (that Jonze purposely left for moments of reflection). But it did speak to the wild things in all of us.

So did Jonze achieve what he set out to do? Absolutely. It just wasn’t what I was expecting from the trailer. I was misled into thinking that it would be a children’s movie; instead, it was a movie about childhood.

KAREN SONG can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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