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Where the Wild Things Are


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We did the same thing at A&F at some point in our history. Needless to say, he forgot the Babe franchise, The Black Stallion, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, and basically every Tati film.

There is no "Babe franchise." Babe is a great family film, one of the greatest. Pig in the City is ... something wholly other.

You tell 'em, SDG! :)

Some are saying it's a film made to please critics, but if so, that clearly isn't working: Critics are as divided in their opinions of this one as anybody else. Kenneth Turan calls it "self-indulgent." Manhola Dargis is enthralled.

This is a good sign, I think. I have no plans to see the film immediately, but, you know, plans change.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Review pending, but I walked out thinking it was good, not great. I really wish Jonze had trusted his images more, and let the point of the whole story emerge from longer passages of wordless wild rumpus.

I actually didn't mind the introductory sequence so much, as it does help viewers connect dots, but from there I wish Jonze would have followed Sendak's cue more carefully.

There are many things I really, really like about it, especially how Carol becomes an embodiment of all the sorrow and anger we often feel for no other reason than that we are human.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I really wish Jonze had trusted his images more, and let the point of the whole story emerge from longer passages of wordless wild rumpus.

I actually didn't mind the introductory sequence so much, as it does help viewers connect dots, but from there I wish Jonze would have followed Sendak's cue more carefully.

Sure. The movie you are describing is the movie about which I said, "If it works, Jonze is a freaking magician." Well, he didn't make that movie.

If you watch it sui generis, though, as a better cousin of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, or a Muppet-ier cousin of E.T., then I think it is something rather wonderful, better than just good, though I would agree that greatness eludes it.

Darn. I should have used that Labyrinth / The Dark Crystal / E.T. stuff in my review. Maybe I'll go back and add it.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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New graf:

Watching the film, at times I wished for something closer to Sendak, something simpler and less talky, with more attention to the book's most striking images: not just the missing bedroom scene, but the sea-monster Thing that greets Max before he makes land; the Things swinging through the treetops like monkey bars during the Wild Rumpus; the sweater-striped Thing (Carol) bowing in courtly fashion to the newly crowned Max. Yet put the book aside and watch the film as a Thing unto itself, as a better cousin of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, or a Muppet-ier cousin of E.T., and I think it is something rather wonderful.
Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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How timely, I basically just wrote the same thing at Filmwell.

I dunno if that is basically the same thing, I think you went a layer or two deeper than I did. :)

OTOH, I did write, in my first graf, about the very phenomenon you describe of grappling with WTWTA as a kid and not quite getting it, and that being integral to the book's magic.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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OTOH, I did write, in my first graf, about the very phenomenon you describe of grappling with WTWTA as a kid and not quite getting it, and that being integral to the book's magic.

Magic, wonder, grace. I feel a book out there called: The Gospel According to Children's Literature. Chapter 1: The Hundred Acre Woods.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Link to the thread on the novelization.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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FWIW, Being John Malkovich grossed $22.9 million in 1999, and Adaptation grossed $22.5 million in 2002. And now, based on the Friday returns, people are saying that Where the Wild Things Are could gross somewhere between $30 million and $40 million in its first weekend alone. So, this film could outgross both of Spike Jonze's previous films COMBINED within its first week or so.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I just saw WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. In my theater, kids were pretty much bored out of their minds. Many families left. I don't blame them. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE isn't particularly exciting or eventful, and it certainly doesn't have a particularly great understanding of how to tell a story to children. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE isn't the cinematic equivalent of a child reading Sendak's book, it's the equivalent of an adult reading Sendak's book and ruminating on it. On that level, it works fairly well as a kind of tone poem for adults, though I wish that Jonze had been more concerned with engaging the younger audience.

I'm not sure it justifies its running time. The film would likely have been more potent at 60 minutes, instead of 90. Nor does Jonze sufficiently grant a feeling of "fun" to the proceedings. It's there in the trailers, but it sure isn't there in the film (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, sadly, is one of those films where the trailer is both more powerful, thrilling, and engaging than the film itself). While Jonze's vision deals heavily with the nature of sadness, and that's actually a beautiful way to adapt the story, it would have been a smart choice to have Max's introduction to the island be a little less somber, so that we could really feel the exhilaration of something like the rumpus. Things are so consistently muted, I never had feelings of wonder or delight.

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David Poland: "Simply put, it is the great film about divorce and its effect on children of this generation. The last English-language film that hit the subject so cleanly and skillfully was Alan Parker’s long forgotten 1982 masterpiece, Shoot The Moon, written by Bo Goldman...."

Shoot the Moon came out the same year as E.T., eh? And I always thought E.T. was a fairly definitive film about divorce and its effect on children. I may have to look up Shoot the Moon, then.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Thanks for the link, PTC. We were just talking about how it is possible to backtrack the interaction between Carol and KW to the marriage Max saw crumble. This would be an effective film in family and marriage therapy.

But add the criminally underseen Secret Lives of Dentists to that list of films about divorce. And then, Squid and the Whale, which I still think holds the title.

Edited by MLeary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I saw it tonight and loved it. Didn't see any families leave. Adults behind me were sniffling and crying, and I teared up several times myself.

What a powerful, meaningful film. I wholeheartedly agree that this is a great film about the consequences of divorce. The more we hear the Wild Things say, the more clear it became to me that were hearing echoes of debates and violence that had taken place at home. My friend John pointed out that he saw Max's mother still wearing a wedding ring... I'm going to have to look for that next time.

I have absolutely no gripes with this film... except what Leary noted about the Sea Monster no-show. And like SDG, I'm kind of astonished that the film exists at all. Jonze must have had to fight hard to get this thing to the screen, and I'm grateful that he did.

Another film that hasn't been mentioned in relationship to it: Pan's Labyrinth. Child, suffering from the failures of the adult world, must find a way to cope with the chaos and heartache. Escapes into a fantasy world, and finds the monsters waiting there. Tries to navigate through the challenges they pose, and returns... perhaps wiser. Of course, MirrorMask would be another related film.

But what about Phoebe in Wonderland, this year's other great (and sorely underrated) film about children coping with hardship through fantasy? I saw that film just a week ago, and couldn't stop thinking about it as I watched Wild Things.

Of the other child-actor performances I've seen, Max Records' performance reminds me, for some reason, of the kid who played Alec in The Black Stallion. Very convincing in how he wordlessly conveys loneliness, awe, and confusion.

While it never did play during the finished film, Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" will always be the theme song for this movie... at least for me. I don't know where they would have put it in the finished film... it's too heavy, and wouldn't have fit in with the film's delicate tone. But it is almost as if that song inspired this movie as much as Sendak's film.

And yes, I think I *would* share this movie with children. Some of the films that meant most to me when I was young were those that didn't tiptoe around hardship, sadness, and violence.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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And yes, I think I *would* share this movie with children. Some of the films that meant most to me when I was young were those that didn't tiptoe around hardship, sadness, and violence.

I 've no problem with telling children a very sad story, but this story isn't just sad, it's mopey.

Even PAN'S LABYRINTH, as dark as it is, offers more emotional variety and whimsy than this WILD THINGS and its EMOnsters (thanks goes to Stephanie Zacharek for that term) ever really manage. I would have thought that a child's imaginary world would be so much more creative. But these monsters are so subdued and miserable from the get-go, and their world isn't even that distinctive (it's more like a nature tour than a visit to a strange and foreign land). Given that the very idea is that Max has escaped here, shouldn't the world be more captivating, at least initially? This lonely, lifeless world doesn't seems like a downer from the get-go.

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Given that the very idea is that Max has escaped here, shouldn't the world be more captivating, at least initially?

Those pages of the book are not visually captivating in the sense that they are filled with eye-popping colors or ecstatic visuals. In fact, they are pretty monotone, and their longstanding power derives more from the clarity of Sendak's flat approach to line and color. They are fantastical, but in a way that requires the focused power of a child's imagination to instantiate. Then those pages are a pure riot.

A super fantastic interesting world would have been a massive departure from the book. Instead all the washed out Goldsworthy-like visual additions are very true to the spirit of Sendak's emotional and visual palette. It is a great adaptation in this sense.

The same could be said for the emotional wavelengths in the film, as they are a bit flat. The only specific emotion referenced in the book is whatever feeling is associated with rumpus. Any anger, loneliness, or regret is just barely suggested to the reader. So if one finds the film a bit drab, then there is another point at which it has done a good job following Sendak's cues.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Those pages of the book are not visually captivating in the sense that they are filled with eye-popping colors or ecstatic visuals.

Of course not. But Sendak's visuals are not quite the bleak, cold visuals of Jonze's film, either.

A super fantastic interesting world would have been a massive departure from the book.

I'm not asking for a "super fantastic" world with zany visuals all over the place. I just mean a slightly more whimsical one, one that's not just nature photography with some muppets standing around. In other words, I wanted their world to have more character. As I said, the owls were a nice touch, funny and just fantastic enough to make the world a bit more interesting (as did that brief glimpse of the dog in the desert). The film could have used more of those humorous, strange touches.

The same could be said for the emotional wavelengths in the film, as they are a bit flat. The only specific emotion referenced in the book is whatever feeling is associated with rumpus. Any anger, loneliness, or regret is just barely suggested to the reader. So if one finds the film a bit drab, then there is another point at which it has done a good job following Sendak's cues.

Well, what works in a nine sentence story doesn't necessarily work as a full-length film, and an hour-and-a-half film requires a more varied emotional palette. But I don't agree that Jonze has followed Sendak's cues; the film doesn't just "barely suggest" emotions like the book. Instead, melancholy drips from every fiber of Jonze's film. It's like there's a perpetual rain cloud hanging over every moment. Sad eyes abound, hushed conversations are the norm. Even the rumpus, which feels so alive in Sendak's book, feels rather subdued in the film. Sendak's book had warmth, if only because it abounded in humor. Jonze's film cannot claim the same; it is cold and sad.

Edited by Ryan H.
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cold and sad.

One person's cold and sad is another person's elegiac and luminous. I tends towards cinema that doesn't bank so much on technique and narrative structure (which I mused in my review is a result of being so steeped in things like Where the Wild Things Are as a child), and I suppose that is why I found so much richness in this one. If anything, Jonze's mistake was not making it flatter, less structured.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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cold and sad.

One person's cold and sad is another person's elegiac and luminous.

Maybe so. But I'm not asking that the film not be cold and sad (or, if you will, elegiac and luminous), but that it mix those qualities with humor, fun, and, yes, happiness (moreso than it already does, at any rate). A sharper contrast would not only make the work, on the whole, more engaging, but it would make those moments of sadness, bitterness, and melancholy more potent than they are.

Reading your review, I also think we come from very different places on the book itself. As a child, I read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE because it was a fun, humorous, satisfying, and simple story, and even reading the book now, I'm not sure that I believe the book "chronicles the moment when a child first discovers vast, looming emotions like loneliness, anger, and despair that are unfortunately the pillars of the bridge to adulthood." Jonze's film certainly does that, but in that respect, I think he actually departs from the spirit of the original story.

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That's what's wonderful about the book: It is wide open to interpretation. I always sensed a deep sadness... and fear... in Max. It had something to do with the illustrations, and with the boat.

This is *an* interpretation. It'll resonate with some, but not with others. But in this version of the story, Max arrives on the island during what may be the darkest moment of his life so far. He's afraid. He's desperately lonely. He's angry. And he wants to smash things. The Wild Things, being projections of his own emotions and experiences, represent his feelings and fears, and so it makes complete sense to me that they would be gloomy and distraught in this interpretation. And thus, a whimsical, reckless, fun Wild Rumpus would have seemed incongruous and dissonant. I would have wondered how he could just shut the door on his very recent trouble and play with carefree abandon. As it is, the Rumpus is a very kid-like romp, smashing things and jumping and wrestling... so full of a *desire* for fun that it never quite finds a coherent shape. But it worked for me.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I read the book as a child because I sensed depth there I didn't understand and it was caught up in those pages that appealed so much to me so much anyway just on a level of aesthetic instant gratification. I still think of it every now and then as an adult because I realized that there really was more to it after all.

Quotes like this from random Sendak interviews are why people read the book this same way:

"I never consciously set out to do books just for children; I’m out to do books that express myself. I’m no longer a child, so I have to express things that belong to grown-up people. If you find it in there, it should be in there. There are books strictly for kids, such as how to make a paper airplane or how to dress a doll, but that’s not my theme. My theme is living. I use a metaphor of children’s imagery and the form of a children’s book to express complicated, sophisticated adult feelings. I’ve never been able to demarcate that line which says here you’re a kid and there you’re a grown-up. When does that magic moment begin? I’m fifty-three and still coping with problems that were very real in my life when I was three."

"The monsters were based on relatives. They came from Europe, and they came on weekends to eat, and my mom had to cook. Three aunts and three uncles who spoke no English, practically. They grabbed you and twisted your face, and they thought that was an affectionate thing to do. And I knew that my mother's cooking was pretty terrible, and it also took forever, and there was every possibility that they would eat me, or my sister or my brother. We really had a wicked fantasy that they were capable of that. We couldn't taste any worse than what she was preparing. So that's who the Wild Things are. They're foreigners, lost in America, without a language. And children who are petrified of them, and don't understand that these gestures, these twistings of flesh, are meant to be affectionate. So there you go."

Edited by MLeary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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The Wild Things, being projections of his own emotions and experiences, represent his feelings and fears, and so it makes complete sense to me that they would be gloomy and distraught in this interpretation.

Naturally. I'm not suggesting they shouldn't be somewhat gloomy, but rather that that gloominess becomes more apparent as the film goes on, rather than hitting us with it as soon as Max has arrived. I didn't like that we entered the world of the wild things during one of Carol's tantrums, whether or not it paralleled Max's mental state at the time or not. The film needs to grant us some kind of escape for a few minutes, even if it's illusory, but it never really lets us have that moment. And even if they're projections of his own emotions and experiences, they're not going to be sullen and distraught all the time. Some more emotional variety could have made its way into Jonze's film without sacrificing his intent.

And thus, a whimsical, reckless, fun Wild Rumpus would have seemed incongruous and dissonant.

I would have settled for "exhilarating." Obviously, the rumpus is supposed to be a hedonistic, destructive orgy (in both Sendak's book and here, it's fueled by some kind of anger). So I'm not asking for a "nice" rumpus. But in its wanton destruction, there should be fun, because, frankly, destruction *is* fun (whether it should be fun or not). In the film, I found the rumpus very boring. The set-up to the rumpus was so much of a downer that the energy of the rumpus itself was somewhat undercut. I think we should, more or less, have gotten to the rumpus sooner, and that the rumpus should have been more creative and vibrant when it actually took place.

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Ryan H. wrote:

: I 've no problem with telling children a very sad story, but this story isn't just sad, it's mopey.

Heh.

: . . . its EMOnsters (thanks goes to Stephanie Zacharek for that term) . . .

FWIW, Mike D'Angelo dubbed the film "Where the Emo Things Are" in a tweet shortly before I saw the film, and that word loomed in my mind all through the screening.

Me, I'm wondering what to make of the "child of divorced parents" angle that many people seem to be settling on for this film. Obviously, when you're stretching a story out from its original 5 minutes to something like 90 minutes, you have to add a lot of material. But why THAT?

Why, for example, does this have to be a story about (as David Poland, I think, puts it) a boy learning to forgive himself and his mother? (This may or may not dovetail with Glenn Kenny's complaint that the film privileges childhood in a way that is demeaning to women, or however he put it. But it certainly dovetails with my own concern that the film shows zero interest in letting us know how long the boy has "really" been away from home, and how long the mother has gone through the trauma of not knowing where her child is -- elements that are not mere additions to the book, but are actual DEVIATIONS from the book that replace what the book did with something else entirely.)

I am particularly intrigued that SDG likes the film as much as he does, because, if memory serves, he has objected in the past to the way Hollywood seems to default to the idea that parents must always be divorced. One could easily argue that, by adding the divorce element where it never existed before, this film is guilty of the same kind of defaulting.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I would venture to guess that this is a very personal film for Eggers and Jonze. I doubt that this is a case of Hollywood "defaulting" to anything. Jonze's stories have always come from a place of sorrow, examining the ways that human beings let each other down (or themselves). Again, as the book is wide open to interpretation, I'd rather have an artist share a personal interpretation that resonates as true (and IMHO, this does) than anything focus-grouped or calculated to fulfill the wishes of an audience majority.

And since Sendak was clearly involved in dialogue about the film, I feel even less concern about deviations from the book than I would if someone had adapted it without the author's involvement.

(Especially, in this case, since the deviations worked *for* the film in ways that, say, The Tale of Despereaux's deviations conflicted with and ultimately blunted the impact of an original story that already contained *plenty* for a successful film. And yet, DiCamillo was apparently involved, to some degree, with that one right? Strange.)

Actually, bringing a *father* into the story, even a faithful father, would have been a deviation, wouldn't it? Maybe I'm forgetting something (I haven't seen the book for a few weeks)... but the book doesn't really describe Max's family situation at all, does it?

And if I'm remembering correctly, isn't it an intriguing detail that there *is* no father mentioned? It's a classic response to fairy tales and childrens' stories... to consider what is *absent* and let that influence one's interpretation.

Personally, I'm not *entirely* convinced this is a divorce story. If it is, fine; that certainly works with the film's evidence. But it's not the only explanation. Dad is gone, and Mom's still wearing the ring, but is there any possibility that he's dead? There's a lot of sadness related to the sun burning out... in moments of powerful feeling that echo a child's fears of losing parents. Since there are no hushed telephone arguments, no references from Max about dad's location, might it be that he died? Seems to me that *that* would align with the films' details, both particular and poetic. And it would make Max's struggle very similar to that of the boy in another excellent '09 film (but I'll leave the title out, since that would qualify as a major spoiler on that film.)

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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