Rated PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language.
Where The Wild Things Are was a well made but ultimately sad and depressing film that was not for me.
Max is a loner, although not by choice. His mom works hard to keep a job she's on the verge of losing, and her free time is taken up by a new man she's dating. His sister is indifferent to Max and her friends are even worse. Max tends to hide in his own made-up world where he can be whatever he wants. After fighting with his mom, Max runs away and finds a boat on the edge of the ocean. He sails for an unknown time and lands on an island inhabited by creatures great and small. The creatures all believe Max is a King, there to save them from sadness. But as hard as Max tries to make everything right, keeping creatures happy isn't easy and Max starts to believe he's done more harm than good.
The making of Where The Wild Things Are has been debated for the last couple of years - should it have even been made at all? The book upon which it is based is a very short one, with sparse dialogue but dreamlike imagery. Turning it into a movie is something some purists were afraid of, but I for one have no problem with anything being turned into a film. But the thing about books is, even with pictures, books allow you to create an image in your mind and you can expand it in the way you want it. With a movie, you're left with the vision of the director and if you don't like his vision, you won't like the movie. And that's how I felt about Where The Wild Things Are. While I can appreciate the tremendous visual effects, the story and look of the movie were very drab and not very happy.
My first problem is that Max is a pain. I understand the hurt he feels and the loneliness inside, but if a movie is supposed to be built around him, aren't I supposed to at least like him? Yes, he's a young kid who acts out because he doesn't know any better, but he has real anger management issues that make him really unlikeable. It's not as if we get to spend a lot of time with him to get to know him better. After a game goes wrong with his sister's friends, he immediately storms up to her room and trashes it. When his mother has a guest over he acts out, defying her at every turn and ultimately ends up biting her and runs away. So when he lands on the island of the Wild Things, I didn't care if he was happy because I didn't see any reason why he should be allowed happiness. It was obvious his mother was trying to do her best for him but he didn't care and while he might be happy on an island with strange creatures, his mom was worried sick back home.
On the island it was much of the same. The Wild Thing Max most related to was named Carol, who had the same basic personality as Max. He too felt like people didn't understand him and he acted out by destroying things. And so when Carol was happy, Max was happy because they were one in the same. The rest of the creatures took on personalities based on Max's relationships back home and in some ways I think Max could see that, but not enough to make it meaningful. Max tries really hard to be a leader to these creatures and make a life that involved only happiness and no sadness, but he soon comes to find that not everyone is happy with the same thing. It slowly dawns on him that maybe he needed to realize that back home and so, he decides to head back to his mom. In the book it is specifically written that Max was away for over a year, but when he gets back home, nothing has changed. In the movie it is hard to tell what kind of time goes by. Mainly because his mom is already back home after chasing him down the street, but the guy she was dating has disappeared and there are no cops around searching. And without a word of apology, Max sits down for cake. The message I get is, run away when you feel like it and when you come back home, everything will be OK.
On the island the creatures were just as miserable as Max. It was almost as if they wanted to be angry or sad because those are easier emotions to hang on to. The entire movie lacked any kind of warmth or happiness for me. I spend 100+ minutes waiting for something to happen that would make me feel warm inside. But the colors of the film were so stark and muted that even in the scene where everyone pig piles on each other to sleep, I didn't feel anything. In fact I felt more scared that Max was going to suffocate. But even when he clears a path for himself, it ends up with him having a conversation with KW, one of the Wild Things who ran away. In fact, the movie was filled with these conversations that brought the movie to a crashing halt. Yes, if you only filmed what was in the book, the movie would be about 10 minutes long, so I understand the need to stretch it out some, but these introspective conversations will fly over the heads of most children and will bore the adults. And no matter how bad someone was, there were no repercussions. Towards the end of the movie, Carol gets so mad at his best friend, he rips his arm off. He ripped his best friend's arm off! And a few minutes later the arm is replaced with a stick and is played for laughs. How is that a good thing to show kids?
I will give the movie props for the visual effects. The line between puppet and CGI was completely blurred. The Wild Things looked exactly like they did in the book, and the facial movements were incredible. It may be the best visual effect I've seen in a movie and I wouldn't be surprised if people remember that around award season. And while I didn't care for the look of the film, I can understand why some people would. It's a very monochromatic film, mostly brown in nature. It reminded me a lot of an indie film, in both the look and the story. Just an indie film with puppets. Will kids like it? That's hard to say. There are scenes - the snowball fight, the pig pile - that kids will enjoy. But I believe for the most part, they'll just be bored because after the joy of first seeing the Wild Things disappears, there's nothing for them to latch on to. And from my perspective, a movie based on a children's book that carries a PG rating - which to me means they're still going after a kids audience - should be more lively and colorful. And happy.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I didn't enjoy Where The Wild Things Are. It's not that it's a badly made film, it's just that the vision the director brought isn't something I agree with. There was nothing about the film that made me want to care about the characters and so I could never get into it.