Round One: JDub on "Where the Wild Things Are"

Posted 4/16/2010 by JDub in Labels: , , , , , ,
So everyone got all excited when word came out that Spike Jonze was getting a hold of Maurice Sendak's timeless kid's book "Where the Wild Things Are." I must admit that I was among that group of people. My parents read the book to me when I was a kid, and I remember being absolutely stoked to find out they'd be making it into a movie.

There are many things about the film that Jonze got right. He found a cute enough kid, the CGI beasties are surprisingly belivable as living creatures, the music is fabulous in that indie sort of way, and even the movie's earthy color palette does an excellent job of informing its heavy, brooding tone.

But for me, there's a glaring problem with the storyline that was invented to add some depth and conflict to the film. In both the book and the film, Max imagines himself off across a sea to the Wild Things' island as a way to escape the oppression of adults (mainly his mother) in the real world. Having been sent to his room, he felt that the adult world was not accepting of his true nature. This acceptance he found in his imagined world full of nice, soft, cuddly monsters.

But in the film, after being made king of the island, Max begins to discover that his carefree escapist jaunt into his own imaginary kingdom is tainted by quarrels and grudges between the Wild Things. Max's own presence seems to drive a wedge through some already strained relationships.

Rather than enjoy his time on the island, it seems to me that Max ends up leaving because he's fed up with his presence driving the beasties apart.. setting them against each other. It's almost as though he realizes that the cruel, adult world he left behind while on the island would be preferable to the even crueler world of the Wild Things. Obviously he leaves partly because he learns how he can do right by his mother, but seriously, how could any child's imagination spawn such a dark, forbidding, and uncertain place of escape?

The dirt clod fight was a bust, the fort they built together was yet another source of division among the Wild Things, and being king certainly wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The harder Max tried to understand their situation and help them, the worse things got for everyone involved. Reality and fear of death creep into a place which should keep both at arms length:

The appeal of the book for me as a kid was this idea of escaping the tyranny of the strict adult world in favor of an imaginary place where you're king, your loyal and loving subjects are both powerful and scary as well as soft and cuddly, and you always get your way. When Max comes home at the end of the book, he finds his dinner waiting for him in his room, still warm. This is a story of perspective: it was his escape into fantasy that allowed him to see the good in the real world he had left behind.

In the movie, however, Max's fantasy world turns out to be more confusing and depressing than his real life. Sure he gets to be king and romp and build things and destroy things, but what kid's mind could conceive the kind of social drama some of the Wild Things have between them?

I normally have very little patience for people who are too critical of films based on books, but in this case, I can't help but believe that there must be a thousand ways to have introduced conflict and struggle into the original story without ruining Max's fun so completely.

And in the end, this is a kid's book we're talking about: postmodern fatalist brooding really need not apply. Sure, Spike Jonze put together a solid piece of film, but great cinematography, acting, music, and CGI just don't make up for over-wrought and impossible to follow travesty that is his storyline.

Anyone care to disagree? Bring it!

0 comment(s) to... “Round One: JDub on "Where the Wild Things Are"”


Free Blog Counter