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Wild or sulky?

Where the Wild Things Are was a book I loved as a child, and it has been one that we have read over and over again to our boys, so much so that we have the call and response down pat: “And Max said…” “NO!” And everyone loves jumping on the bed when the wild rumpus starts. So naturally we were very excited by the idea of the film and went as a whole family.

And my response…well, it is just a bit boring. Actually, quite boring. After a bit I was dying for Max to get back on his private boat and sail away, and it wasn’t just because the 3 year old was climbing all over me – I couldn’t take it any more. Yet I wouldn’t say it was a bad film; the costumes were brilliant and the photography lovely (though I could have done with a little less shakily hand held) and the light was beautiful and the performances were good (I especially thought that Max was great)…but it just didn’t quite have the plot to sustain it. And not only that, but that the conception of the idea of “wild” was one which didn’t gel with me, and the overly depressive nature of the wild things just added to the boredom.

A few reviewers I have seen have argued that it is a film “about” children or one which captures the essence of childhood, but I am not sure that I agree. It seems to be a view of children from someone who doesn’t like children, and/or doesn’t know them well enough to be able to capture the roundedness of children. Yes, children do get sulky and be difficult and get lonely and grumpy, but they also have this amazing joy and wonder and kindness and happiness. In fact, children are more often happy and intrigued in my experience than sulky and sad. The film failed to capture those kind of ideas. For me, the wildness of children is their variability and changeability – one moment they are thrilled and happy, the next the depth of despair and then five minutes later they have engaged with something else again. The endless downer of the wild things and the dude-ish tones made it all rather more teenage – a ‘Where the Emo Things Are’ interpretation of the film. There were glimpses of something else, particularly in the characters of KW and Carol, but mostly it was drowned out by the over all doleful tone.

The thing that interests me the most is Maurice Sendak’s involvement in the film and thus overt approval of the approach. His books for me always captured a little more mischief and joy that the sullen depression of the wild things. Max’s sneak attack on his sister’s friends is more like it, but that seems to disappear largely when he hits the island.

But sadly, overall, it is not a film I would see again, or recommend to anyone. Which is not the childhood magic one had hoped.

2 responses to “Wild or sulky?

  1. Joel Bass

    I found your comments very insightful, but I had a different reaction to the movie. I’ll say, straight off, that I do a lot of conscious expectation-lowering before going to see a movie of one of my favorite books. And I’d read that Spike Jonze, unsure about filming his personal take on the book, was counseled by Sendak, “The book means something different to every reader. All you can do is show what it meant to you.” Or words to that effect.

    For me this was, yes, not a movie for kids but a movie about childhood. But it wasn’t even about ALL of childhood, which, as you say, is a many-splendored thing. This was about a certain aspect of childhood that isn’t talked about much, or shown in movies: that terrible process of learning how to deal with one’s emotions. As a boy, I definitely knew that creative, giddy energy that could turn so quickly to destructive energy. What do you do with that? How do we learn to feel our feelings but also respect the people and things around us? It’s not an easy or comfortable lesson, and I’ve never seen a movie capture it so perfectly.

    • godardsletterboxes ⋅

      Despite bitter experience, I still haven’t totally got the hang of expectation lowering – especially when it comes to something you really, really, really want to be good…. I like your perspective Joel; I guess you could see it as a very specific depiction of an aspect of childhood, and the idea of the uncontrollability of emotions is certainly at the forefront there. I guess I still would have liked something a little more magical, and hopeful, and, ultimately, rather less boring!

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