Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

Even just hearing the title of this film strikes a deep, nostalgic chord with thousands around the globe, who exclaim 'That was my favourite book when I was little!' I'm quite jealous, I never had it read to me, and have never read it myself, but it seems to have such a profound meaning to those that grew up with the story. In this way, I think the deeper childhood link that the film touches was lost on me, as I viewed the whole thing in a completely new light. But, at least I can be fairly detached on viewing the film alone in its own right. Hopefully.

From what I've gathered about the book, 'Where The Wild Things Are' by Maurice Sendack tells the story of Max, a young boy who has been misbehaving at home, running around in his wolf costume, and is sent to bed with no dinner. His imagination transforms his room into the land of the Wild Things; scary creatures that he conquers by becoming their king. Eventually, Max becomes homesick, and returns back to find his supper warm and waiting for him. It's no caterpillar eating stuff, but it sounds like the kind of thing I would've liked. Much deeper than just a book with strange creatures and flights of the imagination, the story won critical acclaim for its view on the physical representations of anger and fear that the Wild Things represent, and the fact that Max leaves them for the comfort of his home and parental love. However, despite the great reception the book received, it was banned from several countries for a while due to the fact it does not exemplify any particular morals or values, like children's books are 'supposed' to do. Max is a naughty child, he does not apologise for his behaviour, and instead of trying to sooth him and teach him the right way to behave, he is simply sent to bed without dinner.

The film carries on in a similar vein, Max is a horror of a boy at times; loud, aggressive, attention-seeking and inconsiderate. But it is an accurate representation of being a child. All children lack the self control and understanding of how to not be all of those things. Director, Spike Jonze, said himself, that his film is one about childhood; the state of flux between fearlessness and fear, where anything seems possible but at the same time everything is a threat.
Jonze has included more of a rounded backstory that triggers Max's trip to the land of the Wild Things, he is a lonely, often bored child - he has no father at home, his sister hangs around with older boys who bully him, and his mum is uptight about work, money, and a new man she is seeing (who came in the form of a slightly random cameo part by Mark Ruffalo!). Max craves attention, and devises a way to get it by dressing up in a wolf costume and climbing on the kitchen counters, much to his mother's horror as her bemused date looks on the chaos. Max's wild actions, particularly biting his mother's shoulder, make him run away, find a boat and sail off to an unknown land of Wild Things. Jonze said this was the one sticking point between he and Sendack, who wanted the film to show Max's room morphing into a jungle like in his book, this way, however, Max's anger and stubborness is physically represented as he actively takes himself away from home and safety.
Once Max has found the Wild Things, the wonders of CGI and elaborate costumes are revealed. Unlike many film makers, who may have made the Wild Things completely computer animated, Jonze wanted them to have a believable physicality, so that Max could touch and interact with them, and so that the element of danger under the surface is very real. You can see how their fur is dirty and matted, how their immense weight and size makes Max so vulnerable. The CGI facial expressions then works to bring the characters to life and exemplifies the various emotions that each Wild Thing represents; anger, rejection, frustration etc.
As a whole, the film definitely runs in peaks and troughs. This may be competely intentional to show how things are when you are a child - like the peak of Max's snowball fight and the trough of getting trapped in his igloo. The high points are wonderful, Max's unabashed happiness and freedom, especially when reinforced with the crazy soundtrack by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, makes you want to get up from your seat and run along with him. There are some cinematically brilliant shots, too. But there are also some moments that are just sort of static and slow. And, while he is with the Wild Things, not a lot actually happens. Max does begin to appreciate the monsters and develop a level of empathy for those other than himself, which leads you to believe he may utilize this once he is back home and perhaps stop giving his mother such a hard time, but who knows.
This is certainly an impressive film, and despite my lack of childhood connection with the original story, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. As for the new generation of children who may encounter the film before the book, I'm not really sure who it is aimed at - it is rather violent and menacing at times for small children, but then would older kids really want to watch big fluffy creatures? If it is in fact just a film about childhood, one would say it is then perhaps a bit of an indulgent film for adults to fuel their nostalgia. Either way, I'm sure the buzz surrounding this movie will continue now that it has been released.
Where The Wild Things Are - 3.5/5

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