Saturday, August 25, 2012

Where the Wild Things Are, a review

Among the articles I read religiously are Mark Rosewater's "Making Magic" on Magic: the Gathering's home page, every Monday. As you may have noticed by now, I'm a design junky, so I eat that stuff up. But it's more than just design articles, it's almost like a journal. I seem to recall in one of his articles he made mention of one of the best ways to keep readers is to make them emotionally invested. Not in the column, but in the author. Let the reader know what you're like behind the pen, or in this case, the keyboard. Share your other interests and the like. So I'm going to do just that.

Within the last year, I've rediscovered the Magic that is the public library. Every week or so, I go there and check out a bunch of stuff, devour it, and go back for more. Admittedly, most of what I've been getting have been comics (in no small part because I've been trying to break into the tangled quagmire that are American comics), but sometimes I'll get something else. A research journal on animals, or a movie or some such.

Recently, I rented "Where the Wild Things Are". A movie adapted from the beloved Maurice Sendak book of the same name. The first thing that occured to me is that it was quite impressive that they adapted such a work into a full-length movie. The book was 10 sentences long. The movie is 104 minutes. Whaaaaaaat.

I can't really make a 1:1 comparisson with the book since it's been a very long time since I last read it, and I can't seem to find my own copy, but if memory serves. Kid makes a mess, gets in trouble and sent to his room, gets mad at mom for being a poopyhead, goes to have adventures with monsters, calms down, goes home to warm dinner, happy ending yay.

It's a book that can, and has, been interpreted in a number of ways. The book was somewhat ambiguous, never making it explicit whether or not the boy was imagining or actually want on an adventure. The movie is somewhat similar but greatly expanded. The movie has a very particular vision. That vision seems to be something to the effect of "Change (in particular, growing up) kind of sucks."

A boy named max is coping with things. His sister has moved on to middle school and spends more time with her friends than him, his mom has begun dating again, and always, he's growing up. He takes this as well as most children, which is to say, not as well. Whenever things become too much to bear, he dresses up like a wolf and runs amok.

After a particularly heinous tantrum where he bites his mother while she had a date over, he runs away from home, eventually ending up in the realm of the Wild Things. They seem big and frightening to him at first, being much larger than him and furry monsters besides, and at first they are scary, threatening to eat him, but he quickly spins some yarns about being a great warrior and the monsters make him their king. In particular he befriends Carol, who like him, is prone to 'wild rumpuses'.

At first things seem fine. The monsters are like him, all they want to do is have fun, but as time goes on it becomes apparent that there are issues under the surface; problems, strained relationships, tempers. It becomes a metaphor; Max trying to be a king to his ornery 'people' in much the same way his mother tried to curb his eccentricities, eventually coming terms with the fact that his mother does what she does because she loves him, not because she hates him and is trying to keep him from having fun.

What really struck me about the film is how not particularly child friendly some of the details were. Don't get me wrong! I liked the movie. It had a very distinctive aesthetic to it, the greys and browns of the foliage giving the movie an old world great outdoors look when things were good, and a somber depressed look during heavier scenes, which worked for what the movie was trying to do. It was wonderful seeing all of the characters I recognized from the book given voices, identities, and even names (when before I knew them as 'goat', 'bird', 'redhead', etc.). It wasn't even the scary scenes in the movie (regarding the aforementioned eating of Max and some other stuff I don't want to spoil), but rather some very heavy emotional content.

Basically, some of the monsters are very unhappy. Some of them have problems with each other or themselves and since they're basically children, they aren't entirely sure how to go about fixing them, usually making them worse and straining their relationships further. I can't help but wonder if my five year old self had seen this, what I would have thought, If I would have asked my parents "Why are the monsters so unhappy." I'm just not sure if this qualifies as a children's movie at times.

In the end, I enjoyed it for what it was (though I am easy to please) and I would recommend it to fans of the book, but I will say openly and fully it was not what I expected, or what it was presented as in the commercials. See it for yourself and let me know what you think!

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