I’ve been trying to cope all weekend with my disappointment with “Where the Wild Things Are.” Mostly this has involved reading every single review of the movie I can find and hoping it will help me sort out my feelings about this beautiful movie.
Visually the movie is stunning. Every single minute of it is amazing. The monsters, the landscapes, the action, the seas — all of it is magnificent. On an emotional level the movie is tender and moving. It’s as though it appeals to some sort of base, reptilian, pre-cognitive heartstring. Because, on an intellectual level the movie kind of falls apart.
Wha? You might be saying, it’s a kids movie. Suck it, I say. The best kids movies appeal to children and adults (see Pixar).
I admire what co-writers Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers did, making each of the wild things embody a different thing that makes Max anxious or angry or afraid. But by doing that, they seem to take some of the wildness out of the things. They’re sort of an island of childhood anxiety look for a parent (or King in Max’s case) to make everything okay. The scenes when Max first arrives on the island where each monster is displaying thier anxiety is kind of heartbreaking.
At one point one of the wild things asks Max, “Will you keep out all the sadness?”
Ouch. What’s so wild about that? It’s just sad. And the wild things, even though they have fun for a little bit, are ultimately scared and sad. It’s a very sad movie.
It’s obvious to adults who have read the book that all the action on the island is Max’s dream, and even in the movie you can tell it’s a sort of dreamland where Max’s subconscious is trying to deal with what’s going on in his actual life.
Some of the conversations and dialog between the wild things is entirely too grownup for a nine-year-old boy and it’s pretty clear the monsters are repeating bits of conversation that Max has overheard.
But somehow all this doesn’t add up to a compelling story. In fact, there isn’t much of a plot at all. Max and the wild things build a fort, they realize he’s just a boy and not a king, and then Max goes home. There’s no tension, no real conflict, nothing really to drive you through the movie.
Sometimes I felt like I was watching a 90-minute music video, a visually stunning and somewhat heartbreaking music video, but a music video nonetheless.