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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book to Screen: Where the Wild Things Are

By Paul Wulff

Being a “movie geek” as my wife calls me, I have often browsed the internet to check on movies in production, being filmed or about to be released.  I was completely dumbfounded when I heard that Where the Wild Things Are was going to be made into a feature film, and a live action feature for that matter.  I loved that story when I was a child and have read that story to my children as well but how could they take a story that has very few lines of action and dialogue into a feature film?

Well, I blame The Polar Express and Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. As it goes in Hollywood, when a trend becomes successful, they run with it until they run it into the ground.  Now, as I continued to read the progression of this feature, I read that Spike Jonze, director of Being John Malkovich, would be directing it, I already knew that it would be dark and brooding.  That eliminates the one demographic that the book was made for: children.  Then came the news that they would be using giant puppets for the wild things and I immediately had images of H.R. Puffnstuff in my head.  Why not make them computer generated?  Why not make the entire film computer generated? Why make the movie at all? 

My fears continued as I read after filming that the movie had to do “massive reshoots” and its release date was going to be delayed in the theaters.  That right there was a red flag that this was not going to be good.  Then the first teaser trailer came out and I was proven wrong.  The movie looked FANTASTIC!  The music, the costumes, the dialogue, the scenery, all of it looked like it was pulled from Maurice’s pages.  I was ready to buy my ticket.  However, I held off to hear what the critics said.  Several panned it while some others praised it.  A mixed bag for sure.  The film was finally released and I had thought that my generation would eat this up (pun intended).  I was both right and wrong.  Some loved it, some hated it.  Some took their children, some didn’t.  The overall consensus was NOT to take your child under 9 because they would be bored to tears (or nap in some instances).

In the end after much deliberation, I waited until the DVD came out and watched it.  I am glad I didn’t pay to go see it in theaters.  It was like the waves that crashed along Max’s boat, it was up and down, exciting and boring.  Granted, the movie does stand up to its source and, in some instances, surpasses it in art direction but the demographic this film was aimed for was thrown out immediately when the wild things began to talk.   This was certainly not for children.

The movie follows the adventures of Max, who looks to be about 6 (he’s closer to 9 in the movie) and enters making mischief “of one kind and another” while dressed in a wolf suit with a long, bushy tail and a hood with ears and whiskers. After his unseen mother (whose role is expanded by Kathrine Keener) calls him “wild thing!” and he threatens to eat her up, he is sent to his room without dinner. But his room magically transforms into a forest and, finding a boat, he sails to a place populated by giant, hairy, scary beasts that make him their king. Eventually the tug of home pulls him back to his room, where supper (“still hot”) sits waiting.

This is where the movie and the book end in comparison.  It is nicely interpreted in the film but like its predecessors, Polar Express, The Grinch and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs they had to add elements to the film and what was added to Wild Things did not come off as a success.  The creatures did have elements of being “wild” but when they strayed away from the source material and had meaningful conversations with Max; I wondered what kind of anti-depression medication they were on.  This was where the film lost me.  I didn’t care for the dialogue.  Putting myself in a child’s shoes, the topics discussed between Max and the creatures are above their heads.  If the makers of this film wanted it to be a success, they should have taken a lesson from Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and kept the film close to its intended audience and make the scenes and dialogue topics that were added, at least remotely close to the book and not stray too far into a college-level Psychology class.  I had written off the film until parts of the book trickled back in and Max went back home with his dinner was still waiting.

In conclusion, if you are a fan of the book and you are a parent yourself, I would not watch this with your child unless they are in middle school or high school.  Spike Jonze, who wrote and directed this film, missed a huge opportunity to create a great adaptation of a classic children’s book. 
Letter Grade for Where the Wild Things Are: C-

Special Thanks to Paul for writing this "Book to Screen" post.
I encourage you to share your thoughts on the movie Where the Wild Things Are and Paul's post in the comments section below. 

Happy Birthday Maurice Sendak, June 10!

- Check out the Happy Birthday Author Maurice Sendak Post

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