IT’S WILD OUT THERE FOR KIDS

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss

/ bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

DES­TINED TO BE a fa­vorite of artists, folkies, hipsters, cultists, ther­a­pists, film the­o­rists and de­pres­sives, if not nec­es­sar­ily chil­dren, “Where the Wild Things Are” is a dis­tinc­tive, per­haps un­prece­dented, project. It uses its 1963 pic­ture-book in­spi­ra­tion like some sort of com­bi­na­tion med­i­cal in­stru­ment and painter’s brush, to probe and il­lu­mi­nate the themes of lone­li­ness, in­se­cu­rity and love em­bed­ded within the cross­hatch pat­terns of orig­i­nal au­thor Mau­rice Sen­dak’s draw­ings of furry mon­sters, mag­i­cal trees and cozy bed­rooms.

Di­rected with much alien­at­ing hand­held cam­er­a­work and an ex­treme in­die/artsy sen­si­bil­ity by Spike Jonze, whose adult fa­bles (“Be­ing John Malkovich,” “Adap­ta­tion”) have been sim­i­larly dis­ori­ent­ing, “Where the Wild Things Are” is a ma­jor-stu­dio (Warner Bros.), big-bud­get (close to $100 mil­lion) pro­duc­tion

that re­jects the ease that money brings by es­chew­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy in fa­vor of hand­crafted ef­fects when­ever pos­si­ble. About half­way through the story, Max, the boy in the dirty ter­rycloth wolf suit, and his new mon­ster friends cre­ate a makeshift fort out of wood and dirt; the movie has a sim­i­lar bird’s nest feel, like some­thing won­der­ful con­structed from twigs and spit.

“Where the Wild Things Are” rep­re­sents a true and long-pro­tracted la­bor of love for Jonze and co-scripter Dave Eg­gers, the writer whose sig­na­ture book, “A Heart­break­ing Work of Stag­ger­ing Ge­nius,” of­fers a phrase to sum up the film­mak­ers’ in­ten­tions. Trans­form­ing Sen­dak’s 40-page chil­dren’s book — a work that con­tains only 10 sen­tences — into a live-action fea­ture film is, on the face of it, a daft, doomed, de­gen­er­ate idea. (Think of Ron Howard’s “How the Grinch Stole Christ­mas,” an in­sult to both audiences and Dr. Seuss.) That’s why the film is not so much an adap­ta­tion as an ex­pan­sion of Sen­dak’s book; it could be the story of a boy who has read the book, rather than the story of the boy in the book it­self. One can only hope the movie doesn’t re­place the orig­i­nal in the minds of chil­dren, who now will be able to iden­tify Sen­dak’s mon­sters, the “wild things,” by sex and by such in­con­gru­ously mun­dane names as Ju­dith (the one with a horn on its nose) and Alexan­der (the goat).

The movie opens in the “real” world, where we are in­tro­duced to young Max (beau­ti­fully played by Max Records), a sen­si­tive boy barely in con­trol of his knife’s-edge emo­tions. He feels ne­glected, by his un­pro­tec­tive big sis­ter and his stressed-out mother (Cather­ine Keener); his fa­ther’s ab­sence is un­ex­plained. His play­time quickly turns to tears; his lone­li­ness turns to rage. In his in­choate yearn­ing, Max seems closer to such an­ti­heroes as James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause,” or Stan­ley Kowal­ski, or even Har­vey Kei­tel in “The Bad Lieu­tenant” than to the kids found in most “chil­dren’s” ad­ven­ture movies.

Is Max’s fear­ful­ness sur­pris­ing? A teacher tells Max’s class that “even the sun will die,” but that mankind prob­a­bly won’t be around to be scared by the eter­nal dark­ness, thanks to “war, pol­lu­tion, global warm­ing, tsunamis, earth­quakes, me­te­ors...”

Af­ter a fight with his mother, Max runs into the night, un­til he reaches a boat that takes him to the forested is­land Where the Wild Things Are. Th­ese seven beasts speak in the voices and ac­cents of typ­i­cal, kvetch­ing adults, but their petty jeal­ousies, shift­ing al­liances, flare-ups of tem­per and play­time in­juries are child­like. Faith­fully de­signed to re­sem­ble Sen­dak’s il­lus­tra­tions, the furry, pot-bel­lied mon­sters are played by ac­tors in huge suits cre­ated by Jim Hen­son’s Crea­ture Shop; com­puter an­i­ma­tion, how­ever, was used to cre­ate the ex­pres­sions that crease the broad faces on their over­sized heads.

The wild things ac­cept Max as their king, and they en­gage in ram­bunc­tious dirt-clod fights and runs through the woods, like long­time friends; even so, the mon­sters and the movie they in­habit are hard to warm up to. Ju­dith (voiced by Cather­ine O’Hara) calls her­self “Debby Downer,” and asks Max if he’ll “keep out all the lone­li­ness” dur­ing his reign.

Max’s best friend, more or less, among the wild things is Carol (James Gan­dolfini), a fa­ther fig­ure who longs to re­unite with K.W. (Lauren Am­brose). Carol is given to ex­plo­sions of tem­per that per­haps re­veal why Max’s fa­ther is ab­sent, and ex­plain Max’s own in­sta­bil­ity. “You’re out of con­trol,” K.W. warns Carol. “I just want us all to be to­gether,” Carol claims. In one scene, Max hides from Carol by crawl­ing in­side K.W.’s large mouth; the re­turn-to -the -womb sig­nif­i­cance is con­firmed min­utes later, when Max is re­born in a sort of slimy re­gur­gi­ta­tion.

“The psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions are sound,” as a beard-stroking quote from the Bul­letin of the Cen­ter for Chil­dren’s Books, Uni­ver­sity of Chicago, states on the sleeve of later edi­tions of Sen­dak’s book. Like the book, the movie ends on a note of hope and com­fort; but the scari­ness and de­spair in the film are hard to shake off. The ti­tle isn’t a ques­tion, but the movie pro­vides an an­swer: Ev­ery­where.

— John Bei­fuss: 529-2394

Matt Net­theim/Warner Bros. Pic­tures

Max Records is Max and Lauren Am­brose lands her voice to K.W. in the kid-ori­ented (or is it?) fan­tasy-ad­ven­ture “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.