Hollywood is certainly not helping people grow up. It’s as though filmmakers are following children throughout their adolescence, into adulthood, and keeping them nostalgia free. Hey, The Princess and the Frog is animated in the “timeless Disney fashion”, Alice in Wonderland is coming out pretty soon, and now we’ve got a sophomoric adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze and starring Max Records (as Max). It’s nice we’ve got people like Spike around, otherwise we might forget everything. Or wait…would we forget everything? Is it possible that the impression I got when I first read Where the Wild Things Are is the one I want to keep forever? No, it can’t be…
WWTA is a visual treat like it’s supposed to be. No surprises there. The cinematography is pretty lavish, repetitious (in a good way), and aesthetic, which makes you feel like you’re a significant part of Max’s world. My eyes were all over the screen, and all over the Wild Things, which Spike Jonze decided to make animatronically instead of animatedly (fine by me, computer animation is generally superfluous [Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, anyone?]). Visually, the filmmakers did an excellent job. It’s a crazy world. It’s a contrived world. And it’s believable.
The film lacked during the points in which the filmmakers were required to fill in the gaps of the story. You can’t make a full length presentation out of a double-digit-paged storybook. They had two choices: enhance the symbolism or enhance the experience. Spike went with the former. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and he took the one most traveled. I wanted bravery in the film, but instead I was treated to a confusing (and sometimes macabre) sequence of analogies, awkward and unnecessary character development, and a general feeling of repetition (in a bad way).
I need to elaborate on the “macabre” comment. When Hayao Miyazaki makes a movie, it’s a kid’s movie with adult themes that are overcome by childlike innocence and simplicity. This motif works. What doesn’t work is to try to pull in an older audience (guilty!) by a) making a movie about a book we all loved as children and b) introducing awkward and inappropriate adult elements. Do you think I want to see Douglas (voiced by Chris Cooper) get his arm ripped off? Do you think I appreciate the sexual innuendos that make parents tell their children “I’ll tell you when you’re older”? Do you think I appreciate Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) punching holes in the walls, breathing heavily, and reminding me of Tony Soprano the Wild Thing for an hour and half? The answer to these questions is: no. I want to see Wild Things. I want to see childhood.
WWTA was like watching a peewee hockey game. I want to root for my team, but they’re so bad and try so hard that I feel fatigued by the end of the experience. I wanted to like the movie so much more than I did. It might just be my fault though because a lot of my friends, a lot of people whose opinions I respect, enjoyed WWTA.
Well, because of those kinds of people, Hollywood’s going to keep going at it. Pretty soon we’ll see film adaptations of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and (yet another) Peter Pan movie. They had better make a film out of Everyone Poops before I forget how to do that too.