Films made as book adaptations are often hard enough. You don’t always know what you’re going to get on the screen. But sometimes you’re really impressed. So when I heard Spike Jonze was making a film of “Where the Wild Tings Are”, I was alternately delighted and wary. How do you make a movie of a children’s book that consists of about 20 pages and only 300 plus words?
Turns out you use a lot of research, pick just the right production designer, and of course, a whole lot of imagination. Indeed, even more than the usual for making a film. And so Jonze does just that.
We know the story: a young boy, Max, is rambunctious, perhaps a little too much so, and is sent to his room without supper. As an escape, he transforms his room into a world of his own making, full of wild beasts that welcome him as their king.
Spike Jonze offers an amazing, beautiful looking film. The locations are varied and indeed like another land full of forests, deserts, and ocean side cliffs. Many a magical thing might happen in these places. And certainly when occupied by a group of wild beasts, these places are full of magic. Designed and created by Jim Henson studios based on the drawings from Maurice Sendak’s book, the beasts are pretty wonderful. Their faces movement and expressions made by CG animation quite seamlessly. Yes, it’s often obvious that these creatures are people in Henson muppet suits, but that didn’t bother me one bit. I know what they were, what they were supposed to be, and I didn’t care. It didn’t take any of the wonder out of it for me. Perhaps it instilled even more wonder. I always know those large muppets are people. Who doesn’t? Doesn’t that make it even more incredible? It does to me. So go find your lost sense of childlike wonder and stop whining.
These beasts are all voiced by various actors, Catherine O’Hara, Chris Cooper, Forest Whittaker, and James Gandolfini. One would think, seeing that Gandolfini has a rather unique voice, that all you could think of is Tony Soprano. I’m sure many will. I, however, only saw the Sopranos from year four and five. He isn’t indelibly marked upon my consciousness yet. So I didn’t have any problem with his voice. And realizing that all of these beasts in Max’s world were actually people from Sendak’s childhood, I started to see them all in a different way; each one representing a different part of Max himself.
This movie is rated PG, allowing parents to bring children. It is sort of strange, though. It’s a movie made from a children’s book, but it’s definitely more involved than the book and I don’t really know if it works for both adults AND kids. Perhaps both groups will get different things out of it but I haven’t spoken to any kids so ask yours about it if you take them and let me know. I’m curious.
In its way, this movie tells us that “being a family is hard”. I think that resonated with me, especially as it relates to childhood.
I think this is one of those films that is simply a matter of taste. I thought it tasted good. Maybe you’ll think it’s more like liver and onions. If you like liver and onions, well, then, wow, better you than me.
–Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer