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Kids & Family movie directed by Spike Jonze

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A parent's biggest disappointment of the year.

  • Feb 5, 2010

Before I get into the review, I'd like to say that, concerning my headline, I understand that several parents/people took children to see this film, and the children loved it. I myself took an eight-year-old, and she was crying by the end; she thought it was great. There has just been a lot of negative buzz surrounding this movie because many parents took their children to see it expecting a feel-good children's film, and were disappointed. I personally am glad that it turned out like this instead, as was Maurice Sendak, the original book's author. He oversaw the entire film-making process, and in an interview with Newsweek, Sendak felt that parents who deemed the film's content to be too disturbing for children should "go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate" and he further noted "I saw the most horrendous movies that were unfit for child's eyes. So what? I managed to survive." Right on.

The film follows Max, a nine-year-old boy with an abundant imagination and not enough friends. Several events at home, such as his older sister's indifference when her friends crush Max's snow-fort and Max's disapproval of his mother dating again, lead Max to run away clad in his wolf costume; he eventually comes across a boat and sails to the island where the six "Wild Things" reside. Upon discovering Max, the Wild Things initially decide to eat him, until he tells them that he is a "great king with magical powers". After hearing this, the Wild Things crown Max as their new king and become reliant on him to bring harmony and happiness to the group. The film remains incredibly faithful to the book, except for the fact that, in the film, Max runs away, while in the book, a forest grows in his bedroom. Even the appearances of the Wild Things were taken straight from the book.

In terms of appearance, Where The Wild Things Are is absolutely stunning. Because it takes place on an island, there are several shots involving the water and the island's shoreline. There are also shots featuring an immense forest, and others where the characters are standing on expansive sandy plains where nothing is visible aside from the characters themselves. These scenes make the blue sky just pop. There aren't many films that wow me with the backgrounds and scenery. The Wild Things themselves are also amazing to look at. None of them can be called "beautiful" or even "attractive", though. They are, essentially, wild creatures, capable of deep cruelties and animosities. Each of them has a distinct character design, and Judith, at times, frightened even me. The animatronic suits for the Wild Things were provided by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Another thing that added to the film's unique look was the fact that much of it was filmed with a hand-held camera, in order to "complement the evocative, other-worldly feel of the film".

The soundtrack seems to be a bit of a mixed-bag for most people, though I personally enjoyed it very much. Karen O, the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, composed all of the songs on the soundtrack. I was disappointed that the song "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire, which was used in one of the film's previews, was not actually in the film, for that specific preview is what prompted me to see the film in the first place. Aside from that song, there are several others that actually are in the film that set the mood very nicely, though I can't remember how several of them went. Another song, "All Is Love" (the song used during the end credits and in one of the previews) took on a different meaning after I saw the film, and for a while, I couldn't watch the previews anymore when they came on TV. (I'll admit, the film made me a bit emotional, something that doesn't happen often.) In fact, that song has since been nominated for the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Song and the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. 

One of the things that most concerned parents was the dark tone of this film. Indeed, every single one of the six Wild Things is incredibly unhappy with their life, and with Max as their new king, they become reliant on him for change. One of the Wild Things dislikes the others, and would rather spend time with her two owl friends, another is unhappy because the aforementioned Wild Thing left the group, and another is unhappy because the others constantly belittle and ingore him. You could go as far as to say that each of the Wild Things represents a separate piece of Max's personality, or another person in his life, and so Max's encounter with these creatures is really a way for him to confront his own inner demons so that he may find peace within himself.

I have read several reviews on other websites claiming that Max is a demonic child with absolutely no redeeming qualities. While he does go on a rampage through his sister's room out of anger due to the snow-fort incident, and he does bite his mother because she would rather spend time with her new boyfriend than go up to Max's room to see his new fort, one scene in the beginning of the film, when Max's mother is working and Max lies on the floor near her desk and tells her a story, makes it  obvious that he just longs for attention. He simply doesn't know how to handle his anger and frustrations. In fact, these are things that I wouldn't put past any child to do, and I think that angry parents will pick at anything to make the film look worse than it actually is. Indeed, character development plays a huge part in the film; at the film's conclusion, when Max finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his reign over the uncontrollable Wild Things, Max decides to return home, even though this means that he will have to follow the rules and learn to accept the consequences of his actions. This shows an incredible amount of maturation and personal growth, in my opinion.

Overall, I felt that Where the Wild Things Are was an absolutely beautiful film, with a message that could mean something to everyone, if they cared to look hard enough. It was one of the top-five best films that I saw in 2009, and I cannot recommend it enough to those looking for an intelligent film that looks deeper into the darknesses of childhood. The film will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 2 March, 2010.

A parent's biggest disappointment of the year.

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October 27, 2010
Great and very thorough review! I was amongst the people that thought it was depressing and a little upsetting for younger kids. I guess I had a different memory of the book, admittedly haven't read it in a couple of decades, because I thought it was going to be a lot lighter. I didn't know that this was how the author had envisioned it or many other things that you pointed out. I did think it was a stunning visual piece but, I felt incredibly depressed afterwards....
May 05, 2010
great review. totally agree that this was visually stunning. I love love loved this film, but am a huge fan of the book as well as a big Spike Jonze fan, so I knew I'd love it. not a children's film at all, imo - but I have only a 3 yr old, which would be way too young. I think it honored Sendack's wishes totally to make it so melancholy and dark - very cool that they went that route rather than the alternative.
March 21, 2010
They said it all! So, I'll simply say: "STUNNING"! :-)
March 22, 2010
Wow, thank you! Have you seen this film?
February 09, 2010
awesome review! You have a knack for breaking down movies like this. I have to buy this soon, since I missed it in theaters...will be back to comment further once I've seen it.
February 09, 2010
Thank you VERY much. I can't wait to hear from you. I'd like to see how you'd review the film, but I don't know how busy you are at the moment.
February 06, 2010
When I heard that there would be a film based on the book, I was dreading some Jim Carrey or Mike Myers film with potty humor and too many special effects. Boy, was I wrong! Instead we got a rather mature film with a powerful message (both for kids and their parents). I also really liked the weird, kind of Pythonesque sense of humor. That scene with the giant dog that shows up for no particular reason and the scene near the end when Douglas has a pathetically ineffectual stick for a prosthetic limb were both hilarious. It kind of reminded me of the old Jim Henson films from the late '70s and '80s. Am I the only one who wants a wolf costume? LOL!
February 07, 2010
I didn't know anything about an adaptation until I saw the preview for it when I went to see "Ponyo". I was in awe; it was much more spectacular to see on the big-screen. I too am glad that the humor wasn't overdone. Douglas's prosthetic limb made me laugh as well, as did the scene where Max goes inside of K.W. and, after seeing the raccoon, says "Hey Richard." I thought it was hilarious. He wasn't even phased by the fact that there was a raccoon in there. A wolf costume would be pretty great to have.
February 07, 2010
The scene with the raccoon had me in stitches. It was quite clear to when at the end of the film neither the owls or the raccoon were present what had happened. Carol ate Bob and Terry the owls, so K.W. ate the raccoon as revenge. I liked that they didn't spell it out for the audience, which would have freaked out the little kids anyway, but instead left it for people to figure out for themselves.
February 07, 2010
Ohh, good eye. I hadn't even noticed that they were gone. Yeah, most kids probably thought that the raccoon was just hanging out. If my younger sister knew that it'd been eaten, she would have been upset. She loves animals.
February 07, 2010
I do too, but I have to admit that I find animal deaths in films to be funny, which is paradoxical because I'm an egalitarian and vegetarian. Not because I enjoy the idea of them dying, but because I find it refreshingly realistic when there's this unspoken and cliche rule that children and animals can't die in movies. Did you ever see "A Fish Called Wanda"? So wrong, but so funny!
February 08, 2010
I haven't seen "A Fish Called Wanda", but I have heard of it. I actually find it hilarious when, in horror films, all of the people die, and a pet (usually a dog) is the only survivor. That probably does stem from what you said, the fact that people think animals and children should never die in movies.
February 08, 2010
It's kind of like that but in reverse. Basically, all the animals in that movie bite the dust just to torture a diamond robber who is an animal lover. He gets an assignment to kill an old lady who witnessed the getaway and he can only manage killing off her dogs. It's sick, but very funny. Thankfully, no animals were actually harmed otherwise I'd have rallied against the film. It stuns me that in some countries there are no laws to protect animals from being harmed or exploited for the sake of entertainment.
February 09, 2010
It is awful that animals have little to no protection in some countries, especially when they are being exploited for entertainment, of all things. One of the few places in this country where people can get away with that, I believe, is in the circus. Anyway, since no animals were actually harmed, I might just try out that film. Thanks for the summary.
February 09, 2010
It's an acquired taste, for sure, but if you like dark humor or British comedies, it's a must.
February 10, 2010
I am a fan of dark humor, actually. It sounds right up my alley.
February 12, 2010
You might also want to check out the original 2007 British version of "Death at a Funeral". That one had me rolling with laughter.
February 12, 2010
Someone that I know has a copy of that film(the British version). I'll have to borrow it.
February 12, 2010
It's hilarious. You'd probably love it.
February 12, 2010
I'll definitely check it out, thanks.
February 06, 2010
I took my daughter to see this and did not know what to expect but what we got for our money is exactly what you said a beautiful movie. nice job
February 07, 2010
I'm glad to see parents who weren't disappointed! There are so many negative reviews on Amazon panning the film for various reasons, mainly because their kids did not like it. I'm glad your daughter liked it :)
February 05, 2010
I love your breakdown of this!  I loved the book as a child, but have yet to see the movie, I fully intend on seeing it soon, though.  A Salon.com writer expressed, "The movie is so loaded with adult ideas about childhood — as opposed to things that might delight or engage an actual child".  Hmmm... sometimes, I think people are just being too sensitive, but I guess I'll have to see for myself.  Thanks for sharing! :)
February 05, 2010
You're welcome, and thank you! I think that a lot of people were under the impression that "Where The Wild Things Are" would be a children's film, but Maurice Sendak himself intended for it to be geared more toward adults. It's more of a film about a child than an actual children's film. I highly recommend it, if it sounds like it would interest you :)
February 05, 2010
I agree with you that the film was visually beautiful (especially the shoreline) I did not mind the dark tone (nor did my eleven year old son) and thought the dark aspect remained true to the original. The liberties that were taken with the original story bothered me a bit, but did not alter the tone of the story (in my opinion). Your review addresses the same things I saw nicely.
February 05, 2010
Thank you very much. I hadn't read the original book until about a year ago, so because it didn't hold a special place from my childhood, the liberties that were taken didn't really bother me, but I can certainly understand that viewpoint.
February 05, 2010
Great Review!  Very detailed and it makes me really want to see the film now.  Unfortunately, I never read the book as a kid growing up so I feel a little in the dark about it which is why I think that I was debating whether to see the movie or not.  I'll have to check it out, nice write up! 
February 05, 2010
I only read the book very recently, and because the book is only ten sentences in length (spread out over 10+ pages), I preferred the film anyway because it provides much more depth. I recommend it.
More Where the Wild Things Are (mov... reviews
review by . June 26, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
***1/2 out of ****     Spike Jonze is a whacky guy, with the sort of charm that only a whacky guy can possibly have. Whether the man has made great films or not doesn't matter. What really matters, to me, is whether he can make many. Perhaps he cannot; Jonze has only directed three films, this one included. But each one has been something different; a journey like no other. There is a lot to appreciate when it comes to Spike Jonze and his little movies, although "Where the Wild …
review by . December 12, 2010
Wow. That's all i can say, just wow. This movie is so profoundly horrible that I barely have enough to say about it. But during the process of this review I am going to try. I read the book as a kid, and when I heard a film version of this was going to be made, I was genuinely looking forward to seeing this movie. Ten minutes into the movie, I was profoundly disappointed. Subconsciously, I knew that a 10-page kids book could not stretch into a full-length movie, but I still saw it, and I have …
Quick Tip by . September 01, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
such a great cast -- Dave Eggers wrote the screenplay!!! amazing soundtrack...thank you Karen O. but for the most part I was mostly bored while the monsters ran around. A few cute moments with but mostly, only an okay movie.
review by . February 01, 2010
The Wild Ideas That Kids Come Up With MIght Come True Sometimes.
   I know that this movie has been out for a while now but I like waiting to use my five buck card to go and see the show that way if I am disappointed I am not out that much money. So I decided to surprise my daught4er with an afternoon at the show. I have seen a lot of ads showing this movie and I thought what could be the harm of a little boy using his imagination to get away from the stress of daily life of a child.       I have heard that the book was a very short …
review by . March 31, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I think there's a lot to be said for this movie. The monsters and setting are realistic yet have an air of fantasy about them. The story is subtle in its exploration of growing up and family politics. While kids might see it as a jaunt through a fantasy with monsters, adults will recognize personal foibles they will likely have encountered at home or in the office.    Unfortunately, the movie is marred by a few bad decisions. First off, the kid Max (Max Records) is just way too …
Quick Tip by . June 11, 2010
Little kid with bad attitude, a mother who is too nice. The kid needs a spanking and some serious grounding. I liked the movie for the first 10 minutes and thought it really depicted the happy/sad moods of child, but left the theater halfway into the film. It is simply irritating.
Quick Tip by . July 07, 2010
One of my favorite movies of all time. It is beautiful and moving.
Quick Tip by . June 19, 2010
adorable for children and adults alike
review by . March 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Being a child sucks.    As adults we talk about how wonderful childhood was and use phrases like, "In the halcyon days of my youth..." Well, most of us don't use THAT phrase, but you get the idea. We idealize childhood as a time of innocence, delight and joy. We refer nostalgically to our early years as "The best years of my life."    We do this and ignore the reality of childhood. We ignore the memories of terror and sadness, the years spent not really understanding …
review by . March 13, 2010
Visionary, this is beautiful. The monsters are real-looking and the scenery is lovely. The story is very similar to the book, which I was never into, but it is an accurate transition from book to film. It follows a rowdy little boy who is wild and bites as he runs away and stumbles onto the Wild Things. He becomes their king and leads them in the ways of the wild. The story is very loose, no real plot, other than the lesson the boy learns that you cannot get by on being wild. My 10 year old enjoyed …
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My user-name was derived from the title of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. I came to Lunch with the hopes of publishing reviews that would be appreciated by others and reading the reviews of others that hope … more
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Where the Wild Things Are is a 2009 American fantasy comedy-drama film directed by Spike Jonze and adapted from Maurice Sendak's 1963 children's book of the same name. It combines live action, performers in costumes, animatronics, and computer-generated imagery (CGI). The film stars Max Records, Catherine Keener and Mark Ruffalo, and features the voices of James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Lauren Ambrose and Forest Whitaker. The film centers around a lonely 9-year-old boy named Max (Records) who sails away to an island inhabited by creatures known as the "wild things," who declare Max their king.

In the early 1980s Disney considered adapting the film as a blend of traditionally animated characters and computer-generated settings, but development did not go past a test film to see how the animation hybridizing would work out. In 2001, Universal Studios acquired rights to the book's adaptation and initially attempted to develop a computer-animated adaptation with Disney animator Eric Goldberg, but in 2003 the cartoon version was replaced with a live-action concept and Goldberg was dropped for Spike Jonze. The film was co-produced by actor Tom Hanks through his production company Playtone and made on an estimated budget of around $100,000,000.

The film was released on October 16, 2009 in the United States, and on December 11, 2009 in the United Kingdom. The film was met with critical acclaim and appeared on many year-end top ten lists.
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Director: Spike Jonze
Genre: Family
Release Date: October 16, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG
Screen Writer: Spike Jonze
DVD Release Date: March 2, 2010
Runtime: 101 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
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