For making one of the year’s best movies, Spike Jonze, director of“Where the Wild Things Are,” sure is going to disappoint a lot of people.
“Wild Things” is not the magnum indie-opus that Arcade Fire-loving hipsters wanted. It’s not another “Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius” from screenwriter Dave Eggers either. It’s not even that great an adaption of Maurice Sendack’s beloved children’s book. In fact, it’s not even a children’s movie.
What Jonze did, essentially, was make the rarest of movies in big-budget cinema— he catered a little to everyone, without sacrificing much to anything but the alter of emotional honesty. Marketed wisely to just about every demographic, “Wild Things” concerns itself primarily with the childish instinct in all age groups to control their insecurities. The relationship between Max and these insecurities, personified by the movie’s brilliant characterizations of the Wild Things, culminates in the cathartic construction of a place where they can all live together in peace and harmony.
“It’ll only be a place where things you wanted to happen would happen,” says Carol, the Wild Thing voiced by James Gandolfini, to Max, their newly crowned king. “And if it doesn’t happen, I’ll eat my feet off.” Throughout the movie’s dialogue, Eggers and Jonze attempt to deal with the Wild Thing’s insecurities with a simple humor that can be appreciated by kids and adults, alike. It’s just that too frequently the dialogue runs longer than the attention spans of most kids.
For all the criticism that’s been leveled at the movie—too dark, too boring, too hip, too contrived—there’s one aspect of “Wild Things” that I think everyone can agree on: the visuals are fantastic. If for no other reason, it’s worth shucking out nine bucks and some change to see the magic the guys over at Jim Henson’s Muppet Shop worked on the big screen.
Despite its brevity, the rumpus scene is just as wildly spectacular as the trailer-seen-round-the-world had everyone hoping it would be. The drawings from the book truly come to life as well in Jonze’s wild, surrealistic re-imaginations of the Wild Things’ island, including settings as diverse as the desert, the forest and the ocean.
With the absence of a compelling narrative though, the movie’s tension is mostly derived from the Wild Things themselves. Through their interactions with Max, they become both endearing and unstable, sympathetic and threatening. The Wild Things love harmony as much as they love destruction, and the dilemma that arises between those two poles is wisely left unresolved.
So yes, kids will leave the theater in an emotional state somewhere between scared and confused. And yes, plot-hungry adults will leave bored and wholly unsatisfied. But for college students, who are just old enough to pay credit card bills but still young enough to use those credit cards to buy train tickets home every break, Max’s inevitable return to a hot supper after the loss of childlike innocence will ring all too painfully true.