I must be one of, oh, three kids who did not read Maurice Sendak’s book Where the Wild Things Are as a kid. (I do, however, remember reading his picture book In the Night Kitchen repeatedly, mostly because there was an illustration of the young boy falling naked into a pile of dough and as one of three sisters the picture was an entirely surprising revelation.) So I headed into the cinema not expecting my memories to be ruined or anything of the sort. And my evening was ruined instead.
Okay, perhaps I made that dramatic statement for pun value. Still, I wasn’t as enamoured with Where the Wild Things Are as I’d hoped to be. It’s a relentlessly depressing film, plagued by sadness and dark and the horrors of childhood. Perhaps I should nod appreciatively and make declarations about how it deals with the same problems facing many of the kids out there today: loneliness, brattiness, the inability to be heard, discovering you’re not the centre of everyone’s world, having a hot mother like Catherine Keener. It’s true, the movie does discuss these things, but it doesn’t give you enough of a break to laugh and ground yourself. The film’s never-ending barrage of all that’s wrong with the world and how hopeless it is to try and fix it is, well, awful.
Youngster Max, played by the alarmingly-named Max Records, is living an everychild existence: his father isn’t around, his sister doesn’t have time for him, his mother has a new boyfriend (portrayed as the asshole in one simple sentence), friends are nowhere to be seen. He acts out against his mother, who shouts at him; in terror, he flees to the bush, which like a Narnia wardrobe, leads to a lake and a boat where he paddles off and is eventually washed up in Flinders, I mean, the island of the Wild Things. There, he spies the Things mid-fight, with one Thing acting out and the rest tsk-tsking around him. Max runs into the fracas, and in an effort to dissuade the Things from their new mission of munching on his bones, proclaims himself king and promises to fix all their problems. Of course, he can’t, because a) he’s, like, ten and b) it’s pretty much impossible even if you are three-score-and-ten. Thus follows brief, dirty moments of happiness until it all goes to pot ten seconds in. Rinse, repeat.
I wish I could say the scenery was enough of a break with its natural, haunting beauty and otherworldliness; after all, it was filmed here in ol’ Melbourne Town and surrounds, and I should get all puffed-up and patriotic. But it couldn’t get a reaction out of me. Perhaps the fact that I was used to it, that the dead leaves looked like those near my sister’s place, was the problem. Perhaps the real problem is that I’m not eight, and I like some brightness and humour to alleviate the suffering in movies. I know not to presume it in everything—I won’t be expecting much knee-slapping in The Road, for example—but in a kid’s movie, of all, a light touch here and there wouldn’t have gone astray.
The few moments of humour are swift and unsettling. At one point, a character commits an appalling act of violence against another; I actually cried out in horror, but later the damage is used for comedy value. I felt like standing up on my soapbox/chair and telling everyone that violence is not funny. I would also lecture them on what happened after the downbeat ending that I did not like, Black Books-style: “And they all drank lemonade. The End!”
I’m probably missing something, or everything, here. Chris liked it fine, and most reviews have been glowing. The last thing I want to do is agree with ineffectual haircut Richard Wilkins on his take on the film, but alas, I do. Perhaps I am too much of a delicate flower, not enjoying dirt-clod fights and clucking over Max’s suit going all damp and giving him colds. I did appreciate the CG, which was amazing; and the soundtrack, which I’d already been listening to for weeks; and the fact that it is bringing up issues close to the heart of kids. I think it’s aimed squarely at the eight-plus kid market—no younger, my own nephews would burst into tears—and I hope they enjoy it. Whatever has happened with this film, and my usual loves Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers, is just not for me. I’ll illustrate it here: