Film Reviews

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

By • Oct 14th, 2009 •

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Angry boy runs away and names himself king of big, violent muppets. He never once misses his frantic mother. Back home, he gets rewarded with cake.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is based on a beloved children’s book that has been called a classic? I’m appalled! It celebrates bad behavior by kids, violence, destroying trees, and lying. That’s the short list of despicable things this movie celebrates.

And the boy, Max, runs away with no thought for his mother! He never misses her!

What kind of life lessons does this book teach children? I put the blame on the book, not the movie. Director Spike Jonze, who co-wrote the screenplay with too-productive novelist Dave Eggers, must have really loved this 10-sentence book having sought the film rights for years. Jonze and Eggers (I hated AWAY WE GO) did the best they could flushing out this anti-cinematic fairy tale.

The book’s author, Maurice Sendak, was most likely paid by the word (standard operating procedure in the book world). Sendak, I theorize, is a bitter, unhappy man who was adopted.

Do parents really love this book? Max shouts “Feed me, woman!” to his mother.

Thank God I never read this book to my son.

The meager story is this: Max (Max Records) is an unhappy, friendless boy. I kept wondering why. After having a violent argument with his hard-working, single mother (Catherine Keener), he runs away as his mother helplessly rushes after him. He takes a boat to a strange land where he meets violent puppets who destroy trees for fun. They start forest fires too!

The muppets are argumentative, quarrelsome though smiley, and pedestrian. They are leaderless and quickly accept Max’s proclamation that he is their Viking king. They now have someone to serve. Max gives them a task:: Build a huge fortress.

The only voice easily recognizable is James Gandolfini as Carol. Gandolfini left the brilliant “The Sopranos” for this? I do not know how much money he wanted (maybe he demanded sole ownership of HBO?) to continue his role as Tony Soprano, but I bet WILD THINGS paid him considerably less. (I did like his work in the remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3, but Gandolfini created an iconic character who was fat, powerful, and an amazing sex machine. He gave that up for supporting roles and voice work!)

Gandolfini’s voice, and all the other voices (Catherine O’Hara [wasn’t she brilliant in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”?], Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano, Chris Cooper, and Lauren Ambrose) are altered to seem human but oddly symphonic. It is distracting.

Max tries to build a family with the muppet-like Wild Things while forgetting all about his frantic mother. Since Max is not a leader but a destructive kid without a soul, he leaves muppetville and returns home. His mother is so grateful, she feeds him chocolate cake.

Is WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE too scary for children? No, it is not. However, it is too boring for children.


Read Roy Frumkes’ review of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

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22 Responses »

  1. Please tell me this is an attempt at satire.

  2. This is a sad review. The book is not about encouraging bad behavior. It is about the power of a child’s imagination and the power that draws us to family. Max is sent to bed with no dinner in the book because he is bad, and ends up returning home, forgiven by this mother who gives him a hug. You should give the book a chance. It is not what you think it is.

  3. This must be satire and if it is it’s truly brilliant. You hit on literally everything about the book that people criticized back when it came out. Congratulations

  4. At best this review is an attempt at satire.
    What our reviewer has missed from this film and by not taking the time to read the 10 sentence book which incidentally won The Caldecott Medal for children’s literature was that this story is about awakening the independence within a child and taking the first steps toward adolescence and adulthood, even if it’s only a dream. The move towards being an independent person isn’t clean and it’s definitely not about how you perceive how others are feeling. That move is learning what you know and how you feel.
    Otherwise I am loathe to think that in another review Ms. Alexander would have bidden Luke Skywalker to forgo Obi Wan Kenobi’s teachings and fallen in with his father whose main want was to have his son follow in his footsteps because he was worried about his father’s feelings.

  5. Ignorance, sheltering children, and the inability to acknowledge the evils in our world is detrimental to a person who is unable to properly critique a movie based on a children’s book that chooses to show children without a mask of innocence.

    This is not a satirical review. It is a blog post from a conservative mother who is more concerned with an actors choice to do a movie, their payroll, and the deluded idea that children would some how think that saying “Feed me, woman!” would be a good idea.

    I would read this book to my children, and would help them live an unsheltered life that would encourage them to make their own choices. I will give them all of the tools, and will support them. I used to tell my mother I hated her. She helped me understand what I was saying, and I have never said such a thing since that realization.

    Victoria, please be more critical next time, and less opinionated.

  6. You don’t like the book? Surprise, you don’t like the movie! You miss the point, the book was written from the boy’s perspective not a social monitor’s. He was trying to exercise control, which children have little of but yet must learn to eventually do so. He never really leaves his house, this all happens in his imagination. Hopefully, one day you’ll be comfortable with control and develop an imagination. Try, it’s fun.

  7. This is so hilarious. It can’t be serious. dear lord it can’t!

  8. I want to think so, but her review of “The Invention of Lying” leads me to believe her reviews are in earnest.

    May be one of those examples of “sufficiently advanced satire is indistinguishable from genuine idiocy” though.

  9. The book is about the innocence of youth and congratulations, you have shattered that innocence.

  10. If this isn’t satire, it’s quite possibly the worst movie review I’ve ever read. It’s full of inaccuracies–Sendak was the one who offered Jonze the rights to the movie; Jonze didn’t initially accept the project; since when is being paid by the word “standard operating procedure” in the MODERN book industry, particularly the picture book industry? Sendak was NOT adopted, and Gandolfini didn’t leave the Sopranos; the show ended.
    This review is also poorly written, and, if you’re being serious, I feel sorry for your kid, and I have to wonder how you manage to keep your job writing crap like this.
    And, even if it’s satire, it’s not very good satire, since it’s more idiotic than funny.

  11. So they did the best they could while “flushing out this anti-cinematic fairy tale,” eh? Er, perhaps you meant “fleshing out,” Ms. Alexander?

  12. no, pretty sure this guy is just an idiot.

  13. I was directed to this by the suggestion that it was the most inept review in the history of film reviewing. I am a professional reviewer and author, and the reviewer has to be having a laugh. This is a brilliant, subversive piece of writing that challenges our preconceptions of reviewing and indeed of common sense. What a mind… And for the record I am a parent and I loved this book.

  14. There are so many sentences in this review to love:

    1) “Sendak, I theorize, is a bitter, unhappy man who was adopted.”

    2) “Gandolfini left the brilliant “The Sopranos” for this?” (Victoria, The Sopranos ended of its own accord – Gandolfini didn’t leave)

    3) “Gandolfini created an iconic character who was fat, powerful, and an amazing sex machine.” (Err….what?)

    But my favorite line, bar none, has to be this one:

    4) “Since Max is not a leader but a destructive kid without a soul, he leaves muppetville and returns home.”

    That’s glorious. Please continue to review films, Victoria. I’ll continue to enjoy your thoughts on them.

  15. Satire is only funny when it’s smart. Also, bratty little boys do have souls and they do love their moms.

  16. The book is *all* about missing home and your mother. And I would argue that the movie is, too, in an even more explicit way given that his mom is actually waiting for his return with chocolate cake a hug. It’s a story about the concept of safety, about the need for unconditional love and a guiding hand. If there’s one key lesson to be learned from this movie, it’s that Max can’t do it on his own. He can’t control the Wild Things; he’s not old enough or strong enough to be the guiding figure they need. He’s not a king. He’s just Max, who needs some one to take care of him and love him and tell him things will be all right. And he goes home to his mother, who understands.

  17. Yeah, setting the woods on fire is not nice. Oh, also… its a metaphor… pretty much like everything else that has been trashed here.

  18. The point is Max runs away angry and then realizes the grass isn’t greener and that he does love his Mom and miss her and she loves him it’s just not always easy to see because people are busy, people get angry, people get jealous, and people have a hard time showing they care about one another. The creatures exemplify all of these feelings in a manner an 8 year old understands, but apparently our reviewer doesn’t.

  19. This reviewer is either a brilliant satirist, or those short (declarative!) sentences with their rambling personal asides and opines about James Gandolfini are all for real. And if for real, is obviously Ann Coulter.

    Nobody else could wing out gems like, “Since Max is not a leader but a destructive kid without a soul, he leaves muppetville and returns home. His mother is so grateful, she feeds him chocolate cake.” — uh…

    And then this great line, from the aforementioned rambling personal asides, “Gandolfini created an iconic character who was fat, powerful, and an amazing sex machine.”

    *wipes tears* – WOW. I’ve never read anything more sloppy, badly written or uncomprehending of a reviewed film than this.

    I have been reading reviews from this film and it seems that the positive ones tend to be thoughtful analysis of the heartfelt portrayal of childhood’s treacherous anxieties and the complexities of family and the negative reviews tend to be short, uncomprehending and badly written. What does this say? – Go see the film.

  20. Oh, man, this is hilarious.
    I love how she puts special emphasis on how horrible it is that they “destroy trees” and “start forest fires”.
    I bet this woman has no idea what the word “metaphor” means.

  21. No one pointed out that the movie and the book are two very different things. The movie, very simply, is not the book. It is based on the book and shares the title. For me that really is the end of the similarity. I loved this book when I was a child and I relished sharing it with my children who adored it as well. I attended the movie with my now twenty-one year old daughter. The movie was not what we expected and we were both disappointed. I hated the fabricated construct of the broken, dysfunctional family and the angry, lonely child who seems emotionally disturbed to me. These are not part of the book. Max in the book is a normal rambunctious little boy who runs around terrorizing and when he gets out of hand, as children sometimes do, is told to go to his room. He obeys. He does not bite his mother as in the movie. For me the magic of the story lies in the imagination of Max and how when he was sent to his room it transformed into a ” forest all around.” And yes I did sit through the movie quoting passages from the book. Max ventures to a far away land where he is in charge. At one point in the book he “sends the wild things off to bed”. I know it almost by heart and now read it to my newly acquired stepson. I couldn’t wait to share it with him. The movie was so boring I could hardly bare it. In the book Max gets tired of being the king of the wild things and does miss home. At the end of the book Max is glad to be home back in his room where his supper was waiting for him “and it was still warm”.

  22. “Thank God I never read this book to my son.”

    Nothing like smug ignorance.

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