Feb 8, 2010

[Movies] Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

When movie studios first announce that they're turning a children's book into a feature-length movie, my initial reaction is a raised eyebrow and a lot of skepticism. Most children's books really don't translate into movies well given the source material is so limited versus how much content is needed to pull off a full movie.

We've seen some pretty scary translations over the years such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat and a few others that managed decently enough such as, um, the Harry Potter movies? Okay, I need a more specific example that fits the analogy - give me a moment.

Oh wait I got it - think of most of the Roald Dahl movies. There's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and James and the Giant Peach to name a few of the better ones. They still weren't ideal, but it still managed to capture the original sense of the books they were based on well enough.

Where The Wild Things Are (1963).Image via Wikipedia

Where the Wild Things Are was based on the children's book of the same name written back in 1963 by Maurice Sendak. The book won the Caldecott Medal for its distinct art style and has been one of the better loved children's books over the years. It really wasn't much of a story originally and it seems the screenwriters managed to expand on the material a LOT in order to come up with enough plot for a full movie.

In the movie, Max (Max Records) is a rather solitary 9 year old boy living with his busy working mother Connie (Katherine Keener) and his teenage sister Claire (Pepita Emmerichs). He often escapes into the world of his imagination to help the days go by until one night he gets into a bit of an argument with his mother, bites her and then eventually runs away. He eventually find a boat that takes him to the island where the Wild Things live and manages to live amongst them and become their king. There he discovers all the trials and tribulations of the Wild Things which somehow echo his own problems at home.

Given the original book did win an award for its art, it was great that the movie really captured the original look of the horrific Wild Things. But beyond just recreating them visually, the decision to have much of the movie carried by performers in costumes as opposed to pure CGI gave the monsters a nice feeling of weight in their actions that made things even more real. The use of CGI helped tweak their facial expressions and their more fantastic leaps and feats of strength, but otherwise they were pretty much the same as if they had jumped out of the book into the real world.

Beyond the visual appeal, the story had a very deep and meaningful plot - one that'll probably breeze over the heads of the kids in the audience but is sure to strike a real chord with the older folks watching the movie. In the same way that the children's book carrier multiple levels of meaning given its Freudian portrayal of anger, the writers behind the movie decided to take things to a different level in how the characters were written and they different roles each one took on.

You had Carol (James Gandolfini) who has some sort of a past with K.W. (Lauren Ambrose). There's the couple Ira (Forest Whitaker) and Judith (Catherine O'Hara) who are polar opposites in terms of their personalities. There's the often ignored Alexander (Paul Dano) and the friend-to-all Douglas (Chris Cooper). And there's the enigmatic Bernard (Michale Berry, Jr.) rounding up the Wild Thing crew.

The is pretty heavy to truly understand at first, especially when you give the movie a lot of significant thought. The concepts, themes and allegories presented are just...a LOT, it's hard to discuss in one quick paragraph or whatever. This makes the movie highly impressive and yet at the same time rather intense and a lot of bear.

Where the Wild Things Are is a great adaptation of the original book that does well in its effort to expand the story into something much more. It gets 4 magical fortresses out of a possible 5.

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