Where the Depressed Things Are

What Women Really Think
Oct. 19 2009 5:53 PM

Where the Depressed Things Are

Hanna, I think you’re exactly right that Where The Wild Things Are is alternately too boring and too scary for kids . And as counterintuitive as it might sound to say about a beautifully shot movie featuring overly emotional, jeering, violent, hybrid beasts who bicker, build forts, and knock holes in trees, I think it just might be a failure of imagination as well.

If Wild Things existed in a cultural universe that was not saturated with twee, quirk, and thirtysomething ennui-if, in other words, it existed in a universe where the McSweeney ’s aesthetic was fringe-this movie might be fresh. Even as it is, the decision to make the wild things neurotic, angsty, misbehaving, and nitpicky initially plays like a surprising choice. When we first come upon the monsters, arguing in the forest, it’s jarring that they sound like unhappy versions of the teenagers from Dazed & Confused . Whatever you imagined the wild things to be like when reading the original, this wasn’t it.


But Wild Things doesn’t exist in such a cultural universe. In fact, it exists in one that, in a few weeks, will deliver another movie to theaters based on a beloved children’s book about wild animals. Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox , adapted from the Roald Dahl book, posits that walking, talking animals sound, think, and dress exactly like all the charmingly eccentric neurotics and big talkers that populate The Royal Tennenbaums (the fox of the title is a sloppier eater, at least). In other words, Spike Jonze and Wild Things screenwriter (and McSweeney 's editor) Dave Eggers, Wes Anderson and his co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach, were given a chance to make movies about strange, weird creatures and chose instead to make movies about creatures who need Prozac. They took creatures that could be anything and decided they needed to be in therapy. They took creatures that could be from anywhere and transplanted them from a Woody Allen drama.

In fairness, I don’t know how you turn the teeth-gnashing, short-spoken brutes from the Sendak book into rich, deep characters worth paying attention to for an hour-and-a-half. But I refuse to believe that there is not some way to do so that does not foster the sneaking suspicion that, when the camera pans away, the wild things are debating the merits of organic produce and what happened to their misspent youths. Of course this movie doesn’t work for kids: It was written by adults who are so consumed with their own experiences they’ve forgotten how to use their imaginations to dream up something different.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.