Posted Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, at 5:53 PM
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.