Wildly unappealing is 'Where the Wild Things Are'

October 15, 2009 

Max Records plays Max — an angry young boy. You are not told why.

It is implied that Mom’s new boyfriend may be the reason. The kid throws a snit, screams at his mother, runs away from home, steals a sailboat and sails across the ocean to an island.

-- Times, theaters.

When Max bolts from the house, Mom chases after him, but she lacks the speed and agility to catch the kid.

-- Click here for an interview with Max Records.

My mom was never that slow. When I grew up, that behavior would have been the next thing to a death sentence.

And I don’t get the attraction these days to unruly kids. Are we supposed to think this negative behavior is cute? For the record — and in my book — Record’s Max is one of the all-time most unlovable kids I’ve ever encountered in a movie.

But I digress. On the island, Max encounters the wild things.

They’re giant, furry creatures, except for the one that looks like a large chicken. Max lies through his teeth to the gullible group and is made their king. He leads them on adventures such as building a gigantic fort that only a kid can imagine. They also have a dirt clod fight. Oh, how exciting.

Strife starts almost immediately in Max’s new kingdom. The lead wild thing, Carol, is miffed at fellow creature KW because she has friends he doesn’t like. Some of the others don’t trust Max. Blada, blada, blada all the way to Max’s syrupy reunion with a mom.

Spike Jonze, best known for music videos and Being John Malkovich, directs his first flick since 2002’s excellent Adaption. His film is beautifully shot and technically perfect. He even convinces you that his creatures, who look like basketball or football team mascots, are really talking. He gives Maurice Sendak’s creatures life with enough dimensions to make them at least physically interesting.

What they don’t have is personality.

That leads to the crux of the problem. Children’s books don’t often make good movies. Once in awhile, one works out but turning a 48-page and nine sentence book like Where the Wild Things Are requires too much fill. Nine sentences leaves too much room for screenwriter Dave Eggers less-than-wild imagination.

Eggers — who penned the art-house disaster Away We Go that was released earlier this year — gives the creatures in Sendak’s illustrations one-dimensional personalities. You don’t connect with them. You don’t understand them. And after an hour, you — and the kids you dragged to this disaster — won’t care.

Gene Deitch’s seven-minute animated version in 1973 is probably too short, but it is much closer to a length that works for this story. Even the idea behind the opera version of Sendak’s 1963 book makes more sense than turning it into a live-action movie.

I’m no doubt treading on sacred ground. Any criticism will be viewed as sacrilege, but as proof I offer these facts: the opera tanked, the short subject went largely unnoticed except by the industry, and Jonze version is made for adults and will bore kids to tears — especially the really little ones.

And I’m surprised there isn’t more criticism by busy-body, social-control kids’ advocate freaks about how this movie encourages children to behave in dangerous and disrespectful ways. Max stands on top of a table and screams at his mom, and he trashes his sister’s room. Then, he steals a boat. After that, he makes a dangerous trip across the sea to hang out with strangers.

In this case, just teach your kids not to go to movies where angry kids destroy other people’s property, steal other people’s property, scream and yell at a parent, disrespect everyone and when things don’t go their way, they run away from home and hang out with strangers that want to eat them.

Mr. Movie rating: 3 stars

Rated PG for mature themes and some violence. It opens Friday, Oct. 16 at Regal’s Columbia Mall 8 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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