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Bite Your Mom. Then Go Play.

Movie Title: Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Spoilers: No

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From the outset, let’s establish two things; first, though it happens to focus on one particular kid, Where the Wild Things Are is not a kid’s movie. Monsters eating people and leaving around their bones and ripping arms off is not young school kid material. Even without bloodshed, dismemberment is a disturbing thing; and second, let’s not give in to the desire to do what white, libertarian, art-geek jerk-offs do and say that everything is good if it’s done in the name of “creativity” and “symbolism” or “to be child-like.”

Meet Max (Max Records). Like most kids his age, he has his set of social glitches, though something tells me this kid’s got a few extra issues on the backburner. Being at odds with his older sister and his mother, the body of the movie begins. Max runs away after throwing a tantrum in front of mom (Catherine Keener) and her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo). He bites her and runs out. He should have remembered to take his Valium, but he did remember to bring an animal costume—a costume he never takes off the whole film.

The kid must have gotten hot in that suit, and it must have started to stink at some point. That’s all some of us can remember about childhood, the playing till we were red in the face and stinking from running around outside—that and getting beaten up. Kids play and kids smell. I had to share that tidbit with you because I couldn’t quit thinking about it. But that is not something to think about (if you can help it). The movie makes no attempt to be logically coherent, and one can see why. Doing so would detract from the core imaginative value.

Can’t worry about how Max went days with these “wild things” without eating, or how he showed no fear or homesickness like any kid would after spending a lot of time around beings that effortlessly knock holes in trees and leave the bones of fallen “kings” lying around that they ate. And why hasn’t anyone else found this island? How can a kid who knows nothing about sailing jump in someone else’s boat and get to it? The sign says “wrong way.” Can’t think like that.

And like that wonderful book that was so near and dear to me in my young years, the movie is faithful to the same message. Where kids live is a different world from where we adults live. The self-directed pursuit of eternal bliss, with its dirt-clod fights and building forts and sleepovers in big groups, seems such an easy thing. But the world of the wild things is in need of governance, and that can’t be gotten from within. You’ve got to leave the wild things to do that, and that is what it means to grow up.

Childlike energy: check. Creativity: check. “We’ll have a swimming pool with a bottom that is a trampoline.” The gender roles are neutralized. Everyone keeps “one-upping” each other in their arguments with retorts on a level no higher than “you’re not the boss of me.” This is how kids think, act, and talk. No doubt about it. The “king” doesn’t get treated like a king, as surely as kids playing on a playground wouldn’t know what that entailed. The boundless chaos of the juvenile thought process can be beautiful, though I don’t exactly know why.

My problem with the movie is not with people in fake costumes (I didn’t like the CGI). They look just a little more convincing than football game mascots in characters that have the mentality of 9-year-olds. My problem is that the audience for this film is rather hard to identify.

We grown-ups have already had our fill. We read the book (or had it read to us) and used our imaginations. A book of pictures and few lines makes the mind fill in the blanks, whereas a movie fills in the blanks and robs the story of value. The movie can’t give us the imagination that the book gave, and the nostalgic value is low. We didn’t need a movie from the book by Maurice Sendak that I grew up knowing, but maybe this generation of hopelessly visual learners will think differently.

The movie is too scary for the younger kids. It’s not quite as bad as Coraline, which was dark enough to scare the “daylights” out of any little kid, normal or not. The older kids...they won’t be sitting still long enough to appreciate it, not to mention, the finer meanings will be over their heads. It’s been a long time, but I say kids play; they don’t relish watching movies of other kids playing.

But you can have the full affect of Where the Wild Things Are without seeing the movie. Just run into your 4-year-old’s bedroom and start screaming, “We’re going to tear things up!” Then mess up the room and wrestle on the bed in an ecstatic and crazy manner until you are both tired and fall asleep leaning up against each other. Child-wise, that’s what the movie seems most concerned with and that is the bulk of what you get.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG
Director: Spike Jonze
Summary: A boy frustrated with his mother and sister runs away and finds a world of strange wild creatures.
Starring: Max Records “Max,” Pepita Emmerichs “Claire,” Catherine Keener “Mom,” Steve Mouzakis “Teacher,” Mark Ruffalo “The Boyfriend,” James Gandolfini “Carol (voice),” Paul Dano “Alexander (voice),” Catherine O'Hara “Judith (voice),” Forest Whitaker “Ira (voice),” Michael Berry Jr. “The Bull (voice),” Chris Cooper “Douglas (voice)”
Genre: Drama / Adventure / Family / Fantasy
Trailer

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