Where the Wild Things Are should be untouchable. One cannot improve perfection, and that is precisely why Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book has thrived since its publication in 1963. Spike Jonze’s film – a long-gestating live-action adaptation – looks beautiful yet sucks the joy out of Sendak’s story. A more fitting title would be Where the Disaffected Hipsters Are. Jonze may have made this film with Sendak’s blessing, but it just doesn’t feel like the book young adults know and love.
The original book only has nine sentences yet manages to say so much about a young boy’s anger and confusion. Sent to bed without his supper, the young Max creates a magical world in his own room in which wild monsters live, and he is declared king.
He dances with the wild things in a “wild rumpus” and growls, yet he becomes homesick and goes home. It is sparse and sweet and something that no one should try to improve upon. Yet Jonze, best known from Being John Malkovich, expanded the plot so much that it is almost unrecognizable.
The problem lies not with the performances but rather Jonze’s direction. The storyline is almost unintelligible, especially for those who have never read the book, and he more than drives home the point that Max is unhappy, alienated and extremely lonely. The film is unnecessarily scary in a way totally unbefitting of the tone of the book.
Max Records is fine as Max, and the wild things are voiced by some of the best actors of our time. James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker and Catherine O’Hara are all great, and the wild things look spectacular. Their dialogue, however, is some of the most emo language heard onscreen in recent memory. In fact, every character in the film looks and speaks like they could have been pulled off the streets of Williamsburg.
There’s a reason that the film and Urban Outfitters have a marketing partnership. The entire film, from the Karen O-provided soundtrack to the ironic, pseudo-intellectual storyline, just reeks of debasing a classic. Jonze’s adaptation is nowhere near as glaring a bastardization as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, yet it’s not the book our generation knows and love. Do yourselves a favor and pull out your copy of it. It’s far more magical than this.
Rating: 1/4 stars
Starring: Max Records, James Gandolfini
Directed By: Spike Jonze
MPAA Rating: PG