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Fred Ponders Where The Wild Things Are

Published October 16, 2009 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Warner Bros Pictures
Where The Wild Things Are Poster Where The Wild Things Are
Where The Wild Things Are wasn’t particularly vital to my childhood. I knew of it, but it wasn’t like Dr. Seuss. It seemed like fresh material for a movie along the lines of my childhood favorites, mostly Labyrinth and its cohorts The Neverending Story and Little Shop of Horrors. Now that I put that in writing, I had some pretty progressive tastes for a 10-year-old. I mean, a rock star romancing a teenager and a plant that eats people?

Review: Where the Wild Things


My point is, Where the Wild Things Are has its similarities with the type of children’s fantasies from before they lost their charm thanks to CGI effects. It’s not one of those though. This is not a happy fantasy. It’s very somber. Melancholy permeates even the most fun scenes. That’s powerful stuff for a 31-year-old to take. I don’t know if I could have handled it at 10.

There’s not a major drive to the story. It has a three act structure, but they don’t add a big quest or adventure. The embellishment of the story is just building a fort and conflicting over what each wild thing wants. That keeps with the simplicity of the story, and makes for a mellow movie. It just is. You live in this world, and you buy it. You also sink into its sadness.

Max (Max Records) really is wild. I’d say he needs some Ritalin but the point is that the book briefly describes a wild child, and the movie delivers the reality. This is what well meaning, but rambunctious kids are like. He’s got a wonderful mother (Catherine Keener) and you see his sadness in their loving scenes together.

The wild things are pretty destructive too. We see them tearing down huts in the forest, and Carol seems to be Max, the destructive outcast. When the wild things play, there’s something really destructive and hurtful about all of their games. Even when Max leads them, it’s all about hurting each other, then they wonder why they feel bad. Hopefully it can teach kids that there are emotional consequences. You will feel bad when you hurt your friends, no matter how much fun it seemed.


The film talks about social structure in a child’s terms. They’re aware of the notion of equal status, in terms of authorities playing favorites. Really, they just feel bad when they’re not the center of attention. That’s actually how adult relationships work. You can’t have two of the same forces. One has to be compatible with the other.

It’s got a little bit of whimsy, like Max’s backwards math just slips through. He equates 6 of him with 12 of the wild things and it doesn’t occur to anyone that he’s half the size of any of them.

The wild things walk with weight, like they are guys in heavy suits, because they are. Their mouths look CGI when they talk but their bodies are right. They speak with such everyday banter in a muted tone, they sound sad even when they’re playing.

The whole thing is shot handheld, which normally I don’t like but I don’t like CGI either. Here, the handheld camera has the positive effect of fooling you into thinking you’re seeing stuff that couldn’t possibly be effects. I don’t know how they’d do CGI on a shaking camera, although they did in <B>Hancock</B>. I’d still prefer costumes and tripods, but it also occurs to me you’re not supposed to be happy in this movie anyway so it’s fine.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Warner Bros Pictures
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