Standing in line for popcorn, I look up and see Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, the rodents who permeated my childhood, staring at me from 20 feet up, larger than life. Seeing this, I speak some of the truest words I’ve spoken in my life:
“I realize, my cynicism and displeasure in the entertainment community at large has become something of a burden, and is becoming a problem.”
It’s true. I have always found that, even since I was young, the MST3K Mantra did not apply to my overall outlook on music, movies, and television. Rather than being content with the latest blockbuster, from an early age, I thirsted for something more than what I was given. A fondness for overwrought foreign films about Abortion and people like Dave Longstreth and Jeff Mangum clouded my judgment, and made it so that I nearly wept upon seeing The Golden Compass, and have yet to even read reviews of The Spiderwick Chronicles, despite how long it has been out.
Upon realizing exactly where I stood on the crags of criticism, I approached the greatest challenge I possibly could: the sparkling, muddy Spike Jonze adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. Possibly the most important book of my childhood, it was hard to ignore my instincts to judge the film as anything more than what it was: a love letter.
For those unfamiliar with the premise, somehow, a summary: Max, a young boy with a big imagination, finds himself in approximately my position of displeasure with the world around him, and thus, he decides to leave his world of rules and oppression and start anew across the sea. He comes across an island full of great furry beasties, and, as they say, the wild rumpus begins. He is crowned king, but time wears on and he realizes that being like an animal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Spike Jonze, of course, is the director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Being Spike Jonze means a certain degree of responsibility when it comes to bringing certain things to the table, including surreal humor and overdone character study. And this is exactly what the adaptation is: a character study. The wild things, serving merely as a metaphor for animal instinct in the original Maurice Sendak story, each of them bears their own distinct personality. The main wild thing, Carol, takes Max under his wing after his crowning, and helms his project to build a fort for all of the group to be safe in. Everything is injected with love, love, love, and as an end result, we are shown not the advancement of any given plot line, but the personal growth of every major player. Being that the original text is 10 sentences long, it gives a lot of room for expansion on everything therein, using the images as the jumping point.
Ultimately the thing most people are put off by is the lack of plot development and the fact that nothing really happens over the course of the film. To those people I ask, why does there need to be a stream of events? Why can’t the characters merely live their day, and let us view it from the outside? Have we become so jaded that we shut out the validity of films that show the kinds of things that we have done 50 times during this particular work week? The wild things are people you know, and you know that full well, even if they have horns and manes and one guy gets his arm ripped off and replaces it with a stick. Jonze goes as far as to prove that you know these people by having two unintelligible owls tell a character the Loud Interrupting Cow knock-knock joke by hooting. What could be more slice of life than that?
By the end of the film, I felt nothing more than warm and fuzzy. If I were pressed to give a critical opinion, I would say that the film needed more structure and served as nothing more than a way for Jonze to exercise his childish genes. But for Where The Wild Things Are, I am able to forget what we as critics are taught to say and believe, and just believe in something great.