I have felt for some time that the modern children’s film lacks the balls that children’s films had when I was a kid. Marketing has taken over, broad appeal is key, and it’s all about veneer and less about substance, and the kids are completely unaware that they are being treated like…kids. What I mean by that is they aren’t challenged as I was by the cinema of my youth. However, this is something that seems to be changing recently, and while there is still plenty of soulless crap being processed for the wide-eyed masses, there seems to be a slight movement of challenging kid’s films over the past few years. From what I have heard, some of the more recent Pixar stuff gets into some heavy territory, which is nice because I feel the CG films have been the most lackluster in terms of real substance over the years. Then there are some films that tread darker paths like the recent 9, Coraline, and the reason I am here today, Where the Wild Things Are.
Spike Jonze is an amazing filmmaker that always has my attention based off his past work, and when I first heard that he was directing Where the Wild Things Are, I was pretty excited for it. I have no real fond memories of the book from when I was a kid. I remember it, but not all that well. It was the idea of Jonze doing a children’s movie that had me confident that he would give me something to chew on, something that a ten year old me would have loved, and still would love at the age of 33. With Wild Things, he did just that and he did so with a respect to his audience, knowing their brains aren’t lactose intolerant (?) like much of Hollywood would like to believe.
Often, when people refer to, or speak of Where the Wild Things Are, they say it’s not a movie for children, but a movie about children. That statement makes no sense to me and is frankly a little ridiculous. This is part of the desensitizing of our youth, or dumbing down of America if you will. Saying that just because a film is not easy to digest and may challenge a child makes it not fit for or made for one is just silly and ignorant. If kids aren’t challenged, they will not learn, and Where the Wild Things Are challenges children as well as adults. It works for adults, and does so without cheap jokes told with a wink at the poor parent that is forced to watch the hot new 3-D movie with their child. Children are too overprotected these days and I think back to the films of my youth, like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, or how about Legend? That movie was scary as shit and filled with very dark themes, but I loved it, as did many that were growing up at the time.
This film challenges by even daring to make the main character almost unlikable. Max (Played by a fantastic Max Records) is a bit of a brat and slightly obnoxious, but in general, kids are annoying. Not always, of course, but they can throw temper tantrums and hissy fits and be difficult to control, especially when things aren’t going their way. Max’s anger and frustrations in life are understandable, and they are frustrations that many of us go through at a certain age, but they are what make us mentally stronger. At that age, we are not mature enough to deal with them rationally, so we lash out and act the only way we know how. His dealing with the situation by running away to what appears to be paradise would seem the perfect solution to him. In his imaginary land, he can control what happens and how things are, something he cannot do in real life.
His world of fantasy and reality mirror each other in many ways as far as his problems go, with many of the wild things and their problems all tying into Max’s real life. Max in the real world is upset that his mother (Catherine Keener) has a new boyfriend and this is what causes him to lash out and eventually leave the real world. In the world where everything is wild, the creatures Carrol (James Gandolfini) and K.W. (Lauren Ambrose) are almost like a representation of Max’s parents and Max tries desperately to get them back together. This is Max’s imaginary world, so it is his rules and things should work out his way. This is what is most challenging is that Max cannot change anything and sometimes you have to play with the cards you’re dealt with in life. It also shows that running away from your problems will not solve them…eventually you will have to come back and face them, and learn from them.
That is just one example of the many parallels in Where the Wild Things Are, and to have a film take the eternal struggles and heartaches of youth and flesh them out with the use of fantastical characters is very welcome. It’s honest, there is not a happy ending, per say, It was not in 3-D, the creatures were mainly done with (m)puppets (and so amazingly I might add), and there is not one moment any joke is delivered and meant to wink at the adult viewer. Where the Wild Things Are is for children and adults, which is something that is rare in today’s cinema, and hopefully it inspires some children to want to be challenged more, instead of having shiny keys dangled in front of their faces.