Much has been made of Maurice Sendak’s purportedly unfilmable children’s book , “Where the Wild Things Are,” seeing as the pages contain only 10 sentences. Making movies out of easily digestible story lines, though, has never seemed to interest director Spike Jonze. After all, the subject of his last film, “Adaptation,” was the impossibility of bringing a work of literature to the big screen.
But skeptics and nervous studio execs be damned, Jonze and writer Dave Eggers have brought to the screen the story about a misbehaving young boy who flees his house after a fight with his mom and hops a mysterious boat to a mystical land where the titular creatures — wooly, lumbering, free-spirited beasts — crown him their king. How did Jonze do with this latest adaptation? As the film opens this Friday (October 16), the reviews have poured in, and MTV News has gathered them together so you can decide for yourself.
The most curious aspect of the film, which many critics happily note, is that “Wild Things” is not your typical children’s book adaptation. “The most daring thing that Jonze and Eggers have done is make a children’s film that might not really be for kids,” argues Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. “It feels more like an adult comment on a children’s film, a sober rumination on the genre that invites the audience to watch the action almost as though it were under glass.”
The Wild Things themselves have come in for much praise from reviewers, few more so than Christopher Orr in The New Republic. “It would be difficult to overstate the fierce originality of Jonze’s vision,” he writes. “The Wild Things themselves — which the director insisted rely on costumes and puppetry, with CGI utilized only for facial detail — are a marvel: shaggy titans with easily bruised hearts.”
MTV News’ own Kurt Loder cherished the fact that Jonze shot the film in naturalistic environments, rather than on manufactured sets. “Jonze was right to forego soundstage flora in favor of natural exteriors (the movie was shot amid the coastal bluffs and inland dunes of southern Australia), and right again to go with performers in furry creature suits rather than CGI concoctions (although the creatures’ faces have been digitally animated, with great skill),” he writes. “And by wading into the action — dirt-clod fights and galumphing creature-romps — with hand-held cameras, he manages to lend these fantastical characters a real-world credibility. The fine voice actors — James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara and Forest Whitaker among them — provide a bustling verbal interaction that’s equally believable.”
Most complaints about the film seem to focus on its plot — or lack thereof. “[I]n their overly earnest attempt to flesh Sendak’s story out to 100 minutes, Jonze and his co-screenwriter, novelist Dave Eggers, have laboriously spelled out motivations (divorce is bad!), elaborated back stories — and added reams of less-than-inspired dialogue,” declares Lou Lumenick, of the New York Post. “Unfortunately, they haven’t supplied any kind of plot that would keep an adult like myself (who didn’t grow up on the book) fully engaged.”
But others were willing to embrace the movie’s lack of conventional narrative. “I don’t use this word lightly, but ’Where the Wild Things Are’ is an absolute masterpiece, and it’s the finest offering from any Hollywood studio thus far this year,” says Drew McWeeny on HitFix.com. “It is a gorgeous, painful, heartfelt look at the turbulence of childhood, shot through with the wisdom that only perspective can allow, but told in a way that grounds us in the POV of a child. It’s smart, deceptively simple and richly imagined.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Where the Wild Things Are.”
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