Warner Bros. is holding critics' screenings of Where the Wild Things Are way late: in New York, for instance, it won't screen until Wednesday night, barely 24 hours before midnight screenings start the next night. Though I hate to say so when it comes to a Spike Jonze interpretation of a Maurice Sendak book, that's not generally a good sign.
But seemingly can't-miss kids movies have missed before ... and badly. Who'da thunk that Robert Zemeckis -- who gave us such wonders as Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit -- could mutate a lovely picture book by Chris Van Allsburg into the hellish undead monstrosity that is The Polar Express? What had been delicate, luminous pencil-and-oil drawings telling a simple, touching story became something bloated and roller-coaster-ized, populated by Frankensteinian dolls, walking corpses with dead eyes and plastic skin. And Zemeckis' Santa is a jolly-old nightmare, a freakish wizard sent on his Christmas Eve way by elves holding a Nuremberg rally.
It's for, you know, kids!
But The Polar Express has nothing on the utterly misbegotten Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, which isn't so much a movie as a forced march through Candyland. It may actually contravene the Geneva Convention to make children watch Mike Myers as a sexually aggressive six-foot-tall feline. Surely pedophile registries should be the last thing on one's mind when one watches a movie intended for children, yet Cat isn't the only one to violate this seemingly basic tenet: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the second Hollywood take on the Roald Dahl story, seems intent on convincing the audience that Johnny Depp as the candymaker Willy Wonka is required by law to maintain a distance of 500 yards from schools and playgrounds. (How oh how could Depp and Tim Burton get it so wrong?)
Oh, and don't even get me started on Ron Howard's reading of Dr. Seuss in his How the Grinch Stole Christmas: he completely flips the point of the story upside down and inside out by making the Whos crass and materialistic and the Grinch the only voice of reason. (Jim Carrey's heartbreakingly bitter and lonely Grinch is the only reason to see the film.)
It's the kind of awfulness that makes it barely worth complaining about such kiddie misfires as Eragon (ripped off Star Wars), The Seeker (ripped off Harry Potter), and The Golden Compass (forgot to be about what the book was about: i.e., atheism).
It gives me some hope: Where the Wild Things Are at least looks like what it's supposed to be about, and it doesn't look like anything else we've ever seen before ... except the book. Maybe Jonze isn't where Burton, Howard, Zemeckis, and others are when it comes to kid flicks.