: Where the Wild Things Are
It’s been ages since I read the children’s book and I don’t remember it well. I will caution that I read the book as an adult, not as a child. For some reason this one escaped my notice as a kid. While I remember thinking it was good, I don’t remember it being great. I could name a dozen other children’s books I liked far, far better. So I come into this not being a huge fan, but more neutral. And that’s kind of how I felt about the film. It’s good. It’s got a handful of great moments, but mostly it’s just good. So don’t go into this with huge expectations or you’ll be disappointed. The acting is excellent (the little boy is fantastic). The monsters are wonderful: somehow simultaneously scary and friendly. The pacing is too slow, and I found several aspects of the story problematic. The biggest one for me was the kid and the monsters playing “war” by throwing dirt clods at each other. As you might expect, this was exceedingly violent, with serious injuries as a result. It felt wrong and off. While I understand youthful enthusiasm and the invincibility of youth, the tone felt wrong for this story and for this little boy. While it obviously echoed the snowball from the beginning of the film, that ended in tears and if anything should have taught the boy a lesson, but it didn’t, since he wanted to do it again this time with heavy dirt clods and monsters four times his size who could easily toss boulders if they wanted. The scene had an ominous, serious tone that while I understand the producers wanted such a feeling, it was too strong and too much for me. The way this story works for me is to hint at such things, not actually be them. In other words, threaten injury, but not actually have injury. This had the feeling of the “ha ha” practical joke that suddenly goes deadly and isn’t funny any more, except in this case, the producers keep laughing and carrying on, ignorant to the fact that the audience isn’t laughing with them any more. Of course this is just one scene and it’s not that horrible, just a little off tonally, so it’s not a disaster, it does not ruin the entire film. But tone is vital in a story like this and it does effect matters. There are a couple other areas where this happens and it works: it’s just off enough it unsettles you, makes you wonder if the monsters really are going to eat the boy or accidentally hurt him, and that’s good. That’s what the book did: it generated real (dangerous) emotions from children. But the book did it in a way that was somehow still “safe.” One way it did that is via time, the book being so short that the reader is not in a scary place for long. The film, unfortunately, is much too long, leaving us in limbo for such a long time that it’s actually disturbing, not merely uncomfortable. Ultimately, this is interesting. It’s well-done, but it feels drawn out with not much beyond the original premise happening. It would have been far better as a short. Do a thirty-minute version, or maybe an hour. Maybe an hour-ten, if it could be stretched that far. That would have condensed all the wonderful moments into a terrific sequence that would have been awesome. As it is now there are so many lulls and dry spells that they weaken the really good moments, and the conclusion is that the film is only okay, not great.