Friday, November 6, 2009

'Wild Things' lack bite

Where the Wild Things Are
Two Stars

By Joe Maniscalco

Welcome to the island of miserable monsters.

Proving once again that less is more, Spike Jonze’s disappointing treatment of Maurice Sendak’s classic storybook “Where the Wild Things Are” begs the question, just because you can make a movie based on a beloved children’s tale, does that mean that you should?

Sendak himself might beg to differ, but it’s tough to figure out just what the director has accomplished here in attaching 101 minutes of film to the briskly paced picture book.

Newcomer Max Records certainly does bring wonderful three dimensional life to Sendak’s bratty protagonist; unfortunately his “Wild Things” are consistently wooden and cloyingly annoying.

Far from deepening the magic of the original, the power of speech has simply stripped the iconic beasts of all their laconic charm and intrigue.

As voiced here, the “Wild Things” are purely pedestrian and mundane despite their monstrous appearances.

The screenplay follows the story of young Max retreating into his own imaginary world after throwing a temper tantrum and biting his mom.

Since you can’t make a feature-length film based on a few scant pages that probably contain as many sentences as illustrations, the filmmakers are left to their own devices.

What they’ve come up with is a heavy-handed theme revolving around a sensitive child’s innate fear of one day having to grow up and face one’s own mortality.

It’s a rich place to start, but the drama of how Max fools the “Wild Things” into making him their king and then losing their trust just isn’t that compelling, either visually or contextually.

Kids will most likely be twisting in their seats while “Wild Things” chatter on.

“Where the Wild Things Are” isn’t horrible, but it’s also not very memorable.

“Where the Wild Thins Are.” Directed by Spike Jonze. Starring Max Records, James Gandolfini and Catherine Keener. Rated PG, 101 minutes.


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