Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Rated: PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language.
Length: 101 minutes
Grade: CBCD=C
Budget: $100 million
Box Office: $124 million (77 U.S., 22 Intl., 25 DVD)

Written by: Spike Jonze (Mostly music videos) and Dave Eggers (First movie), based on the classic children’s book by Maurice Sendak.
Directed by: Spike Jonze (Mostly music videos, but he also presented the visually spectacular “The Fall”) (Co-produced by Tom Hanks)
Starring: Max Records and Catherine Keener, with the voices of James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forrest Whitaker, and Chris Cooper.

Max is a lonely, angry, unruly boy with a tremendous imagination who runs away from home to an island inhabited by large furry monsters who at first want to eat him but eventually wind up making him their king.

Entertainment Value: C
Hmmm. This is strange. Really strange. There are aspects of it which are really cool, like the basic concept, the diversity of characters, the deep emotional and psychological issues, and the cool scenemaking. At the same time, I have trouble imagining children liking it. It’s just bizarre and chaotic, rather like the book, quite frankly, which always seemed to me to be far more popular than it deserved. If Woody Allen made a children’s movie designed for adults with furry monsters, he might make this, although he would certainly add profanity and sex to it.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B-, Language A
The only concerns here are a depiction of a child running away from home and then some semi-scary scenes with violence like dirt clod fights, threats to eat a little boy, and a monster having his arm ripped off and sand coming out of the hole. Also, there is an early scene with a teacher explaining how the universe will end to young kids, which is a weird thing either to those kids or in a kids movie. PG is probably right, but maybe higher PG, like PG-9.

Significant Content: C
It’s hard to say what the ultimate point of the movie is, other than that wild little boys don’t realize how they’re behaving until they see it in someone else. Lying is constantly used, but often the truth comes out anyway. The social ideals of equality, peace, and happiness are praised and yet not achieved. People are a lot like monsters, with both quirks, problems, and tender sides. Divorce makes for angry children.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
As I said above, I found this jumbled and ugly for the most part. It’s just sort of a mess, with some semi-poignant scenes thrown in. I think the main problem I had was keeping straight which character was which, especially with the names. If somehow that could have been made more comprehensible, then keeping each one’s peculiarities and pathologies straight might have been possible. I suspect that the filmmakers became so familiar with them all that they forgot we wouldn’t bring that same familiarity to it as an audience.

Discussion Questions:
~Why does Max run away in the beginning? Who is responsible for him being so angry? Have you ever felt like running away? Have you ever felt like things around you were so frustrating and out of your control that you had trouble handling it? When that happens, how can praying help?
~What do you think of Max’s revenge against his sister? Was he justified? What could he have done instead?
~One of the main goals of the monster society is to keep everybody together and happy, and things that threaten this are treated with hostility. How might this goal reflect the internal struggles Max is having with his parents’ divorce?
~Do you think this film is supportive or critical of lying? Why are people with active imaginations often also more prone to lying?
~Would you want Max as your king? Why or why not? What are the obligations of a king?
~One of the characters chastises Max for being mean back to her when she is mean to him. Are leaders supposed to retaliate against their subjects? What about parents?
~Is being eaten a metaphor for anything in this film? What?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Max convincing the monsters not to eat him and to make him their king.
~The discussion about who will do away with all the sadness and the sadness shield. Would you like to have a sadness shield? Do Christians have such a thing?
~Building the massive fort.
~The dirt-clod fight.
~Max leaving the island of monsters. Why does he come home? What does he finally realize about his mother’s struggles and about his own behavior? Who on the island represents Max?
Overall Grade: C
Much like a Woody Allen film, there are several moments of wry wit here, but overall it’s a jumbled mess of psychological problems and confusing characters. I cannot wish this on children, but in a wholly new and different way from how I wouldn’t wish most so-called children’s movies on children.

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