WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

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Overall Impression – A technically wonderful movie, but sadly it loses steam rather quickly.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS

Who’s your main character? – Max.

What’s he trying to accomplish? – Professional: rule the Wild Things and keep ‘sadness’ away.  Personal: forge a friendship with Carol. Private: learn the importance of family.

Who’s trying to stop him? – Some of the Wild Things are skeptical of Max (and kinda want to eat him!), and their idiosyncrasies throw up some challenges, but much of Max’s conflict is internal.

What happens if he fails? – Max will never be part of a family, and the Wild Things will probably eat him.

THE FOUR ARCHETYPES

Orphan – Max lives completely inside his imagination, which puts him at odds with the real world around him. He doesn’t have a dad, and his teenage sister has begun ditching him for her friends.  Soon, Max becomes the only human amongst the Wild Things.

Wanderer – Max gets to know the Wild Things, starts developing a friendship with Carol, begins to explore the island and learns about being part of a unit with creatures he can understand and relate to.  Max learns that Carol has been harboring a dream home (of sorts) for the Wild Things.

Warrior – Max leads the Wild Things as they make Carol’s vision a reality.   They act like a real team and build their new “base”.  However, when tensions rise between the Wild Things, Max must struggle to settle the disputes and keep the group from falling apart.  They begin to suspect that Max isn’t the magical leader he claimed to be, and Carol turns on him.

Martyr – To escape Carol, Max must let himself be “eaten” by a Wild Thing so he can hide in its stomach. Max realizes he can’t help the Wild Things, and decides he must return to the real world.

AND, IN THE END…

I think if I saw WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE a second time, I’d enjoy it more.  Most of my energy was spent trying to figure out what was going on, why stuff was happening, etc..  Then again, if this all happened in the mind of a wildly imaginative kid, maybe that’s to be expected.  Normally it doesn’t make a big difference to my enjoyment/understanding of a movie, but in this case, I think not having read the book beforehand was a big handicap!

That aside, the movie was rich in a lot of ways.  The puppetry really was amazing.  The level of imagination, feeling of fun and adventure – it really does make you feel as if you’re in a kid’s imagination; or maybe it reminded me of how easy it was to live in my own world when I was that age.   Max trying to be the king of the Wild Things was also a fun spin on the dynamic of a difficult child learning the challenges of parenting.

One issue I had with Max was that I just didn’t like him that much, despite elements present to make him a sympathetic character.  There’s certainly undeserved misfortune: Max’s father has left, a new father figure might be moving in, he lives in his own world and nobody understands that apart from him, he doesn’t seem to have any friends his own age, and so on.  However, all that sympathy went down the drain for me when Max bit his really, really nice mother.  Obviously this is only my opinion, but it draws attention to how you should be careful how you make your character sympathetic.  Or, to make sure you don’t undo the sympathy you’d built up for your character.

– Dan Pilditch

One Response to “WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE”

  1. David Goulet November 23, 2009 at 9:39 am #

    Good point about undoing the sympathy for the character. I found I didn’t really care about Max’s journey after awhile. And the book is really about a different theme, not divorce grief. This could have been a landmark film — IF the story had been sharper.

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