Max is a very specific child. For those that don’t know, Max is the main character of Maurice Sendak’s iconic children’s book. In the short span of the book our childhood tempest is stoked. Our minuscule social stature isÂ tossed aside. In pure nature we realize a pre-adolescent hedonism. We face Hobbes and Rousseau as if they were officiating a grade school dodge ball match… At least that is what I got when I was a kid.
Filled with the hipster trailer and marketing push, I’m fired up and ready to go. As the smoke clears, the credits roll. Every studio and production title screen has a hand drawn ‘MAX’ somewhere on it. Cute, but a bit forced. He goads his older sisters friends into a snow ball fight. They take it too far and his sister ignores him. His single mother ignores him for work (he thinks). Ignores him for the wine sipping suitor. It is a bit much.
In his landmark work, ‘Understanding Comics’, Scott McCloud discusses iconography and specificity. Iconic figures in illustrations lack detail. It allows the viewer to transfer their own experience onto that image. More detail is added to make a person or item special. Think of Winnie the Pooh. Pooh has almost no detail, but the trees in the background show the lines in the bark and leaves on the branches. Pooh bear can be anyone… even you. The Hundred Acre Wood, however, are a very specific place. The effect is fantasy teleportation. You imagine the inner life of the characters, but you do so in the distant refuge of Christopher Robbins.
In the book and the movie, Max (played by Max Records) wears a disguise. The purpose of a disguise is to obscure true identity. Spike Jonze short circuits the grid by placing Max in a set of circumstances that steer away from empathy by using logic. The movie shifts away from the universal of the book towards a very personal film about one boy in a stale cliche household.
Once we leave suburbia and move to Where The Wild Things Are, Jonze becomes much more comfortable. Some rumpus is had and there are striking scenes. The looks is often just short of spectacular. The creatures are a hybrid of college mascots on acid and computer generated faces. The eerie expressiveness of the faces paired with the clumsiness of their movement splits that hallucinogenic hair. The beasts’ social structure and personalities are obtusely discernible. Do they represent people in Max’s life? Are they components of Max’s psyche? As the THC tries to tie it together, nothing seems to stick. It doesn’t add up, and it isn’t supposed to.
And the music. I and a huge Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan, but that did get old, especially with the spectacular Arcade Fire trailer. The trailer showed magic where the feature showed fancy. Maybe it is a case of unrealistic expectations. I think, instead, we see a film that tamed the wild and pulled away from the human. It makes me want to watch the trailer again.
High cinema increases empathy, and that strongly helps Where the Wild Things Are. Jonze has brought a film to the screen that is truly his and he should be proud of it, but it falls short of being a Max for everyone…. ROAR!
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