Where the Wild Things Are: of rumpuses and monster faces

Where the Wild Things Are Monsters

{Where the Wild Things Are opens in Seattle Friday, 10/16 and is playing at the Meridian, the Majestic Bay, and the Metro}

Almost as soon as I found out that 826 Seattle was holding a preview benefit screening of Where the Wild Things Are–probably my most highly anticipated film this year–I bought tickets. A wise move, as it quickly sold out (the screening raised an awesome $47,000!). 

The energy in line and inside the Cinerama was kind of amazing. Most people seemed to really get into the spirit of things, wearing the gold paper crowns passed out at the door and buzzing happily about being able to attend. Teri Hein, founder of 826 Seattle, introduced screenwriter Dave Eggers and star Max Records before the film for a quick Q&A. Eggers gracefully spun attention away from himself and focused on 826 and their young guest by asking witty questions about injuries sustained while filming and working with Director Spike Jonze (reportedly quite the prankster)—as well as encouraging the audience to “howl when appropriate” during the film. That might sound a little dry written down, so let me clarify: my brains were basically falling out of my head from excitement by the time the movie started.

Max Records (as…Max) uses his fresh-faced enthusiasm and soulful eyes to draw you into the story of a lost and lonely little boy almost as soon as the film starts to roll. Relationship problems with his now-distant teenage sis and busy single mom cause Max to retreat into a fantasy world ruled by monsters with complex personalities who take pleasure in destroying things, and have quite a few issues of their own. In other words: Wild Things aren’t all about fun & games, even if Max would like them to be. The plot is definitely simplified, but there’s a deeper seriousness implied. The dialog is exactly what you’d think a 9-year-old boy would imagine, conveying the struggle of a kid trying to make sense of situations that are just beyond his realm of understanding and process them in a way that makes sense.

Max Records

What I think really makes the film really work is the incredible amount of detail put into the sets, scenery, and costuming. The creatures are recognizably identifiable to fans of Sendak’s book, with the added expansion of some awesome personalities created by Jonze & Eggers. The monsters’ faces express a mind-blowing amount of emotion (the James Gandolfini-voiced Carol broke my heart in damn near every scene), which I was surprised to learn was added post-production by animation. The execution is flawless; I definitely felt like I was watching the monsters “act” in every scene, and not just listening to recognizable voices attached to furry costumes. And one of the things I loved the most is that the monsters are assigned normal human names: Carol, Douglas, Alexander, KW, Judith & Ira, which somehow made them seem more real to me. This isn’t just an adaptation of a beloved children’s book—it’s a reworking of the story that captures the essence of the thing and blows it out in a way that’s both unexpected and familiar.

Of course the big question that everyone seems to want an answer to is whether this movie is for kids or adults. These kinds of questions always confuse me, because isn’t that almost totally up to the person seeing the film? It’s both, of course. It just depends on what you’re expecting when you go in, and what you take from it when you leave. Some kids are going to be scared of the monsters, and some kids aren’t. Some will be able to read a deeper meaning; some won’t. I’d wager that adults will react in a similar way, but as for myself, I reveled in the absolute joy of this movie. The battle cry of “Let the Wild Rumpus begin!” thrilled me in ways I can’t describe, and I plan to buy it as soon as it’s available.

Where the Wild Things Are