What's Bugging Me About the Wild Things TrailerComplications Ensue
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is one of my favorite books. Always has been. And I love to read it to Jesse, when she's in the mood for it, which isn't always.

But I've had absolutely no desire to see the movie. I just realized why: I don't know what the story is.

A story is about a compelling hero, with an opportunity, problem or goal, who faces obstacles or an antagonist, who has something to win and something to lose.

This trailer gives me none of those. I don't know why Max is compelling. He seems to have two expressions: happy, and blank. I don't know what his problem is or what he wants to do. I don't know who's against him or what's preventing him from doing what he needs to do. I don't know what he stands to gain or lose.

If I look carefully, I can see that he's running away a lot. Things go boom at one point. There's a net that drops at one point. But why? And how does he feel about it?

This feels a good deal like the fake trailer for THE SHINING, redone as an uplifting coming of age story:

Reading a few reviews ("too dark for kids") I wonder if this is secretly such a dark and scary movie that the marketeers decided to take out every hint that it's dark and scary so people will take their kids anyway.

Has anyone seen this baby? What's up? Does it have a story, or is just big puppets?



This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger tommy, at 1:09 PM  

This is something I always point out to whoever I'm seeing a movie with; When a preview doesn't actually suggest anything about the story (happens more often than you'd think), then that movie is going to suck.

However, I don't fault Where the Wild Things Are for that. I assume that the people who made the trailer accurately assumed that most audiences are already pretty familiar with the story.

By Blogger tommy, at 1:10 PM  

It has a story. It goes roughly like this: twelve year old child bites Mom in a fit of rage occasioned by Mom’s only on-screen smile. Child runs away from home, leaving Mom literally crying in the street. Child engages with adolescent alter-ego monsters in a gorgeous landscape of sticks and alienation. Discovers violence and loss of control might be detrimental for others, and himself, and that he cannot make “only the things you want to happen to happen.” Wishes for Mom. Leaves monsters. Returns to an exhausted mother who hugs him, says nothing about the bite for which he does not apologize, feeds him chocolate cake, and falls asleep on the table. He eats his cake alone.

It’s beautiful, but it’s dark in a bleak way, but I couldn’t get over the “run away from home and it’ll fix everything” message enough to enjoy it. I like the trend away from enforced cheeriness in kids’ movies these days, but this is less an honest portrait of childhood complete with shadow, a la Coraline, and more a hopeless picture of an adolescent wasteland without help or protection.

And I suspect you’re right, that the marketers, in trying to work with clips without the shadow ended up with very little to show. Even the director is on record as saying his intention was to make a movie about childhood, not a children’s movie. Even at that, to me it feels like a moody adolescent’s take on childhood, rather than an actual child’s.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:22 PM  

Skyler said " but this is less an honest portrait of childhood complete with shadow, a la Coraline, and more a hopeless picture of an adolescent wasteland without help or protection."

I completely disagree. Where The Wild Things Are is about being a kid, which is a scary thing. It's more honest in how it feels to be a kid than Coraline is - Wild Things is complete with the high highs and the low lows and how you can deal with a world that's not black and white, where there's no real fix-all answer to your problems.

I came out of Where The Wild Things Are with the odd realization that the main characterhas an infinitesmial arc - it's similar to The Hurt Locker in that it's not the character who changes, it's the audience who learns things and comes to understand the character.

Please go see it and see what you think - I felt it was refreshing and personal and honest. It's not a movie for kids - it's a movie for anyone who was a kid and ever worried.

By Blogger Emma, at 2:23 PM  

I thought the same thing when I saw the previews. There seems to be no conflict. But it turns out, there if considerable conflict in the film.

It's allegorical, and very well done. I desperately needed tissues at the end.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 7:07 PM  

WILD things is a book with great illustrations and zero story. That's why you don't want to see the film.

By Blogger sean, at 10:53 PM  

@Sean: couldn't disagree more. The story of the book is about a roguish child (character) who is exiled to his bed without supper (problem). He faces obstacles and antagonists (boring room, then dragons, then Wild Things. He stands to gain Fun but he risks his life.

But then his problem changes to loneliness. Then he faces Wild Things again and the ocean. And heads home to his room, where his initial problem (no supper, not feeling loved) is solved.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 11:16 PM  

Max doesn't DO anything to solve this problem of no supper, nor appear to learn anything. The supper is just there when he gets back, because Mom lets him off the hook in a classic example of bad parenting.

By Blogger sean, at 12:25 PM  

Oh, it's always the mom's fault.

By Blogger Unknown, at 9:53 PM  

There is a bit of a story amidst the compelling allegory, and the kid is actually quite wonderful... but overall it is extremely dark and depressing, and some of the jokes feel awkward because the tone is so dark. I cried through the vast majority of it.

By Blogger Amanda, at 11:11 PM  

I guess they made and marketed the film for North American audiences only because until MTV Canada's Dan Levy gushed about the movie on his show, I had never heard of the story. Also, I highly doubt that people in Europe know of the book like people in north America do "Harry Potter" so it would have been smart to give some semblance of a story line. Unless the marketing is regional dependent.

That said, the idea, as one of you mentioned, of a spoiled child not being disciplined for bad behaviour but rewarded later, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. That, plus the fact that I have an aversion to depressing films, means I'll stay away from "where the wild things are".
Good for them that they have a built in audience...

By Blogger JamaicanInToronto, at 2:20 AM  

Does it have to teach us about good parenting or consequences?

I've probably read the original book a dozen times since seeing the film and I find it to be quite accurate to the tone and feel of Sendak's original story. That story has been a favorite of countless numbers of children and it had absolutely no conflict resolution or moral message (at least on the surface).

It's not about resolving his bad behavior, it's the fact that he is a child and he misbehaves and then runs away from his problems into his imagination. I did that when I was young. I did that every day. Nothing was ever solved by delving into my imagination during those hard times, but it certainly made me feel better.

Plus, no matter how much my mother tried to punish me for something, she never let me go without dinner. Starving your child is not good parenting. But worrying about them after they run away and hugging/feeding them when they finally return, I would say, is the mark of a great parent.

By Blogger Unknown, at 2:59 AM  

See, I thought the film was about what it means to be a parent. You don't have all the answers. Like the scene - minor spoiler - where Judy tells Max he's not supposed to growl back at her. He's supposed to let her growl at him and then he tells her it's okay. That's how kids feel about their parents sometimes, as if they're not supposed to be human and make mistakes. So in this film Max learns that sometimes his mom makes mistakes and he should be more understanding.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 12:28 PM  

I think it's about trying to understand, relate to, compromise with and deal with other people - probably the hardest bit of growing up, and a part that we never really stop having troubles with throughout life.

Max learns to see things from the perspective of his mother - while king, by trying to be all he thinks a parent should be . . . and finding out how hard that is. The adult audience members in turn get a chance to understand Max and the Wild Things, all of whom are basically out of control, 'overgrown' children - but out of control because life is complex, because they are young and don't know how to relate to one another yet.

It's a sometimes-bleak, beautiful, heart-wrenching movie. I *adore* the book, and as an adaptation this movie is exactly what I hoped it could be. Fantasy is about going into the dark woods and coming back with something that makes life more complex (if, sometimes, more comprehensible) than it ever was before - and this movie accomplishes that so well. I am very glad I went to see it.

I've never been a parent, but I was a child - and this is the sort of story I would have wanted my parents to take me to see. Precisely because the best sort of children's stories make us aware of the problems of life, and the best children's fantasy is full of dangerous, strange and frightening things. After all, we have to know there are dragons so that we can learn how they are beaten.

By Blogger Unknown, at 1:23 PM  

"After all, we have to know there are dragons so that we can learn how they are beaten. " Ah, one has been reading Tolkien's THE MONSTER AND THE CRITICS, hasn't one.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 1:28 PM  

I saw it with my 11 year-old nephew on opening night and I'll remember that evening as one of the most beautiful in our relationship.

It's gorgeous, it's touching and it does a great job at showing a kid's perspective. They did a great job of expanding on the book's story and theme.

The trailer didn't share any of the storyline but what it did share is the feeling of exhilaration you feel when you watch a lot of the scenes in the movie. In that sense, I think it was a successful trailer. The only sad thing is that they did not reuse that Arcade Fire song in the actual film.

Go see it, Alex. I can't imagine you'll regret it.

By Blogger Martine, at 4:19 PM  

"A story is about a compelling hero, with an opportunity, problem or goal, who faces obstacles or an antagonist, who has something to win and something to lose.

I just wanted to thank you for posting this definition. Seriously. When newbies try to learn screenplay story structures etc, they usually get the 'gurus' saying "a story is a desire driving towards a goal with an antagonist trying to block the protagonist, ie driver of the story". Never mentioning opportunity or problem -well sometimes the swap problem for desire instead of goal.
But you have made the concept less restrictive...

By Blogger JamaicanInToronto, at 2:29 AM  

I found the film to be a complete bore. The costumes were fantastic. The set interesting but overshadowed by it's bleakness. It seemed that Jonze tried to straddle the line between children's film and a film about childhood, and as a result satisfied neither audience (although i see the film has it's share of supporters).

By Blogger Global, at 10:50 AM  

This is way too much analysis for a film as underwhelming as WTWTA.

Put simply, it wasn't good.

By Blogger aldentre, at 3:02 AM  

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