This evening, Annette and Will and I went to see a special showing of Where the Wild Things Are, which was a fundraiser for the very excellent 826 Michigan. It was a fantastic event. We were at the Michigan Theater far too early (5:30-ish) because it was a sell-out and we wanted to make sure that all of our ducks were in a row. There was already a good 40 or so people in line all waiting for their “will call” tickets when some semi-official person came out and told the crowd that no one with a cell phone that could take a photo would be admitted. My plans to take a series of still pictures of the movie from my iPhone was thwarted. Of course, while in the theater and during the movie, I saw PLENTY of people with iPhones and cell phones, but never mind that.
Anyway, after a quick dinner, we got ourselves situated in our seats and enjoyed Michigan Theater organ music. The movie was a sell-out, but not completely; the balcony was closed, as was the back part of the main level. I overheard someone who seemed to know what they were talking about who said something about how Warner Brothers (the movie’s distributor) set some pretty strict limits on how many people could attend these preview screenings. Still, I’ll bet there was close to 1,000 people there.
After some introductions about 826 Michigan, Dave Eggers and Amy Sumerton (who is the program director person for 826) came out for a little small-talk and Q&A about various things about the movie. My favorite question was actually asked by my wife, who asked what did Maurice Sendak think about all of this. Apparently, Spike Jonze (the movie’s director and co-writer with Eggers) has known Sendak for quite a while, and he gained Sendak’s blessing for making the movie. Eggers also said that Sendak was involved in the process pretty much throughout, from commenting on aspects of the script to the film itself.
Then FINALLY, showtime, after a rather amusing little short film with Sendak telling a story about himself attending the World’s Fair back in the 1930s. A short review and some very modest spoilers after the jump, but I will say this: it’s a great, beautiful, complex movie, and one well worth seeing on the big screen. Apparently, there is an IMAX version, and I could see that being worth the experience.
Oddly, the movie is very true to the book: that is, Max gets in trouble, goes off to the land “where the wild things are,” has adventures, and goes back home. That’s pretty much it. I think what I was expecting was some sort of flashback/trade-off throughout the movie between Max’s fantasy world and the “real world,” but that’s not it. The “real world” is reflected in Max’s fantasy world and vice versa, of course, but that this is true to the spirit and plot of the original speaks to both the power of Sendak’s text and Jonze’s, Eggers’, and everyone else’s critical work at understanding the complexity of the story. This is not the kind of treatment that Dr. Seuss has received with the live versions of Cat in the Hat and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas for sure.
It’s a stunningly beautiful film. Annette described it as very “architectural,” and I think that kind of comes across through the trailer: intricate and sculptural sets, sweeping outdoor scenes, and monsters that I know that have CGI facial expressions without being obviously CGI effects. Basically, it has a lot of the look and reoccuring images of Jonze’s Being John Malchovich and Adaptation, which I think are also wonderful films (and good gauges for this one: if you liked them, see this; if not, then don’t.)
And the other amazing thing is Max. So much hangs on this actor Max Records, the only “human” who is on screen for most of the film. This kid, who is literally a few months older than Will, is freakin’ amazing. And if you think about it for a minute, this is quite the ballsy move by all the powers that be with this project, letting a 12 year-old carry your entire project.
My only criticism is that the main monster, Carol, is voiced by James Gandolfini. He did a good job, but I have to say that a couple of times, I did think to myself “what the heck is Tony Soprano doing here?”
But hey, that’s minor. Multiple thumbs up. Go and see it.