UPDATE: The New York Times has a piece about whether the movie is appropriate for children.
After seeing Where the Wild Things Are two nights ago, I suspected I would awaken Friday morning to check Metacritic and see a big ol’ 80+ rating on the film from critics.
Not so! Okay, it’s a 70. Well within the range of acceptability and good enough to keep it in the Oscar race.
What did I think? I have to say, it’s near perfect. Brilliant. And this is after I’ve been sufficiently numbed by months of promotion, including an aggressive effort through Urban Outfitters and on hip “young” shows like Gossip Girl, buzz from critics at festivals and stories of the studio rejecting it because it’s too artsy. I thought it would actually be easy to hate, given it’s angling for indie rock cred through the music in the trailer. All this set me up for a film so self-conscious of its own pretension it’d be as easy to hate as the hipsters it courts.
Not so! Where the Wild Things Are is pure cinematic id. It manages to capture the spirit of youth, even for those who don’t remember the book, more so than any “family” movie I’ve seen in years.
The film is gorgeous, nearly every shot is lush and carefully constructed, not a frame is wasted. The colors are phenomenal. In what appears to be a rogue move, Spike Jonze worked from a limited palette of browns, oranges and yellows (keeping the film as drab if not drabber than the book), with only hints of brighter colors are strategic moments. This had the effect of making the film’s rosier scenes particularly poignant.
What the movie does most successfully, I think, is take the twee, childlike nature of independent rock today to its necessary extremes. You can’t imagine how well presumably rarefied and intellectual rock works with depictions of the adolescent imagination.
Will families like it? I’m not sure. Certainly Park Slope and Silverlake mommies will be taking their kids, but will suburban families be scared away? No film can make money solely on twenty-something Spike Jonze fans. I think kids would like the movie, which in some ways reminded me and the friend I saw it with of a dressed-down Never-Ending Story, but then again I wasn’t a typical kid. Though there are a lot of atypical kids out there.
In the end, I think the film is for everyone, but, as with the more conventional Slumdog Millionaire, the studios have to market it right to get Americans to take the risk. I have no idea how this effort is going — we’ll see on Monday. I’ve got the message through the “young” and “hipster” routes, what about everyone else?
Whether or not it makes money, Jonze can sleep soundly knowing he made a work of art, and perhaps, time will tell, an important one. (UPDATE: CNN says the budget is between $80 and $100 million, which sounds ridiculous for such a lo-fi film, maybe that includes marketing; either way, not sure if it’s making that back. UPDATE 2: BoxOfficeMojo is pegging the production budget at $100 million, while New York Magazine says its $32 million opening weekend beat expectations. UPDATE 3: Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog says it was marketed mostly to adult audiences, and is happy with how the film is situated in the market. UPDATE 4: Two weeks in, the film has grossed $56 million, but it’s grosses are dropping at fast rates.).
Who knew a movie so representative of kids’ wonder can feel so emotive and grown-up? Jonze gave Pixar a run for its money.