“One of the year’s best.” – Entertainment Weekly
“The hipster equivalent of Star Wars.” – NPR’s, All Things Considered
“Briefly made life worth living.” – Roger Ebert
“Mostly good, kinda scary…[annoying, non-sensical ramblings]” – Sister Bear
Blah, blah, blah. Can we all just get off the “Where the Wild Things Are” superlative-train already? I get it. Spike Jonze is a genius. Special effects are fun. “Where the Wild Things Are” touched us all in special places when we were kids. Whatever. I just can’t figure out why this movie is getting the kind of media rub-down usually reserved for Bear-ack Obama and anything Tina Fey does. Sure, wolf costumes can be fun, and I can appreciate a wild rumpus as much as the next San Franciscan on Halloween, but is that all we expect from our children’s literature these days? Where’s the life lesson? Where’s the moral? Where’s the takeaway that is both universal and specific?
Am I alone in this? Wouldn’t you rather see a movie that was both instructive and entertaining? Where are the Wild Things? Who cares! What have the Wild Things learned about sharing? That’s what I want to know. Escapism and imagination are all well and good, but what can Max and the Wild Things tell me about talking to strangers, having bad dreams, or dealing with bullies? I know that may be a bit much to ask from a ten-sentence book written by a hippie who was subsisting on a steady diet of humanism and bong resin, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask from a feature-length film in the Post-Pixar Age.
I also thought the MPAA was a tad generous with its PG rating. Call me old fashioned, but I know Mama Bear would get her polka-dot PJs all in a twist if she knew I’d seen a movie filled with violence, threats of violence, cannibalism, threats of cannibalism, and mixed gender “sleep piles.” There’s even a part (SPOILER ALERT) where one of the cross-bred freaks – voiced by James Gandolfini – rips one of the other cross-bred freak’s arm off! I haven’t seen violence that grotesque since the day Grizzly Adams came to Bear Country and shot Mayor Honeypot with a high caliber rifle. It was like a scene right out of The Sopranos, except Gandolfini wasn’t wheezing as loud.
But even that I could have overlooked if there had been a wholesome, redemptive message at the end. The Wild Things Tone it Down a Bit. The Wild Things Learn About Assault and Battery. The Wild Things Face Prison Time. Anything! Having a moral doesn’t mean a story can’t be gritty. Look at us in Bear Country! Whether dealing with Too-Tall Grizzly’s anti-panda bigotry, or Papa Bear’s continuing struggles with honey addiction, we don’t pull any punches. We’re helping real kids deal with real issues, while also showing that bears aren’t as dangerous as the hate-mongers in the National Park Service would have them believe. At least the bears wearing pants, that is.
“Where the Wild Things Are” teaches nothing. It’s an endless barrage of romping, frolicking, cavorting, and dilly-dallying, which serves only to create confusion around the ethics and consequences of bird-bull-goat-monkey breeding. Not since my ill-advised date with that tramp Queenie McBear can I remember a less-edifying use of two hours.
Had this movie come out before “The Berenstain Bears and No Guns Allowed,” things would have gone very poorly for those involved with this project. Fortunately for them, Brother Bear never forgets a lesson. Fortunately for me, “The Berenstain Bears Learn About Hate Mail” isn’t due out until Summer 2010. That little d-bag, Max Records, will be well acquainted with my feelings by that time.