A young Yalie of my acquaintance wroteÂ me an enthusiastic email, stating with the confidence only a young Yalie couldÂ muster, â€œI left the theater utterly awed, and somewhat reassured that there areÂ still filmmakers that can really capture the MAGIC that movies are capable of.Â This may be overdoing it but I think that this movie is going to eventually beÂ considered this generation’s Wizard of Oz.â€
At first, I thought his claim a bit of an overreach, but Iâ€™m going to take his
appraisal seriously. A battle of the titans to be sure. Seventy years apart andÂ technically perfect, neither effort is likely to be bested any time soon. MaxÂ versus Dorothy. Wolf Suit versus Ruby Slippers. Icon versus Icon.
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Spike Jonze gets a lot of things right, wild and otherwise, in this elegant,Â spare and elegiac adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic, “Where the Wild Things Are.” Jonze adds noÂ unnecessary detail, no real linear narrative or cumbersome plot, and MaxÂ Recordsâ€™ Max expresses something quite rare and eloquent about the loneliness,Â sadness and disappointments of childhood (and adulthood). Being human isnâ€™t forÂ sissies. These wild things are more than creatures of Maxâ€™s imagination; theyÂ are projected parts of his own psyche echoing his sometimes inaccuratelyÂ perceived daily world, giant toys playing with him, working things out with theÂ carefully observed and recalled rhythm of imaginative play. The wild thingsÂ bash around their boyâ€™s paradise, acting out their hurt feelings and angers andÂ petty grievances with unexpected violence, unprovoked terror, and wordlessÂ rage, interspersed with the sweetest and most random acts of kindness and love.Â Max sails away from his home where he is largely ignored to a world whereÂ attention is paid, where his word is the rule, only to return home again acrossÂ he dark sea. The film is absolutely stunning, adding up to more than the sumÂ of its considerably exquisite parts, the kind of filmgoing experience thatÂ stays with you for a very long time.
Reviews are mysteriously mixed; childrenÂ will find unexpected delights in this somewhat shaggy tale. The filmmakersÂ trust the filmgoers to enjoy and interpret the wild things for themselves; theyÂ havenâ€™t tied up any wild things in little life lesson ribbons, nothing isÂ prettified or glossed over or overly simplified. This is an art film forÂ children. For anyone who ever was a child. Go. Open your mind and your heartÂ and your eyes to the wonders on the screen and allow them to haunt your dreamsÂ and waking life.
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The Defending Champion
Everything went right with this one. As a child, I watched “The Wizard of Oz” once a year onÂ television, promising myself that when I grew up, I would somehow procure aÂ copy and a movie projector so I could show it on demand to my children.Â Technology complied with this most heartfelt wish; my two daughters watched theÂ VHS copy daily for years, both wearing out their red glitter shoes andÂ obsessing to a degree I couldnâ€™t have foreseen. Young Dorothyâ€™s longings forÂ something better than home still resonate; her odyssey takes on the power ofÂ myth.
Both films adapt difficult andÂ brilliant works of childrenâ€™s literature and manage to exceed any expectations,Â evoking and exploring themes only hinted at in the original texts. Both filmsÂ achieve a technical excellence and rare beauty that thrills and ignites ourÂ passion for storytelling on the silver screen. Both films accurately captureÂ the complicated and often overlooked dark sides of childhood; adults see whatÂ they want to see and recall what they want to recall. Children can seem to themÂ simplified little people, easy to control. Children feel their feelings deeplyÂ and powerfully though; the less they are seen, the more powerfully they ache toÂ be seen clearly. Attention deficit is the usual diagnosis when childrenÂ misbehave; children want to be seen and heard and attended.
Dorothyâ€™s longings take on a simple, almost mathematicallyÂ Freudian shape. All her nemeses and friends have correlations in her dreamÂ world; this conceit is unique to the film and improves on the bookÂ considerably. Once she is away, she longs for home as strongly as she longed toÂ leave it. No matter that Oz is every little girlâ€™s technicolor fantasy comeÂ true; the noplace-like-home lesson is simple and almost impossible for a childÂ to grasp.
Maxâ€™s journey is messier and more ragtag; his paradise aÂ muddy place with deserts and forests, sailboats, rough seas and giant twigs.Â Maxâ€™s wild things are complicated and mutable, changelings as volatile as he.Â This is no Freudian mathematical equation but a poetic and deeply felt one,Â dreamlike and vague and specific all at once. Where the Wild Things Are is a scaryÂ place; itâ€™s everywhere. Itâ€™s inside you. Itâ€™s depressed and itâ€™s mad and itâ€™sÂ delirious and deranged; itâ€™s human and itâ€™s monstrous. Perhaps my Yalie friendÂ was right; Max might well be this generationâ€™s Dorothy.
Time will tell whether Max enchants generations to come. He certainly wowed me.Â Spike Jonze has crafted a masterpiece all right. For now though, Iâ€™m stickingÂ with the classic Oz; I canâ€™t imagine anyone watching Max every day for twoÂ years. That said, itâ€™s a much closer decision than I ever had any right toÂ expect. And thatâ€™s saying something. The Wizard of Oz. Period.