I had five main concerns going into Where The Wild Things Are.
Worry 1: Overly Hipstered-Out.
Justified? You know what I mean; I trust Spike Jonze, but there's always the danger of lots of Marie Antoinette-style posturing better suited to a music video. The crowd - a mix of 20-something couples and with-it parents (I heard kids addressed as Milo, Oscar, Adlai and Dahlia while on line) didn't exactly allay my fears, But! It wasn't! I'll admit to concerns when I saw Max's hand-knit Scandinavian sweater and hair that looked suspiciously like it might be acquainted with a barber's razor. But despite the continual presence of Karen O's voice, the atmo never grew, to my mind, self-conscious.
Worry 2: Overly Precocious Kid
Justified? This was a major, major concern of mine, as I feel like wise-cracking kids spouting an adult's idea of clever is a major bane of our times and has an adverse effect on our children. Not a chance. The little boy in the movie, Max Records, was fantastic. Not a sassy line, and he seemed to be genuinely enjoying it.
Worry 3: Would Pull A Polar Express - Or Worse, Cat in the Hat.
Justified? There's a terrible trend of sort of throwing out what's magical about a kid's book and using it as a chance for technical acrobatics or a star's wholly unrelated shtick (ahem, Jim Carey.) Jonze didn't - he seems to have stuck to the book as he understood it. But those are the operative words: no one's experience of an 8-page book is going to be the same, because it's at least 40% imagination. Which brings me to worry 5:
Worry 4: That The Wild Things Would Be Cartoon-Cute
Justified? Yeah, kinda. I'm not saying they were Jim Carey-cloying, because they weren't. But the Wild Things were still cartoon animals in the sitcom, Ice-Age, vocal talent, one-liner tradition. Which is okay, I guess, and it's what kids are used to. Jonze clearly envisioned the Wild Things as adult entities with kid sensibilities. I guess to me they'd always been essentially savage - you know, wild! Here, they became projections of Max, whereas I'd always felt a lot of the book's power came from actually having control over a world much scarier than the real one. The id, sure, but a more abstract one! When they said, "we'll eat you up, we love you so" it wasn't an endearment, but a threat. Maybe this is why the two moments that really captured the book for me were the dirt fight - in which they all go genuinely kid-wild - and the final farewell, in which all the Wild Things begin a mournful yowl. I wish there'd been more yowling, less banter. Even when the Wild Things showed their fangs, as it were, they were still...familiar.
Worry 5: Would Suck
Justified? Nope. It's a little slow for some, a little cute for me and, yes, the under-5's in the audience commenced screaming a few minutes in, precipitating a mass exodus. But those kids who stayed seemed to like it. A little girl of about 6 told me she hadn't been scared (although her dad said she was.) One little guy, 5, told me seriously, "It was sad. But wild." And you really can't ask for more than that.