I was sick over the weekend, and couldn't see it then, as I wanted to.
But I played hooky from school this afternoon, and got to see it. For me, it really delivered. I loved its particular pace, its distinctive and unusual pacing, and how determined the film was to keep the drama down at "kid level". Essentially, much of the drama that unfolds is schoolyard in nature. There are relationships established, then broken, then mended. There are alliances and factions that struggle and pull apart... then collide together again.
When I was a kid, in the course of one school day I would go from being mortal enemies with certain classmates at morning recess, to being on the same team in a game of football at lunch, to happily recounting an episode of Airwolf from the night before during afternoon recess, then back to enemies by home time. Then the same drama, the NEXT day (only different).
This films builds its drama from this perspective. Its the story of kids (albeit most of them monsters), playing and living with each other, and learning (to certain degrees) about themselves and the world, through this interaction.
The drama never goes epic in a typical Hollywood sense, and I found that so refreshing. There's no alien menace. No 80 foot tall hamster... no overt, mindless spectacle. The drama is all about emotional states of being, and feelings.
There's no wise-cracking, no catch phrases. No one gets hit in the crotch, and there's no fart jokes. There's no Cuba Gooding Jr., either. It's a terribly honest, earnest, heartfelt film, thank God.
The complexity to the characters and their relationships is another facet of the film that deeply impressed me.
For example the main monster, Carol, doesn't fit any simple mould. He's not the "tough guy". He's not "the wimpy but smart guy". He's not the "bad guy." He ranges from being an equal of Max (the main character) in terms of intellect, to being a loyal subject of Max a few minutes later. In time, he reveals father-figure aspects, particularly in a wonderful scene when he reveals to Max his "hobby", a miniature world of tiny sticks and mud (shades of any Dad's basement train set).
Carol is also father-like in his physical size and strength, and temper. And so within this one character, we find facet after facet that continues to build his complexity throughout the story.
We later find outright rage and jealousy in Carol, stemming from a refusal to accept that things in life change. Carol behaves like a frustrated child (bringing back to the forefront his childlike nature that we first found him exhibiting), but now it carries with it a truly frightening potential for harm from powerful teeth and claws.
Carol is manic: he is a crying child, he is a raging adult, he is truly a "wild thing"... and he is utterly fascinating as a result.
This character complexity is carried onward to each of the monsters, and it was with deep pleasure that I found myself getting to know them (for better and for worse) over the course of the film.
There's much more I could say about what I loved (since I loved everything). But a few other thoughts, in particular:
- the GUTS this film has, to be so honest, and straightforward, and to NOT pander (to studio expectation and the expectation of a dumbed- down multiplex audience) for SPECTACLE. for BOMBAST. for EXPLOSIONS, AND WISECRACKS AND FLIPPPANT, TOSSAWAY CONTENT (all the caps are very much meant to be obnoxious. blame Hollywood).
-the character design, fabrication, and blending of physical effects and cg. It's hands down the best I've ever seen. It's shocking, terrifying, and wonderful, all at the same time. There's a play with scale in terms of facial features that makes you feel like what a baby must see adults as- all eyes and noses and teeth.
- the character animation. More effective, in terms of drawing an emotional response from the audience, than any similar efforts I've witnessed. I fell in love with each character, and stayed in love, for every scene.
- the devotion to bringing Sendak's world to feature-film richness, as opposed to a "Jonze and Eggers" world. The production did its homework, in terms of knowing larger themes, imagery, and concepts that run throughout Sendak's work (not just WTWTA), concepts such as playful scale, and oral obsessions (eating, being eaten). I bet the Lindbergh baby's even in there somewhere (I'll find it eventually). Would Terry Gilliam have been so respectful? Robert Rodriguez? Or would they have taken the slim original story and inflated it with their own personal imagery/obsessions.
I'm not truly satisfied at the movies very often. Hardly at all, in fact. By "satisfied" I mean that when I hope and hope and hope that a new release will GET me, will really move me, deeply, it almost never delivers.
For me, this film proves that it's OK to still have a little hope that movies still matter.