Wrestling with Wild Things, Part 1

Wrestling with Wild Things, Part 1

I’ve cried at the movies in 2009 more than in any year I can remember.

Wrestling with Wild Things FrontpageI’ve cried at the movies in 2009 more than in any year I can remember. Partly, this is because, while The Wrestler was one of those movies that came out at like 11:59.99 9/10 o’clock on 12/31/08 to be considered with last year’s Oscar contenders, I saw it early this year. It was easy to forget it was an Aronofsky movie until all the men in the audience realized it was slowly climbing the turnbuckle to deliver an emotional flying bionic elbow (holding a folding chair) — and deliver it did.

Partly, it is because Pixar is a bunch of toolbags who have nothing better to do than make evocative, complex, heart-wrenching animated films that reduce even grown men to tears — haven’t you guys heard of special forces guinea pigs, for crying out loud?! At least throw your name behind an action-packed, rock ‘em/sock ‘em Christmas Carol-themed Jim Kerry-fueled stream of urine all over Charles Dickens’s grave in 3D. Frickin’ Pixar and its love and loss and the mature employment of its craft in the search for emotional and existential truth — it’s like they never even saw Shrek 2. The nerve of some people!

But the latest maybe-it’s-still-on-ceulluloid-maybe-it’s-digital-I-am-not-that-kind-of-movie-buff emotional wrecking ball is Best Picture contender Where the Wild Things Are.

(With an increase to 10 Best Picture nominees announced for the upcoming Oscars, I’m calling a nomination, but not a win, right now. This movie is the real deal — a serious/significant work of serious/significant art — and not even the special Oscar-laundering cinemas that stay open all night can open ten different movies on New Year’s Eve.)

I’m somewhat shocked the other Overthinkers haven’t tackled this film more yet — so much so that I’m going to break my post up into smaller pieces rather than barf it all out all at once, as is my usual custom.

Why is 2009 the year of tears? What did the movies discover in the last 12 months or so that turned on the faucets for such cultural luminaries as Fenzel from Overthinking It and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper?

It all starts with growing up, growing old, and early childhood development, taught by psychedelic Tony Soprano. . .

Tony Soprano Carol Wild Thing

They’re in the Pine Barrens

There’s a lot of overthinking to do on Where the Wild Things Are, but let’s start with the basics. Both the book and the movie are about a boy who uses imagination to come to terms with his emotions. Both the book and the movie are told in the third person, but are positioned from the boy’s perspective, showing things that happen only in his imagination. In both works, the boy is angry at the lack of control and power he has in his own life, and he explores that by imagining an island of wild monsters that make him their king.

And in the movie, the main one, Carol, is voiced by James Gandolfini, who does a marvelous job (calling him for a best supporting actor nomination, right now). But that’s neither here nor there (there being where they are, they being the eponymous wild things).

The biggest difference between the book and the movie? The book is ten sentences and less than 40 pages long, while the movie has to fill 90 minutes and change.

How to deal with this problem? Well, you could insult the intelligence and dignity of your audience by filling the remaining 80 minutes of your movie with unmitigated crap, like in The Cat in the Hat. That’s an option. You could also be only 10 minutes long but have nobody find out because nobody saw you, like in the Curious George movie. That’s also an option

Okay — I have no proof that is true, but it seems possible. Until some brave soul watches Curious George, we will never know.

Instead, Where the Wild Things Are the movie decides that, to help flesh out its plot, it’s going to be a little heavier on conflict and add some specifics and character development. (Basic screenwriting, people! I love it!)

Actually, I looked it up, and a whole lot of people saw this -- but with marketing like this, I was really hoping they hadn't. Loved the books, though.

Actually, I looked it up, and a whole lot of people saw Curious George -- but with marketing like this, I was really hoping they hadn't. Loved the books, though.

13 Comments on “Wrestling with Wild Things, Part 1”

  1. thinkwatchthink #

    I’m loving that someone put thought and energy into this movie, instead of just heaving things at the screen Cat in the Hat style.

    (And 2 pages is nice length for a longer post. It’s the five or six or seven pages where there’s only three paragraphs on the page and I start to suspect someone is just trying to pad their ad revenues that bug.)


  2. Diana #

    This is a fabulous post — I especially like your point about the minds of children and the tendency of adults to create a revisionist history of whimsy and harmlessness and project that onto children and their inner lives. I think it bears noting that it is in part due to this process of projection — by relatively powerful adults, onto relatively powerless children — that children’s emotional and psychological lives are so fraught. I mean, I have a hard time thinking of what emotions other than terror and rage could be promoted by not only being told what one can do, but also how/what one thinks, by people whose insight into this process is doubly flawed: first by their own petty human stake in whatever matter is at hand and second by the flawed assumption that they could ever understand what goes on inside another person’s head. Children know better, and if adults weren’t so insistent in saying otherwise, would be content to leave it at that.


  3. Diana #

    Oh, but: Carrey, not Kerry. :)


  4. fenzel #


    I assure you, I never insert page breaks to try to pad ad revenue. I vary page length primarily for aesthetic reasons. I don’t like to have lots of massive pages in a row, and I like to play with the varied lengths.

    I also like to break the pages in such a way as to space out the graphics I have/have made to make each page look nice. When I have a high concentration of images in a piece, I’ll often make the pages shorter.

    It also has to do with how the text passages work out. I’ve done a lot of modern poetry study and such, so I am a bit hypersensitive to the literary use of white space and frraming, even when it’s being implemented amateurishly.

    So, yeah, I’m sorry if you ever got the impression you were being exploited for financial reasons. That was never my intention.


  5. Matthew Wrather #

    Also, nobody think for a second we’re making any damn money from ad revenue. In an extraordinarily good year, we’ll cover our costs. We haven’t had one of those yet. Hey, have a look at the “Donate” button in the sidebar.

    Pete, I’m holding off reading this one till I see the movie. “Wild Things” is my favorite book ever. (Except for “Paradise Lost”.) And I am so relieved that you were favorably impressed with its artistry. It’s a very important endorsement, without which I might not have made it to the theater.


  6. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    I haven’t seen the movie yet either, so I won’t read this article. But I have a four-year-old, and I read him Wild Things all the time, and I always, always choke up on the last page.


  7. Ryan #

    I’d rather have it all in one go for two reasons. First, Overthinking It is the essence of its name. I want to overthink it and explore every facet of whatever the topic is in one sitting. This leads into the second reason: breaking up the article reduces train of thought. It will be harder for me to come back and read the second part without first re-reading the first.

    That said, good article. WTWTA is a great movie and the people who criticize it for being too complex or not for kids are missing the point entirely.


  8. Kopakka el Incrópito #

    I’d have one post myself, makes easy for me. ( :


  9. Jon Eric #

    I’d rather see it in one article. This one felt like it rambled a lot without ever getting to the point, and I suspect that condition would have been mitigated if you’d printed the rest of the article at once, as it would, in that case, have actually gotten to the point (I presume).


  10. Mark #

    Post the four-pager. I won’t read past the first two, but it makes me happy knowing the other two are out there.


  11. Jon Eric #

    After a few days’ thought on the issue, I’m still in favor of posting the full article in one fell swoop. HOWEVER, if you MUST split it up, PLEASE don’t make us wait a full week between each part. One a day, or every other day, at least.

    Thanking you,


  12. Dirce #

    I can’t wait to read the next one…which is one of the reasons I favour a longer post. I am here to overthink and I’m willing to put in the effort of clicking my mouse a few extra times to do it :)


  13. silly-na #

    Fenzel, I’ve always liked your full articles. Although the 2-page thing does make for a nice teaser, since I would be anticipating the next part had it not just been posted. But I usually read OTI when I’m taking a break from studying/work and 2 pages doesn’t give me enough closure to go back to work.


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