Where The Wild Things Are
Entertainment: +2
Acceptability: +3

Catherine Keener, Max Records, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, James Gandolfini, Catherine OíHara, Forest Whitaker. Family fantasy/adventure. Written by Spike Jonze & Dave Eggers. Directed by Spike Jonze. This film had a lot of producers, among them Tom Hanks and the bookís author, Maurice Sendak.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Max is a creative boy, but a lonely one. His older sister is oblivious to her siblingís feelings and his overworked, divorced mother makes the mistake of inviting a man over for dinner. So Max throws a tantrum and runs away. And boy, does he run away. He gets into a small rowboat and suddenly after a storm at sea, winds up on an unchartered island, itís only inhabitants huge mysterious creatures, who can be funny, child-like and in need of a leader. They want a king and young Max wants a kingdom. It should be a perfect fit.

PREVIEW REVIEW: At first I entered the theatre thinking this is an entirely different genre. Something Denise Richards would star in. I felt like I was in an alternate universe, where everyone else knew about the book and I didnít. I had no idea it was based on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel for and about kids. I guess I was a little disappointed Denise Richards wouldnít be featured. Instead, I got huge muppets that looked as if they had been designed by Sid and Marty Kroft. Suddenly, Iím on an island with a serious version of H. R. Puffenstuf. And I do mean serious. By filmís end I came to the conclusion that the parable-laced adventure was best suited for the written page. From all accounts, the book addressed issues familiar to children while allowing them to use their imagination. Onscreen, the story and characterizations are just too morose.

To some extent, Maurice Sendakís story comes to life, but is it now suitable for little ones? Iím not so sure. While itís clean, with positive messages, itís also dark, and at times foreboding, occasionally scary. The boy has run away from home, he gets lost at sea, then winds up marooned on a desert island with huge creatures, each resembling the Muppetsí Animal. Maxís subsequent exploits are tinged with sadness, each character suffering from loneliness and misunderstanding. The book, as it turns out, is short, the subject and story both succinct. The movie seems longer, the allegory perhaps a bit more muddled than in the book. Or so I assume.

While I celebrate the filmmakerís creativity, Iím not sure it wonít frighten little ones or bore their older siblings. Personally, I wasnít bored. It was different, something we critics always hope for. But I wasnít moved. The Little Prince got to me years ago, as did My Dog Skip. The Iron Giant was one of the best to address issues of loneliness while entertaining the entire family. I even enjoyed The Never Ending Story. Where The Wild Things Are may cause discussion on the family drive home, but it left the lonely little boy inside me wanting more than the film delivered.

DVD Alternatives: The Iron Giant. Animated kids adventure about an imaginative little boy who befriends a giant robot who doesn't seem to know how he came to be (something we never learn, although it appears in the beginning that he came from space). Highly entertaining, with humor aimed both at kids and adults. Set in the '50s, it's a little hard on the military and government secret agencies, but it also deals with spiritual issues, stating, "Souls don't die, they go on forever." Suggesting both filmmatic and thematic ideas from The Day The Earth Stood Still and King Kong, The Iron Giant is smart, funny, and exciting. However, parents should view with little ones, both to reassure and to explain certain messages.

My Dog Skip. Drawn from Willie Morrisís best-selling memoir, My Dog Skip is a coming-of-age tale that looks back on how a terrier pup helped a shy boy, bullied by schoolmates and strictly handled by an aloof father, come to grips with loneliness.

Set in WWII-era Mississippi, the film has a Norman Rockwell ambience: gentle enough for little ones, but also involving for older kids and their parents. Funny yet sensitive, My Dog Skip reminds us of what a great gift manís best friend really is. Tenaciously loyal, unfailingly forgiving, and unquestioningly loving, our four-legged companions teach their custodians how to relate to fellow beings while giving us memories that last a lifetime. A gentle, delightful film, it does require a guardian to be seated next to toddlers. For although it has the adventure of a Benji, it also contains the poignancy of Old Yeller. Production values are all top drawer. Young Frankie Muniz as the filmís junior protagonist is never cutesy or precocious, but rather down to earth. It is replete with lessons in friendship, loneliness, and death. And that dog - he could give Snoopy charm lessons! The best boy-and-his-dog movie since Lassie Come Home!

My Dog Skip is rated PG (seven or eight expletives, but I caught no harsh or profane language; one scene features the parents smoking a cigar; the boy has to prove himself by staying all night in a graveyard, where he encounters moonshiners who threaten him; later, they hit the dog with a shovel (off camera); a deer is shot by hunters, but this scene is there to teach the boy a lesson; a father is a bit harsh, but we learn why, and it is obvious that he loves his son; after a long life, the dog gently passes away).

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures

Crude Language: None
Obscene Language: None
Profanity: None
Violence: Max throws a tantrum and runs away; during his first encounter with the creatures, he sees one destroying their homes; this creature becomes his close friend, but he is volatile; tending toward aggression and anger; both a snowball fight and later a dirtball fight both become hostile, but the content, including this action, is tame by todayís standards.
Sexual Intercourse: The mother is seen kissing her date.
Nudity: None
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: None
Drug Abuse: The mother and her date have a glass of wine.
Other: The story is moody, often dark.
Running Time: 94 minutes
Intended Audience: Family, but the content might unnerve very little ones

Copyright Preview Family Movie Review (www.previeoOnline.org)