On those few occasions when we’re not talking about Muppets or Fraggles or Gordon’s mustache, chances are we’re taking a long, hard look at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Usually that ends with a discussion about a flash-in-the-pan straight-to-DVD special that will be forgotten after your morning mimosa, but this time it surprised us with the cinematic epic that is Where the Wild Things Are.
In case you’ve been living under a pile of monsters lately, Where the Wild Things Are is Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak book. The story revolves around Max, the wolf costume-wearing, ADD-riddled child who runs away from home and into a fantastic world of his own imagination. In this new land, he meets a clan of beasts voiced by an unlikely cadre of celebrities: James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, and Lauren Ambrose. Naturally, Max becomes their king and has a whole lot of fun Wild Rumpusing and making us wish we were 12 again.
Jonze does a phenomenal job at putting the audience into such a strange world while still making it feel natural. The Wild Things are fully fleshed-out characters (which must’ve been difficult when your source material is a picture book) who would have been comfortable in any pre-teen’s imagination.
Of course, a big part of the success of the film’s realism is due to the Creature Shop. The creatures are essentially full-bodied puppets with CGI faces. But after maybe two seconds of trying to imagine people inside the costumes, you’ll forget about the science of filmmaking and fall backwards and upside-down into movie magic. The puppetry was flawless and natural, while the CGI was used lightly enough to be hardly noticeable. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, Spike Jonze actually held auditions for real Wild Things to cast in his movie, because those things look pretty dang life-like.
Of course, the real magic of the film is how it really makes you feel like a kid again. And I’m sure that the one thing that everyone reading a Muppet blog would agree on is that there’s nothing greater than a film that puts adults like us in that ageless mindset. It’s why the Muppets and Sesame Street have stayed so fresh and entertaining over the years, and it’s all thanks to the brilliant minds of Spike Jonze and the visionaries at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
This is far from the first time the world of Wild Things and the world of the Muppets have crossed paths. Maurice Sendak was on the National Board of Advisors for the Children’s Television Workshop during Sesame Street‘s early days. He also contributed several sketches for Sesame Street, and Where the Wild Things Are was read by Bob on the test pilot (though it’s sadly absent from the Old School DVD). The book also appears in Sarah’s bedroom in Labyrinth, and Sendak got a “Special Thanks” credit at the end of the film. And of course, there’s always Doglion.
But don’t take LeVar Burton’s word for it! Here are some reviews of the film from some of the toughest critics in the biz (“biz” is what we call “business” in the biz).
Beautiful. I want to go see it again as soon as possible.
-ToughPigs’ Own Anthony
I really felt like a kid.
-ToughPigs’ Own Scott
The movie was so, so good. Beautiful puppets, too. And everything.
-ToughPigs’ Own Marianne
I can’t wait to see it again.
-ToughPigs’ Own Michal
The movie was amazing!
-ToughPigs’ Own Max
It brought back such rich childhood memories. Fantastic film. I couldn’t believe how intensely emotional it was for a so-called kids flick. Just beautiful.
-ToughPigs’ Own Daniel
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