Hayao Miyazaki has produced another trippy fantasia, this time a fish out of water story along the lines of “The Little Mermaid.” A little girl goldfish with magical powers loves a little boy and turns herself into a human, by ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny-mode stopping at a few evolutionary species along the way and sometimes reverting back to chicken feet in times of stress.
The boy is Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) and he dubs the fish Ponyo (Noah Lindsey Cyrus). In a bit of stunt casting, both main character voice talents are the younger siblings of Disney mega-pop stars. Ponyo’s father (voice of Liam Neeson), angry over the human’s mistreatment of the oceans and concerned that her leaving may upset the balance of the world, wants her back in her original fishy form. A storm rises and creates enormous flooding. While Sosuke’s mother Lisa (Tina Fey) is taking care of the wheelchair-bound elderly women at the nursing home (voices include Betty White and Cloris Leachman), Ponyo uses her magic to enlarge Sosuke’s toy boat and they go out onto the water.
Stunning bursts of imagination and sensational, almost psychedelic images make the film a garden of unearthly delights. The undersea settings, including the flooded village, are filled with intricate detail and grand concepts, like waves that turn into enormous leaping fish. Ponyo uses her new feet to race across the tops of the waves in a moment of pure exhilaration. The images are visually rich and engrossing and the tenderness between the two children is affecting. But they are also at times disconcertingly grotesque and as in past films Miyazaki cannot make visual splendor compensate for moments in the storyline that are random and inconsistent.
Â· Higgelty Piggelty Pop! An all-new short featuring the voices of Meryl Streep and Forest Whitaker
Â· HBO First Look featurette
Â· 8 Webisodes:
o The Absurd Difficulty of Filming a Dog Running and Barking at the Same Time
o The Big Prank
o Vampire Attack
o The Kids Take Over the Picture
o Maurice and Spike
o Max and Spike
o The Records Family
o Carter Burwell
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me why kids love Wild Things. Put Wild Things and “toy,” “calendar,” or “DVD-Blu-Ray” in the subject line. The first in each category will win the prize. Only one entry per family and US addresses only, please. Note: prizes provided by Warner Brothers. All views expressed are my own.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language
Brief mild language
Adults drink wine
Fantasy peril and violence, references to being eaten, bones of victims, hurt feelings and family stress
Date Released to Theaters:
October 16, 2009
Date Released to DVD:
March 2, 2010
Maurice Sendak’s spare, poetic, and deeply wise book has been lovingly unfolded into a movie about the child who lives in all of us, brave and fearful, generous and needy, angry and peaceful, confident and insecure, adventuresome and very glad to come home. The movie may challenge children who are used to bright, shiny colors and having everything explained to them but if they allow it, Max and his story will bloom inside them as it will for anyone open to its profound pleasures.
The book’s opening line is as well-remembered as “Call me Ishmael” or “It was a dark and stormy night.” “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him ‘WILD THING.'” Those who wondered what prompted Max’s mischief will accompany him as he experiences the jubilation of creating his own cozy space, a snowball-stocked igloo, and as he joyously takes on his sister’s friends in a snowball fight, only to be inconsolably crushed when they carelessly smash his icy lair and then leave without him.
There has never been a more evocative portrayal on film of the purity, the intensity, the transcendence of childhood emotions. The hallmark of maturity is the way we temper our feelings; it is not a compliment when we call someone “childish” for not being able to do so. Our experiences — and our parents — teach us that life is complex, that sorrow and joy are always mixed, and that we can find the patience to respond to frustration without breaking anything. But one reason that we mis-remember childhood as idyllic is the longing for the ferocity of childhood pleasures. Jonze and his Max (Max Records) bring us straight into the immediacy and open-heartedness of a child’s emotions.
We know we are in a child’s world even before the movie begins, with scrawled-on opening credits and then a breathtaking, child’s eye opening bursting with sensation, all the feelings rushing together. The film brilliantly evokes the feeling of childhood with the same freshness and intimacy director Spike Jonze showed in the influential videos he made when he was barely out of his teens. Max’s mother is beautifully played by Catherine Keener who makes clear to us, if not to Max, her devotion and sensitivity in the midst of concerns about work and a budding romance. His incoherent fury at her being distracted, including a kiss from a date who seems to think he has the right to tell Max how to behave almost hurtles him from the house, into the night, where he runs and runs, and then to a boat, where he sails and sails, until he comes to the land of the Wild Things.
They begin to attack him, but Max tames them with his bravado and imagination and he becomes the king, promising to do away with loneliness and make everyone happy. The book’s brief story blooms here as Max interacts with the Wild Things (voices of James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, and Chris Cooper). Each of them represents or reflects Max’s emotions or experiences. They love sleeping in a big pile and are thrilled with Max’s plans for a fort. But Max learns how difficult it is to be responsible for the happiness of others, and before long, like other children in stories who have traveled to lands filled with magic and wonder, he longs for home.
The movie’s look is steeped in the natural world, with forests and beaches, and intricate Waldorf-school-style constructions that evoke a sense of wonder. The screenplay by Dave Eggers and Jonze locates the heart of Sendak’s story. They have not turned it into a movie; they have made their own movie as a tribute to Sendak, to childhood, to parenthood, to the Wild Things we all are at times, and to the home that waits for us when those times are over.