Wild things.

There are two kinds of entertainment for children. There’s the kind that is unapologetically for children. “Barney & Friends” is a perfect example. Smiling, happy, clap- and sing-along, broad as a barn — this is why kids love it and adults hate it.

There’s another kind that pitches at two levels, to adults and children. This is both commonsensical — how often are we told as young parents that if we must allow our kids to watch TV, we must always, always watch it with them — and sort of icky. For one thing, it’s very difficult to make a TV show, stage production or film that will engage both audiences equally. “Sesame Street” tries it, mostly with the guest shots of live people, and of course “Put Down the Duckie” is the swing jazz standard Louis Armstrong didn’t live to cover. The hideous “Rugrats” did it constantly, never well and frequently horribly. (I never knew what was more offensive, that Phil and Lil’s mother was a lesbian with a husband/beard, or that this is what the producers thought those crazy women’s libbers were all about.) “Teletubbies” supposedly had a big following among stoner/ravers, who found its gentle pace and trippy alterna-world a fun place to goof around in when coming down from a long evening of dance and Ecstasy.

The medium that comes closest is literature, and maybe this is why it’s noblest of all. Language is language, and just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s simplistic. Certain children’s books become classics because parents enjoy them as much as their children do, and look forward to rereading them when the roles are switched. Which might be why “Where the Wild Things Are,” the movie, worked so well for me, and might not. This really isn’t a children’s movie; Kate, at nearly 13, is about the bottom end of the demographic. It might be that Maurice Sendak didn’t even write a children’s book. Or it might be that one thing movies do that books can’t is add an element of kinetic imagination, and this is just one adult’s version of it. Whatever it is, it worked pretty well.

I can’t really improve on the pros here. Joe Morganstern loved it and Roger Ebert loved it a little less, but I have to side with Morganstern, who notes that where it breaks loose is where director Spike Jonze and writer Dave Eggers take the biggest risks. There’s no scene with owls on the beach in the book, but there is in the movie, and it works. The wild things have a lot more dialogue in the movie than in the book, but here you will get the sense, as you don’t in the book, that they really are based on Sendak-the-boy’s cheek-pinching adult relatives. (Catherine O’Hara, national treasure, plays one, and you don’t need to know much more than that.)

“Where the Wild Things Are” is a dream story, and as in dreams, all the characters are some version of Max, the boy in the wolf suit at the center of the story, and all the action is a refraction of what’s going on in his life. Max is an angry boy, remember; he’s all id, or mostly id, or at least he has id issues. (Whatever.) James Gandolfini’s wild thing is his closest doppelganger, and he has all of Max’s issues. (“He’s not sleeping in our pile!” will resonate with any single parent who’s ever grappled with the problem of the new boyfriend or girlfriend.)

I wondered how Jonze would handle the farewell, when Max makes his way back home, back from anger, back from Idville, back to civilization (place and process). I was dreading a long, drawn-out “Wizard of Oz” piece, with speeches. It didn’t go that way at all. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but: It’s perfect.

OK, then. This is not Review Week here at NN.C, only me with a bad cold, sleeping late, feeling like crap. No bloggage, because I’ve fallen so terribly behind on everything. But, as yesterday, a few supplemental pieces for extra credit:

Ernest and Bertram, the last word on Sesame Street’s central question:

One of Jim at Sweet Juniper’s occasional series on terrifying children’s books, in this case Judith Vigna’s classic “I Wish Daddy Didn’t Drink So Much.”

Back to bed for me.

Posted at 11:04 am in Movies |

31 responses to “Wild things.”

  1. Jason T. said on October 20, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Nance, I have to thank/blame you for introducing me to “Put Down the Duckie.” Not having kids of my own, I haven’t been a regular “Sesame Street” viewer since the 1970s.

    And that damned song will stick with me all day.

    I noticed that Andrea Martin (in costume as “Edith Prickley”) and John Candy (in costume as one of the Schmenge Brothers) were in the video.

    You mentioned that Catherine O’Hara was in the movie.

    If someone will only get Dave Thomas, Eugene Levy or Joe Flaherty here, we’ll have an “SCTV” reunion. But not until I put down the duckie!

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  2. Jeff Borden said on October 20, 2009 at 11:40 am


    All the original SCTV members that began at Chicago’s Second City are returning for a big anniversary show this fall. It sold out in a nanosecond, of course.

    I will defend SCTV as brilliant and superior in almost every way to Saturday Night Live until I turn blue. True, the SCTV shows were taped and SNL works without a net, but in the final analysis, you have to go with what show made you laugh the most. Hands down, for me, it was SCTV. Some of the skits were so brilliant they remain with me: “Play It Again, Bob,” with Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis doing absolutely perfect versions of Bob Hope and Woody Allen, and my favorite, a parody of “The Godfather,” where SCTV declared war on ABC, CBS and NBC. John Candy as the cheese-wheel devouring opera star Johnny Pavarotti, who seeks the counsel of godfather Guy Cabellero, still reduces me to giggles when I think of it.

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  3. Another Connie said on October 20, 2009 at 11:50 am

    The wild things have a lot more dia­logue in the movie than in the book

    Well, they would about have to!

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  4. LAMary said on October 20, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    SCTV had Dave Thomas doing Merv Griffin parodies, and Eugene Levy as Floyd the Barber perfectly. How about Catherine O’Hara as a Joey Heatherton type or Andrea Martin in the Musical, “Indira,” singing, Don’t Cry for Me Rawalpindi?

    Eugene Levy playing an ancient Jewish guy, asking someone where they came from, then saying,” San Franschisky? Did you drove or did you flew?”

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  5. ROgirl said on October 20, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    SCTV also introduced Farm Film Celebrity Report to the world. Where would we be without, “It blowed up good. It blowed up real good?”

    BTW, I loved Ernest and Bertram’s house.

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  6. Jeff Borden said on October 20, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    And then there is Sammy Maudlin and the goofy anchorman Earl Camembert with his hideous plaid sportscoat and big bow tie.

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  7. beb said on October 20, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    “They Blowed Up Real Good.”

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  8. ROgirl said on October 20, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    May the good Lord take a liking to you and blow you up real soon.

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  9. Jason T. said on October 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    And then there was “The Battle of the PBS Stars,” including the boxing match between Mister Rogers (Martin Short) and Julia Child (John Candy), with commentary from Howard Cosell (Eugene Levy):


    “I don’t need to explain it. You saw it. He beat the woman unconscious with a puppet. It’s a dark day in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

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  10. Rana said on October 20, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Affirming the ability of literature to speak on multiple levels; not only do I today still find many children’s picture books enjoyable and witty, I’m also an example of how children can appreciate literature that’s not directed at them. To wit: when I was a small child, able to read, but still figuring out the big words and silent letters and what not, my mother read The Hobbit to me as a bedtime story, spread out over several weeks. I don’t remember much of the experience, except that I enjoyed it, and that my mother did an excellent Gollum voice.

    (Recently I read this picture book in the local college bookstore; I enjoyed it so much I may have to get it.)

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  11. Deb said on October 20, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    ‘Prickly Heat’ starring Edith Prickley. Terrific.

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  12. Laura said on October 20, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    The Fishin’ Musician sketches with John Candy. Classic.

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  13. paddyo' said on October 20, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Now THAT’s ALL comedy . . . great flashbacks, people

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  14. Dexter said on October 20, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Christalmighty…yesterday I was bitching about the ending of “Old Yeller” and now I gotta find out Bert offed himself because he couldn’t handle gay?

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  15. MarkH said on October 20, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Not a big SCTV fan, although some terrific talent there. Always wondered why Dave Thomas wasn’t bigger than he was. Who else even attempted a Bob Hope impersonation? No one. Just Thomas, and spot on, as Jeff said. He reprised it on a Simpsons episode, and on Martin Short’s Jimminy Glick show a few years ago. He even did Roger Ebert on a Short special 20 years ago. He was Darrell Hammond before there was Darrell Hammond. The McKenzie Brothers were still the best.

    EDIT – Just after Thomas started doing him, I remember Hope and Johnny Carson talking about the fact that no one impersonated Hope because there was nothing really distinctive to hook onto. Then Thomas got everything down, the look, mannerisms, voice, everything.

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  16. LAMary said on October 20, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Dave Thomas even got the slightly smarmy affect Bob Hope had. I can’t pick on Bob too much at work. This hospital was one of his favorite charities.

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  17. alex said on October 20, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Loved SCTV and agree wholeheartedly that it beat the hell out of SNL, even back in the day when SNL had some balls. One of my fave SCTV skits was “Have a Sexy Christmas.” Anyone remember that?

    Also loved lunch with Connie. Amazing how those who gravitate to NN.C are fascinating conversationalists face to face, at least in my experience so far.

    Was also pleased to overhear conventioneers on the street praising our town; when you live here you’re more likely to see the downside.

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  18. 4dbirds said on October 20, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Phil and Lil’s mother was a les­bian? I never noticed.

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  19. Jason T. said on October 20, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    I didn’t mean to turn NN.c into “SCTV Remembered,” Nance. Sorry.

    To make it up to you, next time you make a short film, I’ll chip in a couple of bucks so you can rent a Chapman Nike crane, just like Johnny LaRue.

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  20. nancy said on October 20, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    You folks talk about whatever you want, I’m cool. Lately we’ve become a lunch fixup service, I gather. I’m here to serve.

    But I’m glad I was able to turn you on to “Put Down the Duckie.”

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  21. brian stouder said on October 20, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Lately we’ve become a lunch fixup ser­vice, I gather. I’m here to serve.

    Hah!! We had no internet today, or else I’d have seen that I coulda’ rolled downtown again, and crashed Connie’s lunch again, and met Alex in the bargain!

    He’s right, too – it was exceedingly pleasant to gab with Connie – and btw, Connie, Pammy snapped up the goodies in the goody bag you gave me; specifically the shapes/reading computer cd. We’ve been working a bit more with Chloe on just that. Grant and Shelby clashed over who owns the little football, so I told ’em it’s MINE! That didn’t really work, though.

    Here’s hoping Nance is feeling a bit better. Chloe is coming down with something; she came home from school very tired (which is rare!) and slept the evening away.

    btw – “Put Down the Duckie” is simply….insidious

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  22. Deborah said on October 20, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Oh Alex, as much as I’d like to meet you, you would be sorely disappointed in my abilities as a conversationalist. I’m just dismal. but I know what you mean, there’s nothing more stimulating than sitting down to a good session of pure wit and wisdom with someone who knows how to sling it. Would love to meet up with some of you someday judging by the way you write.

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  23. del said on October 20, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    I read a recent article about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series and was reminded of a line from one of those books in which the kid says he was always frightened by Shel Silverstein’s photo on the back cover of The Giving Tree. Said he looked like a burglar.

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  24. crazycatlady said on October 21, 2009 at 12:16 am

    Does anyone remember Oscar the Grouch’s song “Let a Frown Be Your Umbrella On a Rainy, Rainy Day…” Our daughter loved the Grouch.

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  25. MarkH said on October 21, 2009 at 3:43 am

    Don’t know if you all remember former Wyoming Senator Cliff Hansen from Ken Burns’ recent PBS National Park series (I posted about him during our discussions, noting he and his wife’s recent 75th anniversary).

    Cliff passed away this evening:


    A significant part of this state’s history and a terrific guy.

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  26. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on October 21, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Thanks, Mark. Grace and peace be his, and to his family.

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  27. Peter said on October 21, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Sorry I’m coming onto this one so late, but mad ups to SCTV – all those sketches were great, but how about Count Floyd “Ooo, here’s a really scary film kids, OK, so it’s not so scary…”, and the Schmenge Brothers “cabbage rolls and coffee!”

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  28. brian stouder said on October 21, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Speaking of comedy – an out-dated picture of heartless Wall Street greed and selfishness is the image of Michael Douglas going on about “Greed is Good”, or a fellow lighting a cigar with a $100 bill….and now we have this – which I find strangley…. comforting –


    According to the allegations — their source isn’t specified — Madoff deployed an employee to get drugs from 1975 to 2003, fueling an office so cocaine-laden insiders dubbed it “the North Pole.” Office parties featured topless waitresses, employee affairs were common and Madoff kept a list of his favorite pretty masseuses in his personal phone book, the lawsuit said, claiming investors’ money helped pay for it all.

    “Employees described it as a wild, fast-talking, drug-using office culture,” said the complaint. It says its various allegations are based in part on interviews with other unnamed people besides Madoff. Madoff, 71, is serving a 150-year sentence after pleading guilty in March to a scheme that authorities say cost thousands of investors at least $13 billion.

    Topless women and so much “blow” they call it “the North Pole”?!! Now THAT’S a scandal I can at least comprehend!

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  29. Dorothy said on October 21, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Is there a “Best of SCTV” DVD available? I’m too lazy to go to Amazon.com and search but I probably will eventually. I haven’t been into SNL in a long time, but my kids usually inform me of particularly funny bits. My current fave is the one after the Super Bowl earlier this year when Keenan did his James Harrison imitation.

    And who doesn’t like Alec Baldwin’s “Schweddy Balls” skit??


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  30. MarkH said on October 21, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Quite the scene painted there, Brian. I have a feeling we are going to hear alot about Madoff’s extracurricular activities. There’ll be outlandish allegations for sure, like these here. I mean, really, this sort of thing went on for 28 years?? There was some serious protection going on there. One thing we’ll be left to wonder about is how he managed to juggle so many things. And like all things Madoff, how much truth there is.

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  31. Emily Wilkes said on October 21, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    I agree, Where the Wild Things Are is not a children’s movie and probably the youngest people who will enjoy the film are around age 13. The film deals with some heavy psychological stuff, including feelings of depression, anger, and frustration.

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