The hip world seems ready to embrace Where the Wild Things Are. The book is a beloved bedtime story, now being enjoyed by a third generation of children. The film rights somehow weren’t engulfed by Disney, and instead went to indie darlings Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers. They immediately started doing the project “right” by eschewing the lure of CGI and recruiting Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and weathering studio reservations about the film’s tone. Jonze maintained his vision for the film’s soundtrack, recruiting ex-girlfriend Karen O to record an album that, rather than pumping up publicity for the film with a collection of pop stars performing sugary “kid’s” songs, offers a true companion piece to the film’s sometimes uncomfortable vision.
The soundtrack follows the film closely, and as such sounds a bit fragmented. Those seeking a full album’s worth of music might be disappointed that many of the songs are strikingly similar and some are very short. This is to be expected, however, with the music’s role in giving continuity to the film. These songs suffer slightly in being removed from the narrative, but still have a mysterious quality that belies the immediate simplicity of the compositions.
Where the Wild Things Are also includes several full songs from the film, including “All Is Love” and a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Worried Shoes.” These songs function more independently and run the gamut from peppy, almost shrill energy in the former to a melancholy in the latter that seems incongruous in any kid’s movie. Even divorced from the source material, Karen O and the Kids are able to create thought provoking pieces sure beguile all age groups.
Critics plop the word “magical” upon a lot of media made for children, but Where the Wild Things Are deserves this accolade; Karen O has somehow managed to make an album that draws children, even without the visuals, into the world of the film. My friend’s daughter Sophie was immediately transfixed by the album. During “Rumpus,” which she refers to as the “The Train Song,” she directed her entire family in forming a train and marching around the living room to the beat. She also was quickly singing along with “Capsize” and “All Is Love” and asking to hear the album on her daily commute to pre-school. Some of the songs, particularly “Worried Shoes,” are a little bit beyond her, but Where the Wild Things Are was quickly placed in heavy rotation. No matter what music critics might say about the album, Karen O scores a direct hit in her most important demographic. That she was able to do it without pandering or obvious compromise is a tribute to her artistry.