Where the Wild Things Are...And 5 More Stories By Maurice Sendak
New Video // Unrated // $14.95 // August 26, 2008
Review by John Crichton | posted September 17, 2008
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version

Were it not for director Spike Jonze, we would not be talking about this re-release of Where the Wild Things Are on DVD. See, Mr. Jonze is currently at work on a theatrical live-action version of Maurice Sendak's renowned children's book, so i'm sure Scholastic and New Video were looking to capitalize on the film by re-releasing their 2001 DVD with a spiffy new cover (which looks more like the book's cover), a gold sticker on the wrapper (proudly informing consumers that the book was awarded the Caldecott Medal) and stickers for the kiddies on the inside. Unfortunately, Mr. Jonze's film has been delayed (twice), so here we are.

Well, has there been any changes or upgrades? Besides the cover, the DVD art and the stickers, it looks like there are some slight differences in picture quality (more on that later).

New release on the right, original release on the left.
Notice the newer release is darker, while the original is lighter and slightly washed out.

Written in 1963, Where the Wild Things Are tells the story of Max, a precocious little boy wearing a wolf costume who spends one evening causing trouble. His mother punishes him by sending him to his room without supper. Soon after, his room turns into a forest and a private boat picks Max up and brings him to the place where the wild things are. In spite of trying to scare Max with their terrible roars and claws and gnashing their terrible teeth and rolling their terrible eyes, he tames the wild things with a magic trick and soon becomes their king. This "animated" version is runs almost close to six minutes long and is narrated by Peter Schickele, who also composes and conducts the music for the featurette. It's adapted and directed by Gene Deitch and Sendak's artwork is recreated by Rudolf Holan.

Wait. Why did you put parentheses around the word animated earlier?

Well, Wild Things isn't necessarily "animated". Basically, it's like they took a camera and panned to different sections of the book every now and then. In fact, the most "animation" (in the semi-traditional sense) takes place during "the wild rumpus". Still, for what animation there is, there's hardly any difference between the book and cartoon.

The next short, In the Night Kitchen, is nearly 7 minutes long and based on the 1970 story of the same name. It tells the story of Mickey, a young boy who falls asleep and dreams of a surreal place called "the Night Kitchen" where he loses his pajamas, builds an airplane and bakes a cake! Be warned - when Mickey loses his pajamas, he goes "commando" for a little bit.

In addition to Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, we're also treated to four additional adaptations of Sendak books that comprised "the Nutshell Library" - Chicken Soup With Rice, One Was Johnny, Pierre and Alligators All Around. Originally produced as a TV special in 1975 (and later turned into an Off-Broadway musical), these four shorts were directed by Sendak and features gorgeous vocals by singer/songwriter Carole King. Now, on the original release, these four stories ran together as one complete fourteen minute short. I'm not sure if that's how they were originally broadcast, but i'd have to admit that's how I preferred them. Sure, I like being able to choose each individual story (there were no chapter stops in on the original DVD), but i'm a stickler for having things presented in their original format. I know, i'm weird like that.

New release on the left, original release on the right.
Notice the newer release is darker, while the original is lighter and slightly washed out.

Anyways, during Alligators All Around [1m 59s] King runs down the alphabet from A to Z, following each letter with two or three alliterative, non sequitur words. Chicken Soup With Rice [4m 28s] finds her pimping chicken soup while covering the months of the year. On One Was Johnny [2m 11s] she counts to ten and tells us about an incident in Johnny's apartment, while during the final story, Pierre [5m 52s], she sings the story of a boy who just doesn't care. Other than Pierre's repeated - "I don't care" - every short is sung entirely by King and is extremely catchy.

Extras - Getting To Know Maurice Sendak [6m 5s] is a 1985 interview with Maurice where he discusses Wild Things, the Nutshell Kids and Mickey Mouse! Also included is a trailer for Scholastic's Storybook Treasures series [1m 15s], as well as two additional versions of Where the Wild Things Are - one in Franšais, the other in Espanol.

Video - I'd be lying if I didn't say that the picture on this release was rough. While the Wild Things picture isn't that bad looking, the video for the Nutshell Kids shorts and In the Night Kitchen has tons of dirt, garbage and other elements scattered throughout the 'toons. The colors are washed out, the picture alternates from looking like it's been left out in the rain to something that belongs in a Mute-o-scope at the Penny Arcade on Main Street at Disneyworld. Still, they're not unwatchable and no matter what shortcomings the picture quality might have, it doesn't take away from the enjoyment you'll get. As for how it compares to the original release, well, there are some instances where the picture looks better and others where it doesn't. Essentially, it's a crap shoot. Just don't expect a 1080p HD extravaganza.

Audio - Considering the age and the condition of the video, i'm amazed that the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track sounded as good as it does. There are some moments where Schickele's narration fluctuates and comes near to cracking, but the Carole King soundtrack comes through nice and clear.

Closing Thoughts - When I bought the initial release for my kids, Where the Wild Things Are, or at least Peter Schickele's narration of it, scared them both. However, they loved the Nutshell Kids songs and cartoons. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that I actually knew these songs from when I was a kid - I knew that I had grown up with Wild Things, but I had no idea I had seen the Nutshell Kids before, much less knew the songs. While I wish the video had been cleaned up a bit (though I don't know what, if anything, could've been done), the combination of the imaginative lyrics, simple animation and catchy tunes make Where the Wild Things Are...And 5 More Stories By Maurice Sendak a Highly Recommended DVD for any child's collection. Lord knows it's leaps and bounds better than anything that passes for children's "entertainment" today. If you already own the original release, i'd recommend that you stick with that one. If you can find that version, i'd recommend you grab it - only for the "unedited" version of the Nutshell Kids cartoon. Otherwise, this one will do just fine.

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