There's a lot of weird shit on the "Where the Wild Things Are" Blu-ray, like a short scene where Spike Jonze is dressed up like a vampire and attacks Max Records (don't ask), but the weirdest and most intriguing thing has got to be "Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or There Must Be More to Life." This short film, produced by Spike Jonze and executive produced by Maurice Sendak himself, is based on another Sendak book and features the voice talent of Meryl Streep, Jonze, and Forest Whitaker. Oh, and it's even more bizarre and nightmarish than the "Wild Things" movie.
Streep plays a small white dog that wants to get out and see the world. Walking through a small village she sees a sign for a theater company but the pig that works at the theater company tells the dog that she needs experience before she can be an actor. Experience, eh? The dog soon meets a cat deliveryman who tells her that if the cat can feed a particularly troublesome baby then that would be experience. And, the cat adds, even if she can't get the baby to eat, she'll be fed to the house's lion, which is also an experience. The dog agrees and is whisked away to the house where a French maid warns the dog (again) of the baby's surly disposition and what will happen to the dog if it fails at its job.
Well, of course the dog fails to get the baby to eat and comes face to face with the lion (voiced by Whitaker). That's all we'll tell you about the plot, because in the last few minutes this short (which clocks in at around 25 minutes) takes some delightful turns.
The first thing you'll notice about this production, a joint venture between the National Film Board of Canada and Warner Home Video, is its brash aesthetic design. This thing looks bleak. It's quite clear that its visuals are more inspired by Jan Švankmajer and the Quay Brothers than anything else. Although most of the characters are puppets, either straight-up hand puppets or performers in puppet suits (as is the case with the cat deliveryman), they lack the humor, warmth, and sophistication of Muppets or even the Henson-designed suits that appeared in "Where the Wild Things Are." Just compare the mangy lion here to the one that appeared on "The Jim Henson Hour" (and that was twenty fucking years ago, side note: god we're old).
Despite Meryl's serene, beautiful line reading, every bit as good as anything in "Fantastic Mr. Fox," the lead puppy has a herky-jerky style of movement that is inorganic and sometimes not completely convincing. Similarly, some of the digital backgrounds that are meant to look like the painted backdrops they used in old Hammer movies, are distracting and crude. Perhaps that looks pursued on purpose, but we're not sure it entirely works. Unlike the kind of gentle surrealism that is present in "Where the Wild Things Are," "Higglety Pigglety" is out-and-out nightmarish. And while some of it is certainly striking (like the nice cobblestone village the dog first stops in), other elements, like the adult human head on a baby puppet's body, simply fail on most levels. It's unclear whether the movie is trying to be funny, fable-like, or exist in a kind of dreamlike realm. It's definitely a different tone from what we were expecting.
However, all in all, you'll probably be more than happy to watch this short when the "Wild Things" Blu-ray hits stores on March 9th (the gorgeousness of its high definition transfer is enough to merit a "must own" recommendation), but we're not sure how many times you'll want to revisit this grimy, fantastical land though it is indeed a unique look. Emotionally, you may not be as invested as, "Wild Things" where we feel so intensely for Max, but it is a short, and a curiosity that stands out because of the visual richness of its oddness. [B]
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