Movie Review – Where The Wild Things Are

The book Where The Wild Things Are is a favorite in our house. It’s been on our bookshelf for years, and of course with the movie now out the book found new life again. All 10 sentences of it, all beautiful artwork of it.

Daughter wanted to go see the movie, so we piled the family and some of Daughter’s friends into the car and went to go see it. Besides, time at The Alamo Drafthouse is always good. 🙂

Going in to the movie, we didn’t know what to expect. In discussing the movie with other parents, some expressed concern if the movie would be appropriate and/or too scary for the kids. My basic take was that of author Maurice Sendak:

Reporter: “What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?”

Sendak: “I would tell them to go to hell. That’s a question I will not tolerate.”

Reporter: “Because kids can handle it?”

Sendak: “If they can’t handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it’s not a question that can be answered.”

[…]

Sendak: “I think you’re right. This concentration on kids being scared, as though we as adults can’t be scared. Of course we’re scared. I’m scared of watching a TV show about vampires. I can’t fall asleep. It never stops. We’re grown-ups; we know better, but we’re afraid.”

Reporter: “Why is that important in art?”

Sendak: “Because it’s truth. You don’t want to do something that’s all terrifying. I saw the most horrendous movies that were unfit for child’s eyes. So what? I managed to survive.”

Granted, Sendak sounds rather gruff and irritated at the whole notion, and I’m not feeling that way about it. But I do agree with the basic sentiment. OOOO… the movie might be scary, we can’t let the kids see that! Must shelter our kids from all things negative! Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, don’t go see the movie. If you want to see the movie, then be prepared for whatever the artistic vision of the director and crew happens to be.

The book is not a “shiny happy people holding hands, living happily ever after” sort of story. Consider that Max starts out creating mischief — he is misbehaving and his mother gets angry with him and sends him to bed without supper. The first thing that happens in the book is the kid gets punished for bad behavior. It rolls from there. What is it doing? It’s exploring a child’s technique for coping with anger. And it so happens to have some chaos, some scary monsters, and even that those scary monsters do scary things. Sure the illustrations in the book may not look like something out of Fangoria magazine, but if you do look at their subtle expression and behavior and couple that with the text, especially when Max leaves the island, those monsters are doing some scary ugly things.

I won’t take my kids to see some truly scary slasher film. They’re certainly not ready for that level of suspense/horror type of movie (and given those aren’t my personal cup of tea either, I doubt we’ll be going any time soon anyway). But if there’s a little suspense, a little bit of “negative emotion” to have to experience, why is that so bad? That’s life. Better my children experience and learn about them in an environment where they can learn and be shaped and directed in a good way by their parents (you know, post movie viewing discussion), than for them to always be so sheltered and never really learn and thus become crippled and unable to really cope with the realities of life, warts and all that it brings.

That all said… how was the movie?

I enjoyed it. So did Wife and Children and Friends of Children.

I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to spoil it, because the movie and the book are not the same. The screenplay is certainly based upon the book and follows it as best as it can. But hey, you’ve got a lot of time to fill from such a small and sparse book, so understandably a lot of artistic license had to be taken. That said, they did keep to the spirit of the storyline, just fleshed it out heavily. I think it was well done. Much of what was done prior to Max going to the island did a great job of setting the stage, down to small little details. The camera work was well done too (you’ll see what I mean); it delivers perspective.

Was it scary? I don’t think so. Yes, there were tense moments. There’s coping with anger, grief, loss, loneliness, sadness. There is a lot of lashing out… rage… just letting one’s emotions out, even if they aren’t politically correct “everyone’s a winner” sort of things. Will this hurt kids? I don’t think so. Granted, some very small children might be freaked out by the monsters. If you wonder if this might be the case, let your child watch the previews online or TV commercials… if the monsters freak the kids out there, don’t bother seeing it. But really, I also think very small children shouldn’t bother seeing the movie. I felt the intent of the movie was deeper than a 4 year old could understand. It’s not some Disney movie where there’s singing and dancing and even an infant can smile and giggle all the bright colors, action, and general superficial happiness. But slightly older kids (even upper-single-digit-ages) should be able to handle it alright. However your kids take it, I do think it’s good to discuss the movie afterwards. What they saw, their take on what the movie was about and the things that went on in the movie. Give your kids a healthy perspective on what they experienced.

Spike Jonze has come a long way as a director. I remember his first music videos and they were always cool. He did a great job here. I liked that the monsters were real (apparently made in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop), and the only CGI was to help with their mouths and facial expressions. It really helped the warmness of the movie because Max and the monsters could touch each other and directly interact.

All in all, I enjoyed it. It explores darker emotions, but they are emotions that we all have. Better to acknowledge them and learn how to deal with them, than to ignore and avoid them.

One thought on “Movie Review – Where The Wild Things Are

  1. I think Spike Jonze missed out on a great opportunity to make something that would be meaningful to adults and children alike; almost the entire movie seemed like nonsense to me

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