Nov 3, 2009

where the wild things are

I've been meaning to write about the movie Where the Wild Things Are. Specifically in response to a question asked by Laura Leanard, the author of the excellent article Where Someone Loves Us Most of All. She asks, "Is Where the Wild Things Are too wild for children?"

A friend of mine sent me the link to the article (thanks Diane O) upon hearing that I spent my birthday watching the movie. It was not necessarily a movie that I would have chosen to watch on my birthday, but I had to pick something that my five year old could watch too, and the pickings were slim.

Now, before I go on, I must confess that I am probably the only person on this planet who has not read the classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak either as a child or as a parent. I'm not sure why I wasn't exposed to it as a child, but I know that as a parent the title threw me off. I wasn't too thrilled about taking my decidedly energetic children anywhere more wild than they already came up with in their own imaginations.

When I read the Plugged In review (a great resource for pre-screening flicks, by the way) I hesitated. The author of the review writes, "wise parents will take the film’s PG rating seriously. As a fan of the fairly lighthearted book, I was not prepared for the emotional complexity of the movie. Its melancholic undertone surprised me." In his opinion, this children's-book-turned-movie was not a children's movie, or at least a young children's movie. My five year old does complain of bad dreams when she sees scary movies, so I took the warning to heart.

And then I brought her to see it.

The main character, Max, comes from a broken home. His sister isn't very nice to him. His mom, bless her heart, is not perfect. Max throws temper tantrums and escapes his frustrating reality by using his imagination which is sometimes violent in a nine-year old boyish way. He runs away to his imagination where he finds a new world of Wild Things. The mosters threaten to eat Max, then make him their king and expect him to make them happy.

He attempts to make them happy by having them build a huge cool fort and playing dirt war games. If Max were a girl, perhaps the Wild Things would have played house and made mud pies. In any case, he promises them that they won't feel anything that they don't want to feel, and then through the course of the movie, he realizes that he can't fulfill his promise. At the same time he realizes that no one can really make him fully happy either. His reality suddenly doesn't seem so bad after all and he decides to go home to his tired mom who he realizes loves him more than he knew.

When Max arrived at the Wild Things world, my daughter turned to me and said, "That's not real, right?" "No, honey, it's his imagination," I said. And that was enough. The Wild Things were in her imagination but they didn't come to her dreams.

Where the Wild Things Are is not too wild for kids. It is a good movie for kids or adults, in my opinion, not deserving of the controversy it's gotten from strict children's-movies-should-be-silly-and-not-deal-with-reality adherents. It's an excellent way to introduce conversation about real, confusing and yes, wild feelings that kids have in a language that they understand: the imagination.

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