I remember when I first got the book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I was 7 years old and I’d ordered the book through the Scholastic Monthly book newsletter that my teacher would hand out every month. I took one look at the cover of the book, with that monster sitting on the shore and just knew I wanted to know more about that monster.
The book Sendak wrote and illustrated in 1963 had only 10 sentences but it stuck with me clearly for 33 years and I know it’s stuck with many of us over the years. When I heard that Spike Jonze was bringing Max and the Wild Things to the big screen I was excited to see what the film would be like. This afternoon I found out.
I loved the movie. I’d see it again in heartbeat. But… now that I’ve seen it I would not even consider taking young kids to see it at the theatre. I will explain why but if you don’t want any spoilers than you might want to stop reading now.
Still with me? Great… here we go…
The movie begins with young Max at home. We see a friendless boy who is lonely, feels neglected by his older sister and his divorced mother. He is by turns lonely, sad, angry and then destructive and even violent as he acts out. Max (played by Max Records) brings out a range of negative emotions through his actions as he destroys a gift for his sister, jumps all over his sister’s bed with snow covered boots, bites his mother and then runs away.
Once he reaches the land Where the Wild Things Are we see loneliness, jealousy, violence, threatening behaviour, friendship, companionship, love, anger (SCARY SCARY ANGER), feelings of betrayal, disillusionment, sadness, loss.
The movie is beautiful. It’s wonderful in every way. The creatures are everything I imagined they’d be and so much more. But it’s an emotional rollercoaster with some very scary moments that I just don’t think would sit well with most young children – at least not without some conversation about what was happening as things go along.
Personally, I’d not take kids younger than 8 or 10 to see it at the theatre. There are long stretches of the movie that would be boring for young kids and other points which are SCARY monster scenes and a lot of emotional turmoil. Without the ability to pause the movie after a scene and discuss why Max or the monsters are acting out and the underlying emotions I think there will be a lot of frightened children exiting the theatre before the movie concludes.
Where the Wild Things Are is more a movie about a child but not really for a child. I’d possibly consider buying the DVD (when it comes out) to view with younger kids, where you can control and pause the movie if you need to and discuss why Max (or the monsters) are feeling sad, lonely and especially why they feel angry and violent.
Where the Wild Things Are was truly a breathtaking film and it really brought Max and the Wild Things to life in a really realistic way but it’s not what I’d consider a kids film at all. My heart is still racing and I’m emotionally exhausted. We all have the Wild Things in us somewhere.