Where The Wild Things Are – A Movie Review

Originally written November 16, 2009)

Ok, here’s my take. I’m writing this in a note, as I’m predicting it will be too long for a status update. (It may even be too long for a note..my apolgies for blathering on.) And, I should say, I’m writing this before I read any official reviews of the movie as well…not sure how it’s being received, critically speaking.

Sadly, sadly, sadly, I must agree with the nay-sayers.  This is NOT for the pre-school set, folks. It is not even for most of the elementary school set.

The trailer of a movie, I thought, was supposed to give people a sense of the flavor of the movie. I’d go so far as to ask, isn’t it actually the trailer’s RESPONSIBILITY to do that? So the audience can judge the appropriateness of the movie and decide if they wanna risk spending $10 on a ticket? And 2 hours of their time? And the treasure that is a child’s impressionable mind? Well, the WTWTA trailer misleads. I’ve been duped. And so has L (my 5YO). He’s not allowed to see it, despite his love for the book, and excitement generated by seeing the many commercials for the movie.

At the risk of sounding like I’m reading too much into this, I think releasing this trailer as a lead-in to the movie borders on passive aggressive. Even sneaky and mean. While it hints at Max’s lonliness, it fills you with hope that he finds solace and joy and confidence in his Wild Thing kingdom before he returns home to a hot meal. Dashed. Completely dashed. Actually, more like punched in the stomach. In the actual movie, even the few moments of real fun and happiness simply set you up for crushing heartbreak.

The movie itself was visually gorgeous, and the sound was amazing. The actors were brilliant, especially this sweet, real, beautiful Max Records, who played Max. James Gandolfini was wrenching…I always admire people who do so much acting with simple inflections of their voices. (I often chuckle at my ability to get lost in the animatronics/animation-world. Maybe it’s because the voices are usually so well-matched with their visual/digital incarnations. I literally found myself saying, after Finding Nemo, “Man, that Dory fish can really act!”) The story had holes, which I can deal with given the valiant and artistic attempt to turn a 13-sentence book into a 100-minute movie. Really, I’m ok with that.

Ah, the book. That fantastic book. But the author, and his cranky reaction to feelings like mine? Accusing parents of being overprotective. Kids’ lives these days are so “vanilla.” Chiding the kids for not being able to handle being scared. Chiding the parents for not wanting them to be scared. If they can’t handle it, says Maurice, let ‘em go home and wet their pants.

Good grief. I feel like parents cannot win for trying. Either we’re helicopters or slackers. The vast majority of parents I know, though, are trying really hard to find a balance between the two. Forgive me for raising concerns when I feel like someone is trying to sell something to me and my kids that seems harmless, but could give my 5YO nightmares and feelings of desolation he does not have the wisdom and cognitive ability to put in the right perspective. My 13-year-old cried several times throughout the movie, and bawled…BAWLED at the end.

Today’s youth are assaulted from every angle, in every strata of life, by things that could scare and/or harm them. Some deal with moms coping with cancer. Some can’t walk to school without being beaten. Others can’t walk into their homes without being abused. Middle-schoolers deal with pressure to be sexual in ways that are way beyond their years. They ALL face bullies who have the savvy and technology do terrible damage anonymously. True, things are so much cushier in so many ways than when I was a kid…and the ones who feel the world owes them irritate me to no end. Still, though, they must cope with exponentially more pressure – even the fortunate kids must – than previous generations. Make no mistake.

So, Maurice, rant on if you like about us being over-protective. To me, it makes you sound like an angry old crank with a warped perspective of childhood. Anyone who has read ANYTHING of yours besides WTWTA (“Into the Night Kitchen,” anyone? “Outside Over There?”) already gets that there is something very c-r-e-e-p-y about the narratives and images you present to children. That’s just fine. I admit to being ignorant of your background, and that it’s likely personal history warrants that your creative juices flow the way they do. It doesn’t detract, for me, from the brilliance and beauty of your work.

The attitude, though? The sneering condescension with which you approach today’s parents? Too vanilla? Too spoiled? Funny, coming from the creator of Max – the kid who basically acts like a brat, and his mother, who sends him to his room without supper, but ends up giving in. I mean, doesn’t Max wind up with a hot meal in his room? And cake?


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