We took a moment today to retreat to “Where the Wild Things Are.” Only, it wasn’t a true retreat; it was just a trip. I love this book, written by Maurice Sendak, and though I didn’t have any true expectations for the movie, my anticipation increased as the lights dimmed in the theater. I’d read a few snippets of reviews, noting that they were filled with mixed emotions, but disregarded the negative comments. I tend do that-hoping everything just all works out for the best.
In the book, the little boy (Max) has a wild imagination, and gets sent to his room without dinner after being a little too much of a “wild thing” for his mother’s taste. While in his room, his imagination takes him to a faraway place full of huge, hairy, “wild” beasts. They too like to “rumpus,” and have noone to tell them to stop. They decide to elect Max their King, and they all rumpus together. Having fun and “being wild” are their focus, and Max follows along happily. Finally, Max yearns for home, and finds himself back in his room, where he finds his dinner (still hot). I know as a kid (or especially a teenager), I would have loved to escape to my own world where someone understood me, accepted me, and looked to me for guidance. And, realizing that wonderful place is already right there waiting-like a hot dinner-is more than comforting. To me, that’s the take home message from this book, and the wonderful characters and illustrations bring that message to life.
I think the movie tried to capture that feeling, but somehow putting it on screen, that message was a little sad. The first thirty minutes depict a boy struggling with lonliness, and change-both within his family and within himself. It was harsh, and while I can concede that necessity to establish the intense need for escape, those first minutes were awkward and depressing. Max told stories, and built forts using his imagination, but I think if that had been brought to life before the real “adventure,” the story would have jumped out of the book and onto the screen.
While “Where the Wild Things Are,” Max meets the beasts of his imagination, which are actually the beasts in his own life, and learns some things about himself in the process. Looking at it as a work of art, it’s amazing. Watching it through my kids’ eyes, it’s disappointing. I’m not sure my kids made the leap that this was Max’s imagination, and then again why he was retreating to this “safe place.” Because it didn’t feel very safe at times; there are a few “scary” moments for those littler ones, and in that way it does earn its PG rating. There is some dead time as the story unfolds; it moves slowly and the soundtrack is either absent or infrequent. In the end, I was left wondering, and my kids had to ask if “they lived happily ever after.”
Ultimately, it was a children’s story with a deeper message. It is not well suited for children younger than 6 or 7 years old. My youngest (3) was worried most of the movie about the “little boy getting home to his Mommy.” My oldest (8) felt sad for the little boy, and hoped when he did get home to his Mom, that they could be a happier family. Older kids would probably clue in to the deeper message, and might get swept up in the imagination. But everyone should appreciate illustrations coming to life. Of course, I looked for the teachable moment, and we talked about the differences in the book and the movie. Ultimately, we decided that we all might have a little “wild” in us, that our “wild” makes us different from others, and that’s ok-as long as there is always a hot dinner (or cup of hot chocolate)waiting when we are ready.