After weeks of hand-wringing over whether kids could handle the emotional intensity in Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ big screen adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, I decided to conduct my own unscientific study and see how my own two sons reacted to the movie. Don’t worry, this is not a Sally Mann-ish experiment, where I threw my kids into a potentially scarring situation for my own professional benefit. I vetted WTWTA first, and figured they could handle the sad-eyed beasts battling the sorrow of the loneliness of existence. That’s life, isn’t it? And any attempt to cover that up is subterfuge and a set-up for a rude awakening down the road.
My real worry going into last night’s screening was that movie is a slow-moving poem to childhood confusion and it was a total crap-shoot as to whether my five-year-old, Huck, would make it through the first act. I also brought along my fifteen-year-old, Ethan, who has always loved the book and had even met Maurice Sendak a couple times when he was baby and his dad worked for his production company. The stakes were pretty high, all around.
Things weren’t looking good about ten minutes in, when Huck wondered aloud why he didn’t have a bucket of popcorn on his lap like all the other kids around him, dammit. My bad. Problem solved. Then, to my surprise, he sat there rapt through the next forty minutes, watching as Max runs away from home, hooks up with a band of bickering Wild Things so neurotic, they make Larry David seem like a zen monk by comparison. About an hour in, when Carol flew into one of his jealous rages, my heart fell when Ethan pulled the collar of t-shirt over his head and started texting friends. But Huck, surprisingly, was still all in. In fact, he probably would have made it through the whole movie without complaint if he hadn’t started jonesing aloud for a cheeseburger during the scene when Max was getting slimed inside K.W.’s mouth. Still, Huck hung in until the credits rolled. Ethan, sadly, was still tented inside his shirt, lit up by his led light like a jack-o-lantern.
Afterward, Huck said he loved everything about the movie, especially the part where Max braves the wild seas in his tiny sailboat. If Max had that much moxy, then maybe he could, too. Oh, and the forts were awesome. Ethan, it turns out, had read the book so many times, that, at fifteen, it was still so alive in his imagination: He had no patience for the liberties the filmmakers’ took to expand it into a feature. “It looked cool, but why did they have to bring in all that extra stuff,” he scoffed. “It’s like when I’m bullshitting to fill out my page count on an essay.”
Okay, so I guess the upshot here might be that this is one movie that works best for kids young enough to give themselves over to the emotional storminess of childhood and people old enough to look back romantically on all that chaos. Okay, PopWatchers, are you buying my arm-chair analysis WTWTA‘s kid-friendliness? Since the movie has already made $32.4 million this weekend, some of you must have taken your kids. What was their response? Would you recommend it to your friends with kids?
More on Where the Wild Things Are from EW: