Anyone who has spent a lot of time with children, raising them, teaching them, know that there are a lot of concepts their tiny minds can handle. I’ve never really felt comfortable with the dumbing down of children’s films since, I dare say, one of my favorite directors — Steven Spielberg — and a few others, starting in the 1980s, turned childhood into a Hallmark commercial. That isn’t entirely fair to Spielberg; after all, he did make Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws, both films viewed childhood in more realistic ways than, say, Hook. Even E.T. had three kids in a divorced family lamenting their unfulfilled lives. Somewhere along the way, the ideal stopped being represented as fantasy and started being represented as reality.
So when Ebert writes, about Where the Wild Things Are, “All the same, the film will play better for older audiences remembering a much-loved book from childhood, and not as well with kids who have been trained on slam-bam action animation,” I have to wonder what will become of our kids who aren’t being given much of an opportunity to see anything but the combination of their ideal, along with the only thing they are now allowed to see, extreme violence?
Have you noticed how parents want to shy away from emotional content as if it were sexual content? Trust me on this one — we might want our kids to grow up thinking life is colorful little rainbows painted on white walls with cotton candy pillows and teddy bear toothbrushes. But the truth is, it’s hard growing up. Not only are kids the absorbers for all of the stupid things we adults do, but their own little lives are hard too. They’re embarrassed on a daily basis – many of them feel sad a lot of the time. And yet, we are forcing them into this perfect, unrealistic ideal. Okay, enough of the long lecture.
Finally, Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum calls Where the Wild Things Are, “One of the Year’s Best,” adding:
Profoundly beautiful and affecting, Where the Wild Things Are is a breath-‚Ä®taking act of artistic transubstantiation. From Maurice Sendak’s beloved picture book about a rambunctious little boy named Max and the kingdom of untamed creatures who adopt him as their like-minded king, filmmaker Spike Jonze has made a movie that is true to Sendak’s unique sensibilities and simultaneously true to Jonze’s own colorful instincts for anarchy. This is, to quote the 1963 children’s classic, ”the most wild thing of all.” It’s also personal movie-‚Ä®making, with corporate backing, at its best. Whatever the (well-documented) struggles it took to create this gem, the result is worth every monster growl.
She closes her grade A rave this way:
Sendak’s great gift to readers, old as well as young, is the seriousness with which he presents even the wildest mayhem, the deepest contradictions in human (and Wild Thing) behavior; the author empathizes with fantasists but has no time for cuteness. In his transcendent movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze not only respects the original text but also honors movie lovers with the same clarity of vision. This is one of the year’s best. To paraphrase the Wild Thing named KW, I could eat it up, I love it so