Where the Wild Things Are

Eliza Clark
October 20, 2009

**Warning! This review contains spoilers for the movie.**

I asked my five-year-old to come to this movie with me. But after watching a preview on the computer, she categorically refused (wise girl that she is). So I gave the child-fare ticket I'd ordered ahead of time to a friend (the ticket checker was luckily too busy wrangling real children to notice), we sat in a child-free aisle, and had an amazing time.

My daughter had it right. The truth is, much as I would have liked to, I can't really recommend this movie for preschoolers or even kindergarten kids.  Common Sense Media (on whom we generally rely for such things) recommends it for kids ages nine and up.  For anyone younger, and certainly for the little ones who preoccupy us here at The Savvy Source, it's just "too scary" as my own, admittedly skittish, kiddo foretold.  Much as they may love Maurice Sendak's marvelous book -- a lasting favorite at our house -- the movie is, literally, a whole different story.

That said, I do ardently endorse the film for parents of preschoolers, and indeed any parent of any child, any age.  There is something particularly captivating about watching, from the safe distance of a movie seat, the intense drama of love and conflict, tenderness and rage, understanding and hurt that unfolds regularly in the home of any young child. We see Max's mother connect with him so beautifully at one moment, just when he needs her, and not long after, miss his cues entirely, with frightening results. Parents have all been there in daily life -- but what the film does is to give us a vividly imagined picture of how a string of inadvertent failures of attention can morph and multiply in a child's mind.

When Max's fury propels him out of the house and into the night, into the world of the Wild Things, we get to watch his wild tangle of emotions come to life in the form of giant hairy (or feathered) monsters. Max tries his best to rule them, for they do long for a real king, but in the end they cannot be contained. He harnesses their creative impulses, but is overwhelmed by their destructiveness. He does what he can to foster harmony, but rifts split the Wild Things apart as soon as they come together.

In the end, I came to see this film as an ode, not just to imagination, though it certainly is that, but also to parental love, however imperfect it may be. At the close of his journey, Max longs for his mother. He is swallowed up (literally) by all of the violent forces he has unleashed, and then, in an unforgettable scene, reborn -- reborn to an instinctive sense that he needs his mother to help him contain the wild things in his own mind.

When he returns, she is waiting for him. Of course she is. As are we.



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