October 31, 2009

You Knew This Was Coming...

My thoughts on Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are.

I've found that people are having really strong reactions to this film. Reviewers are claiming it's too scary for children. Others are saying it's not scary (or compelling) enough. And many are saying it's not for children in the first place, but for nostalgic 30-something hipsters who remember reading the book as children. Which then leads to the question of whether or not Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers did an appropriate job of adapting a ten-sentence book into a feature-length film. Personally, I was disappointed at one big change: in the film, Max runs away from home and finds himself in the land of the wild things, while in the book version, his own room transforms into a forest, and the wild rumpus all takes place within the safety of his home. Nevertheless, I liked the movie an awful lot and have been thinking about it-- and the many varied responses-- quite a bit since seeing it.

Let me first say, I'm happy that a children's movie is garnering so many passionate reactions. Unsurprisingly, that didn't happen with other box office toppers like G-Force or Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. We should be thinking more about what kids are watching. It's clear to me that Jonze and Eggers really carefully and thoughtfully considered childhood in their work, and attempted to create a unique film that both represented and respected how kids think and feel. Of course, they are highly influenced by their own nostalgic 30-something hipster interpretations, and Max (extremely well-acted by Max Records) definitely reflects that.

My own (very unscientific) survey reveals that Jonze and Eggers succeeded in creating a character that's familiar and accessible to kids. To determine this, I consulted an expert who I'd not yet heard from in any of the various reviews, articles and blog entries: a kid. Emma, age 9, loved the movie. To summarize, she thought that the monsters "looked exactly right," it was "the scariest" when Carol chases Max, that K.W. was "the nicest" wild thing, and that overall the story was "really, really sad" but that Max "learned a lesson."

So while I'm pretty positive that yes, Where The Wild Things Are is a great children's movie, let's remember that kids are individuals. Some of them will love it, and some of them will hate it. If I had to get more specific, I might say it is geared more towards older kids, and while little ones might enjoy the book, the film version is a bit too slowed paced. But that's OK, the wee ones can look forward to looking back on an old favorite story. Probably there are some kids who will feel bored by the film's unconventional plot and pacing; if they're only watching the standard Hollywood fare, they likely haven't yet been exposed to anything quite like WTWTA. Which only means directors should be making more unusual, thoughtful and artistic films for young people-- kids will rise to the occasion.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

I think that's a really good point about kids - they're not a monolith. They won't all like the same thing. And that's okay. ...and the fact that you polled a smart, sassy kid for input: AWESOME.