I watched two videos recently with my daughter. She is four and rarely watches TV--her own choice. Mostly she likes rewatching her old Elmo's World and Little Einsteins videos. She cried when she saw the tyrannosaurs in Land Before Time II. My husband reproached me for getting that movie for her, but then she cried even more at Land Before Time: The Great Migration, which he bought for her, a title that I avoided because it implied separation of friends and family.
She is so easily upset by what she watches, so I was afraid to watch How to Train your Dragon, one of two videos borrowed by her dad for her, with her. I decided to put on Where the Wild Things Are. She was excited to see it since she had watched the book. I missed the opening scenes while I went down to get her breakfast but caught Max being assaulted by snowballs by his sister's friends then tearing into the house and grabbing with rage the Popsicle-stick valentine he'd made his sister.
It was this point she started crying and saying the movie was too scary. So I put on How to Train your Dragon, figuring it might be less upsetting because it was a cartoon. After all, she'd been a bit scared when we watched Brave together but she hadn't dissolved in tears. Some of the dragons did scare her, but she enjoyed it in the end and insisted we replay it twice over the weekend. She even asked me to look for a game based on the movie.
Yesterday, she seemed to feel braver and suggested we finish watching Where the Wild Things Are. So we did. She insisted on skipping the beginning. We got as far as Max meeting the wild things and having a most peculiar conversation with them. She then insisted that we turn off the movie, saying, "It's too funny." I think she got that it was supposed to be funny but the humor was over her head.
We finally finished watching the movie later that night. Since I had to go feed the baby halfway through, it wasn't until the wee hours of the morning that I was able to watch the movie in full. It is an interesting movie based on a children's book. Despite that, I don't think this is a movie for kids. I don't think it was intended for kids at all.
Children might be fascinated to see the wild things from the book brought to life, but that's it. Only the most emo tweens would be enticed by the world of these wild things. The pacing of the movie seems too slow for kids, the color palette too drab. The movie seems to be more for adults, who remember the book from childhood or read it to their children, to make them aware of the message at the heart of the book. That however we try, we have little control over the world; all one can really control is one's self. It's a message most valuable for preschoolers but still relevant for older kids who fantasize that they can do anything they want when they're grown up. I don't know if my daughter picked it up from the movie, for certainly she still needs to be reminded of this. I have my doubts as it was very subtle. Really more appropriate for grown-ups.
I have to say my main issue with this movie was it didn't capture the quiet magic of the Sendak book. I would have loved to see the forest growing in Max's room. If I had made the movie I would have done it differently. Sorry, Dave Eggers. Anyway, that's for another post.
My daughter never found this book scary. She never found the wild things scary either in the book or in the movie. Nor, when they weren't roaring menacingly, did she find the dragons scary. It was real people and their emotional outbursts that scared her.
She loved How to Train your Dragon and wasn't much scared by it because there was nothing that looked real in it. I have to say I enjoyed it more too (maybe because I hadn't read the book). Fast pace, colorful characters, pure fun. And laced through it were themes of how fear bars us from understanding and when it is all right to kill, subtly woven in but expressed clearly enough. This was presented the way a movie for kids should be.
I don't mean to knock the movie Where the Wild Things Are. It doesn't capture the book as I see it, but it's a pretty interesting movie anyway. I strongly feel thought that it just is really not made to appeal to kids. Material for children needs color and excitement and enough dissociation from reality to keep it from being too frightening.
Not to say kids can't watch it and be fascinated by it. My parents never paid much attention to lables so I watched all sorts of movies about kids or had settings that seemed to appeal to kids but weren't really intended for kids. Something set in a circus where it turned out a man who never took off his clown make-up was wanted for murder after he botched an operation on his wife. I must have been about 8 then and my brother, 3 years older, had to explain to me that it was illegal for a surgeon to operate on close family members. I'm fairly sure I was 8 because most full-length movies that weren't for kids put me to sleep before that age.
I also watched some of The Tin Drum at that time, which was about a boy who didn't grow up and got his uncle killed by begging him to save his tin drum during a bombing. I walked out after that depressing scene and never finished the movie. I didn't understand the implications of most of the events here, including one where he flings himself on his babysitter when she's changing into her swimsuit. There was also a circus here so this must have been my dad's choice as he had a thing for the circus and always wanted us to see circuses in movies. He would probably have brought us to watch Water for Elephants if it had been around. Again a movie not for kids despite the beautifully filmed circus!
Perhaps the most un-kid movie I saw about a kid was something European my folks borrowed for me about a boy who was being picked on in school and finally during a medical exam it comes out that he's being abused at home. He just disappears and nobody does a thing about it. Less darkness and a more positive ending might have made this movie appropriate for kids. But feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are more terrifying to children than dragons, and not feelings we want to become a habit with them if we want them to have the courage to grow up and make a difference in the world. Ideas of what is appropriate for children may change, but this, I think, is something that remains the same.