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Wild Thinged

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I warned them. They can't say I didn't warn them.

Where the wild things are

Brett Berk: But we all know (or at least a parenting guide-writing professional like myself knows) how hard it is to get contemporary moms and dads to listen to advice on dealing with their preschoolers. I did my due diligence. I couldn't have been more explicit. My recent review of "Where the Wild Things Are" said very clearly to "leave the little buggers at home." I felt that the movie nailed its depiction of the psychological struggles and horrors of childhood, but did so in a very adult-oriented fashion.

Still, I got all sorts of contrary notes on the subject from parents who didn't believe or desire to heed my words of warning. "Taking my kids to see it today, despite your review," said one mom in the blustery Northeast. "I'll be the one in line with all the other parents who are trying to find something to do in this horrible weather!" And an auntie in the Midwest wrote, "Going with my best friend's daughter tomorrow. She's a hilarious kid and very thoughtful/critical, so I bet she'll have lots to share."

I rubbed my hands together in prurient anticipation, waiting for reports of tears, nightmares, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. "How'd it go?" I wrote to friends who'd brought their toddlers. "Have they stopped crying yet?"

But the consensus seems to be that the kids handled it just fine. "My sons, 4 and 5.5, saw the film and thought it was less disturbing to them than 'Up' was -- for a week after that one, my 4-year-old would not sleep because he was afraid I was going to die." (Fortunately, I've written about that as well.) "The boys were mesmerized by it," this mom went on, "and I think they both identified, on a very basic level, with Max ... Perhaps, the level of loss of control in the movie was frightening for them, but they might have also found it ultimately cathartic."

Note the use of the word "may" in that sentence. Anxiety often works slowly and cumulatively with young kids. They're resilient up to the point when realities begin to sink in, and then, days or weeks later, it erupts and they're overwhelmed. So only time will reveal the true scars the movie will engender in the early childhood set. I'm picturing long lines for grape-flavored psychotropics this winter, an inexplicable number of solo boating accidents, and a rash of moms queuing up for rabies shots. But maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe the adverse effects will be adult-based. This is certainly the thinking of another mom who wrote me: "Although my 6-year-old son loved it ... and has suffered no ill consequences as of yet," this mother found the movie to be quite traumatic. "I, on the other hand, may need hospitalization!" (Beware the "as of yet"!)

So what was YOUR experience? Did your 4-year-old run screaming from the theater? Did YOU? Or did everyone just settle down to a nice Wild Rumpus? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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14 comments so far | Post a comment now
Abby October 20, 2009, 4:40 PM

I saw it w/ a friend since we decided our boys were far too young (ages 3 & 4). I agree w/ your assessment, but I guess it depends on the kid. I was a sensitive child who had to leave “Cinderella” because I was overwrought about the chubby mouse, Gus, getting picked on. So I guess it’s no surprise that I cried at WTWTA. Those mother-son scenes were heartbreaking to me!

Rachel October 20, 2009, 5:17 PM

We took our 4 and 6 year old boys this weekend. They both loved it. In reality, I think it’s more traumatic for parents. Many kids can relate to the emotions Max feels. As parents, sometimes I think it’s easy to put on the blinders and naively buy into the notion that childhood is rainbows and kittens. Kids know better. I think for this reason, kids will be able to easily relate to Max.

JoAnn K October 20, 2009, 6:59 PM

My 6 year old son went with his grandmother. When he came home he said he hated the movie and didn’t understand why the boy was behaving so badly. This is coming from a child that has seen all the superhero movies, etc, and has never “not-liked” a movie. Grandmother thought it was depressing.

Jen October 20, 2009, 7:05 PM

It’s definitely up to the parent. Personally, I will not take my daughter to this movie. I think children in this society are overly-exposed to adult-themes and as a result have become desensitize. Just a side note to Rachel: I am not naive and I realize that childhood is more than rainbows but in this violent society, why willfully expose children to dark subject matter at a young age? Maybe, I am putting on blinders, but if it means that my daughter can enjoy her childhood and innocence even one day longer. Then so be it!!

Miranda October 20, 2009, 7:29 PM

My little one is way too young to even pay attention to a movie but I don’t understand what the fuss is about. WTWTA is a very sad book about Maurice Sendak dealing with divorce (the Wild Things are supposed to be his aunt and uncle). It’s a theme that many children in America are exposed to. That being said, certain kids are more sensitive than others. I saw Old Yeller at the age of six and was not phased, but I had friends that used to cry through movies like Cinderella and The Lion King. If you don’t think your kid can handle it, don’t go. If they can, then you may want to discuss it but otherwise I don’t see any long-term harm in going.

Sofia6 October 20, 2009, 8:09 PM

I’ve read this story a million times to my 4 children… and it’s not about divorce at all. But about, very plainly and simply, a boy who is naughty and is sent to bed without supper then imagines he’s far away for a long time until he realizes he wants to be where someone really loves him and he makes his way home to find he supper in his room “and it was still hot”. The movie has it own take, but it still stays true to the idea that as kids we’ve all wanted to runaway to go somewhere to have fun all the time and be happy, but we learn that we cant always be happy, we make mistakes, have bad days, etc. That’s when we understand that home is really the best place to be because we’re loved by our family. This is an important lesson. We celebrated my son’s 7th birthday at the theater with the release of this movie. He and 9 other boys and girls all enjoyed it and were not disturbed or scared; including my 4 yr old son.
If you’re truly concerned about this movie, first read the book to your children to get an understanding and gage their (and your) reactions. Then remember - its just a movie!!! Relax and enjoy. =)

Mandy March 6, 2010, 12:07 AM

I have not seen it yet, so can’t comment. But it is good to read a review like yours. Because while some children may deal just fine, others wont. I think it is good to point out a potential problem to parents, and it makes me realize that when it comes to anything that may effect our children, we should be responsible by viewing it ourselves first and making the judgement, rather than taking our children to the first viewing!! Thanks :)

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