March 21st, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are is one of the most beloved books in our house; the children still read the tattered copy that was mine as a girl. While we decided not to see the movie version in theaters last fall, we have been eagerly awaiting this week’s video release. We thought we had a realistic idea of what lay in store for us. Media reports and early reviews made it clear that this was not a Muppet-filled romp, but rather an insightful look into the emotional life and imagination of a little boy at a confused time in his life.

Little Max of literary lore who growls and makes mischief of one kind or another has been replaced by deeply troubled Max who is prone to destructive fits of rage. His tantrums are the kind that would have Dr. Phil foaming at the mouth. He lives with his single mother and older sister, who busies herself with friends and leaves Max feeling abandoned. Watching the first ten minutes of this movie and seeing the family struggle with their own sadness, loneliness and anger made us sad and lonely. Not in a “this is a compelling movie and I feel for these characters” kind of way, but in a “don’t look directly at the couple fighting in Walmart” kind of a way.

Max flees in his boat (and who could blame him) and eventually finds the island inhabited by monsters. Although beautiful to look at, these monsters don’t represent the spark, uninhibited glee and tinge of danger that makes childhood thrilling. Instead they are transparent representations of Max’s different issues – his rage, self-doubt, and neediness. He romps, they rage, they romp, he rages, and it goes on and on. The monsters tear at each other, physically and emotionally, leaving us feeling even more depressed, until Max finally departs the island of Dr. Morose. After putting us through an hour and a half of gut-wrenching turmoil, one might wish for a cathartic resolution and some joy, but it’s not to be found here. Our hero returns home to the simple hugging arms of his mother and his supper, which, in what seems to be the only nod to Maurice Sendak’s original book, is still hot.

We were prepared, as mentioned, for this to not be a movie appropriate for little children, but we had hoped that it would be something we could appreciate with our older kids. Instead, we found it to be a sad example of how we as a society continue to over-think, over-diagnose and over-complicate childhood. Cherished childhood story becomes clinical case study. On the up side, it inspired some great discussions about what kind of me we wished it was, how it was painful to watch and how much we loved the book, but that’s about all.

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This Weeks Tip

Great tip for night-time potty training: Make the bed with two sets of sheets (and/or two mattress pads), so if one gets wet in the middle of the night, just rip off a layer and get back to bed!