Of course, I have to comment on the recent release of Where the Wild Things Are in theaters. The book has been a classic for decades, though it wasn't well received when it was first published. It did win the Caldecott Medal, but librarians were reluctant to buy it. They didn't get it. It wasn't until they realized that the children loved it that adults caught on to the book's appeal. There is a little bit of Max in all of us. If you haven't read it in a while, the text of the book consists of only a few hundred words, ten sentences. Matt recited it almost word for word for friends of ours last night at dinner who were going to the movie with us. Someone commented to Matt the other night that the magic of the story is in what is left out. The fact that most of the story is told in a child's own imagination is why this book has been so popular for over 40 years.
Matt and I have been excited about the movie since seeing the first trailer in the theater last summer. I am not typically enthusiastic about movies adapted from a classic childrens book. I have complained about the lack of originality in Hollywood many times and I am concerned about our society's need to mass market childhood. However, even though I had reservations when I first heard about the movie, once I read some interviews with Spike Jonze and Maurice Sendak, and especially after seeing the trailers, I could not wait to see it simply because it looked like it would be a good film.
We have been reading Where the Wild Things Are to Isaac since he was born. But we were a little worried that the movie would be too scary for him. A few reviews and articles alluded that it was more a movie for older fans of the book than it was for the young children for whom the book was written. But we decided to take him. We knew that if he became scared we would be there with him and would talk him through the difficult scenes. Or we would just let him hide his eyes and tell him when the scary part was over.
I read the book to Isaac before we went to the movie and we talked it up to get him excited about it. But Matt and I were the most excited, and we were fervently hoping that we would not be disappointed. And we weren't. The movie is beautiful and poignant and edgy and respectful of children. Is it a "kid's" movie?" To be honest, not really. It is a movie for those of us who remember the pain and loneliness that is a part of childhood. Most of it was beyond Isaac's understanding, but there were many times that he had a big grin on his face as the Wild Things frolicked. There were also times that Isaac was touched by the emotion and looked at me with a frown or asked why someone was crying.
I don't need to go into a critique of the movie here or try to dissect the characters' motivations or take it apart bit by bit and talk about how it was or was not faithful to the book. There are plenty of reviews and articles that already do that. I will just end by saying that this is a book that all children should experience, and they should all read it before seeing the movie, though I would say that about all books. Children should be able to make their own meaning out of Max's adventures, without Hollywood, or even a talented director like Spike Jonze, creating the meaning for them. Unfortunately, I know that that is unlikely to happen and some of the magic of the book will be lost to children now.
We will probably end up owning this movie and will watch it with Isaac again. And as he gets older I think the movie will take on new meaning for him, just as the book tends to do when people read it at different stages of their lives. A small part of me wishes we had waited until he were older to let him see it, but I do not regret it. It is a beautiful, well-made movie and watching it with Isaac was magical.