After running away from home, 8-year-old Max finds himself in a strange land filled with huge wild creatures. Convincing them that when at home he is a king with magical powers, they make him their own king and together they have lots of fun in Max’s new kingdom. While some of the ‘Wild Things’ are gentle and placid creatures, others are more unpredictable. ‘Wild Thing’, Carol, Max’s new best friend, often has violent tantrums and when the harmony of the group is threatened, Max realises that he is in terrible danger.
Where The Wild Things Are (2009) – Director: Spike Jonze
Running Length: 101 mins
Starring: Max Records, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose
Adapted from the 1963 book of the same name by Maurice Sendak, ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ is an exploration of childhood fantasy and imagination. Following an imaginary world created by a lonely boy, this movie takes the audience to a fantastical land where mysterious giant creatures roam and anything is possible. Sadly, Max, as the movie’s protagonist, is thoroughly unlikeable. He is attention-seeking and spoilt, expecting to get his own way at every moment and throwing aggressive tantrums whenever he doesn’t. His mother, as a single parent, tries to control him but he is completely unwilling to behave.
It is unclear who this movie is targeted towards. Young children are likely to find this movie, which is essentially a drama, rather boring and older children, teens and adults will probably be uninterested in a film about a kid’s imagination. It is perhaps Max’s inability to learn from his mistakes that makes this film so difficult to relate to. His brattish behaviour at home continues in the fantasy world. When the consequences of his actions catch up on him, he is incapable of accepting responsibility and instead feels sorry for himself, having to rely on others to fix his problems. He learns nothing on his journey and on his return home, he offers no apology and receives no form of punishment, leading the viewer to believe that things will always continue to be this way.
IS ‘WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
The opening scene shows Max running after his dog, shouting, growling and screeching like a wild animal. When he eventually catches up to the dog he grabs it and roughly pulls its head from side to side, screeching at it the whole time. While this may be trying to portray a young boy playing with his dog, what is seen is much more aggressive and parents may not feel that this is an acceptable message to send to a child and it may upset children who care about animals.
When he is at school, Max’s teacher talks about the world ending and gives several possible ways that this could happen, for example war, meteors, tsunamis, etc. While no graphic detail is given, some children may not understand and could be a little disturbed by this. Some reassurance and/or explanation may be required at this point.
When Max’s mother is cooking dinner, Max realises that her boyfriend has come over and starts to have a tantrum because she is not paying enough attention to him. He deliberately embarrasses her and when she gets angry with him, he bites her and runs away from the house in the dark. He continues to run until he finds a boat at a nearby lake which he uses to sail to the fantasy world. It would perhaps be advisable to explain to a younger child what dangers Max may face while being alone at night, especially when he is near the water.
When Max first reaches the fantasy world, he comes across the ‘Wild Things’ in the middle of one of Carol’s tantrums. He is running through and destroying several circular structures. Thinking that it looks fun, Max joins in. Max has seen no danger until this point but becomes afraid when the others surround him, telling him that the structures he has destroyed are their homes. They threaten to eat him but he manages to convince them of his magical powers, causing them to make him their king. When Carol reaches for the crown, Max sees a number of bones with it and asks where they were from. Carol says that they were there before he and the others arrived at this place but is clearly lying. Therefore, from the moment he first meets them, there is an underlying feeling of danger and violence which escalates as the movie progresses. Most young children are unlikely to pick up on the subtlety in the initial scenes but for those who can, this sense of unease could be a little scary.
During his time in the fantasy world, Max befriends KW, a ‘Wild Thing’ who has left the main group due to her friendship with some others (who Carol is jealous of). When walking together along a beach, KW picks up some rocks and throws them at 2 owls that are flying overhead. The rocks hit them and they plummet to the ground. However, KW picks them up and they are fine; she explains that they enjoy it when she throws the rocks at them. This may be another moment where a parent may need to explain that this is not an acceptable thing for a child to do to animals.
Max decides that he wants to have a dirt clod war with the ‘Wild Things’ and separates everyone into 2 teams of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. While it begins as a fun game, things start to get out of hand and when the quiet member of the group, Alexander, wants to stop and starts to walk away, Max instructs Douglas to throw a dirt clod at him which knocks him over violently. Alexander gets up and tells everyone to stop but Max instructs Douglas to hit him again. Alexander is then very upset as he was hurt from the first hit and doesn’t understand why anyone would want to hurt him again. A raccoon is also thrown at someone who then hurls it at someone else. Although it is made clear that the raccoon enjoys this, again this type of behaviour is not something that a child should be encouraged to replicate in the real world.
Carol becomes increasingly agitated and ends up becoming extremely aggressive. During an argument, Carol rips Douglas’ arm off. There is no blood and Douglas is not in any pain, he is just annoyed with Carol. Carol then turns on Max and tries to hit him but Max manages to run away. Carol chases after him, grunting and growling aggressively. As Carol has generally been quite child-like and friendly up until this point (although some signs of Carol’s true nature have been present throughout), some children may find this change of personality quite distressing.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
The content of ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ suggests that this is a movie which is suitable for the whole family, however it is likely to be the mixed messages of the film which parents may be concerned about. We would therefore suggest some supervision for younger children in case any explanation or reassurance is required. In terms of content, we feel that this movie should be appropriate for kids aged 7 and over although due to the lack of action or comedy, it is unlikely to be interesting to children aged under 10.
- Violence: 2/5 (Carol can be rather aggressive and could potentially hurt someone badly, however he is only seen to make threats and, in a scene which is not overly sustained, he chases after Max in an aggressive manner)
- Emotional Distress: 2/5 (Carol and the others are upset when Max leaves)
- Fear Factor: 3/5 (Carol’s tantrums become increasingly aggressive and are a major threat to Max’s safety)
- Sexual Content: 0/5
- Bad Language: 0/5
- Dialogue: 2/5 (the ‘Wild Things’ threaten to eat Max when they first meet him. Later, Max decides to build a fort which will ‘cut the brains out’ of any unwelcome visitors)
- Other notes: Deals with themes of friendship, loneliness, families and childhood imagination.
Words by Laura Record