'Where the Wild Things Are' Author Tells Worried Parents to Go to Hell

The movie version Where the Wild Things Are comes out in many cities today. Parents everywhere have been voicing a lot of concern over whether or not the movie is going to be too scary for children.

Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak tells parents worried about the "scare factor" to "go to hell."


There's a recent interview in Newsweek magazine ‘Where the Wild Things Are’: Let the wild rumpus start! (found via Ariel Gore via Amy Graff at sfgate) with Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak and the movie director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers.

Here are some interesting bits and pieces from that interview and then my thoughts about how how to approach certain movies:

What makes a good kids' story?

Sendak: How would I know? I just write the books. But I do know that my parents were immigrants and they didn't know that they should clean the stories up for us. So we heard horrible, horrible stories, and we loved them, we absolutely loved them. But the three of us-my sister, my brother, and myself-grew up very depressed people.

Later, Spike talks about disagreements he had with the studio while making the film.

Jonze: Yeah. The big disagreement is that they thought I was making a children's film, and I thought I was making a film about childhood, and so, along the way... I mean, I think it's a film-I want children to see it, and it's not like I made it not for children, and it'll be on the video shelf under CHILDREN'S, but I didn't come at it that way. I came at it from the inside out as opposed to the outside in. In the end, though, the studio let us make the movie we wanted to make.

Sendak: Europeans have done films about children, like The 400 Blows or My Life as a Dog, which is one of the most wonderful movies ever. It's tough to watch his suffering when his mother is dying and he scoots under the bed. That's the kind of way they have of dealing with children and they always have. We are squeamish. We are Disneyfied. We don't want children to suffer. But what do we do about the fact that they do? The trick is to turn that into art. Not scare children, that's never our intention.

 What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?

Sendak: I would tell them to go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate.

Because kids can handle it?

Sendak: If they can't handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it's not a question that can be answered.

This concentration on kids being scared, as though we as adults can't be scared. Of course we're scared. I'm scared of watching a TV show about vampires. I can't fall asleep. It never stops. We're grown-ups; we know better, but we're afraid.

Why is that important in art?

Sendak: Because it's truth.

Later in the interview, the guys start talking about how scary the Wizard of Oz was for kids.

Sendak: And [Dorothy] lays back in bed and says, "There's no place like home." And there were people who were very critical of that-sentimental-but for me it was pure irony. There is no place like home. Where the hell else is she gonna go? It's the opposite of sentimental-it's the hard truth. Grown-ups are afraid for children. It's not children who are afraid.


Read the entire Newsweek interview with these three men. It's really great...

In a recent interview on Fresh Air, Spike Jonze tells Terry Gross, "I started to think of [the Wild Things] as wild emotions... Like out of control emotions. It seems scary as a kid and it can even still seem scary. Out of control emotions in yourself and the people you're close to and how to navigate those. And as a kid, that seemed like a big idea."

It is a big idea. A big real idea. A good idea and one worth exploring.

While I tend to steer my sons away from violence more than emotional realities on screen, I probably error on the side of exposing my kids to good stories that may be a bit wieldy for their kid-sized minds. However, I think this opens up great conversation and opportunities for them to learn about love, struggle, empathy, and even sorrow — because no matter what we do as parents, our kids will suffer. It's human nature. So we might as well prepare them and give them the tools with which to discuss what's going on inside.

I don't plan to take my almost-3-year old to see Where the Wild Things Are, but I hope my husband and I can take our 6-year old. It's rare I go to a movie, though, about which I've read nothing. I've been reading a lot about this movie. It definitely appears to be more emotionally driven than pure entertainment driven, which will be lost on my toddler who can't sit through a movie in a theater yet anyway.

I'm prepared that the monster scenes have the potential to scare my older son at first, and I am also prepared for this movie to include an emotional depth that won't even touch my 1st grader, and that's fine. We will see and then we will talk all about it, and that is something I know we're not afraid of doing.

How do you make decisions about which movies to show your children? Will you take your kids to see Where the Wild Things Are? Why or why not? Other thoughts about the discussion here?
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