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Watch Out for the Wild Things

by on Oct.11, 2009, under Parenting, Public Behavior, Safety

Where the Wild Things Are, the beloved children’s book by Maurice Sendak, has been made into a movie.  When I first heard about it, I was excited…then worried. An article in this morning’s Los Angeles Times about the movie fueled my worries. Granted, I haven’t seen the movie, but I am still worried.   I just know that hundreds of cool, thirty-something parents are going to line up to take their young children to see it. Is this really a movie for young children?

In today’s world, children are being exposed to many things, the going-to-the-movies experience being just one of them, often before it is best for them. In their zeal to share a fondly remembered experience, they rush, often prematurely, and expose the child to something with which he cannot connect. Worse, it may be something that is actually detrimental to the child and his sense of well being. The problem is, the parent isn’t remembering what it was like as a two or three or four year old. Most people’s memories are from older ages–six or seven or eight years old.  As a result, children are having experiences (movies included) beyond their ability to process in a healthy way.

I remember when I was teaching nursery school over 30 years ago, a parent excitedly announced that she was taking her three year old to see The Wizard of Oz, sharing how much she had loved that movie as a child.  I suggested that maybe her daughter was a little young, reminding her of all the scary parts (those flying monkeys and that witchiest of all witches–“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog Toto, too.”) “Oh no. She’s  going to love it!”  she proclaimed with total confidence. A few weeks later that same mommy came to me to get help; her daughter was having  terrible nightmares about flying monkeys and was refusing to go to sleep.

Where the Wild Things Are was a controversial book when it was first published. Not bad at all, just controversial.  And it still is. Some children can handle it; for others, it is too scary if read at too young an age.  Movies, bigger than life, can be even more so. Those wild things in the movie trailer looked pretty real to me.

Before you hand pick your perfect seats for the first showing, stop and think about whose needs are being met. Is your child ready to see those larger than life wild things?  Can he, should he even sit still in a dark movie house for an hour and a half?  You can always get it on DVD  next year when he is?

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3 Comments for this entry

  • Carley Knobloch

    Betsy– Thanks for talking about this. I had this exact same thought when seeing the trailers. My kids (my thinks-she’s-16 4 year-old and timid 8 year-old) are excited to see this movie, but seeing the quickly-cut trailer on a small TV is one thing… seeing it larger than life in the theater is quite another. I admit, we too have shown our kids movies that they weren’t quite ready to see. Our 8 year-old was horrified at the final scene in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (my husband and I just stared at eachother in disbelief– sorta forgot about the sacrificial ceremony at the end!) Made us think twice about what’s classified as a “kids movie” these days.

  • Sharon Gold

    Thank you for this posting.

    There is no doubt that, when deciding what movies are appropriate for a child, parents would like to be fully informed so that they can make the best decision for their children, and not have to rely on someone else’s judgment, such as, for example, the MPAA. For that reason, I commend to you and your readers a website called “Kids In Mind” ( This website uses objective criteria to rate films on a scale of 0 to 10 in three categories: (1) SEX/NUDITY, (2) VIOLENCE/GORE & (3) PROFANITY. The site also explains in detail why a film rates high or low in a specific category, and, for the parents’ benefit, it lists scenes in the three categories. In addition, the site includes instances of SUBSTANCE USE, a list of DISCUSSION TOPICS that may elicit questions from children, and it sets forth MESSAGES the film conveys. Again, unlike the MPAA, the site does not make any judgments or age-specific recommendations. After parents read the full descriptions, explanations and ratings, however, they are more fully informed and in a good position to make a decision regarding the appropriateness of the specific film for their children.

    As for “Where the Wild Things Are,” I saw it with my 7-year-old son. He loved it. But this movie is not for everyone, and certainly not for very young children (and so we did not bring my daughter, who is under 2). Also, you should know that this movie is somewhat slow and much more dialogue-driven and character-driven than it is action-driven; in some respects, it was more like an arthouse/indie movie than like a family movie. So, if your child likes a lot of action, this movie may not be for her or him.

    One interesting thing about this movie was that it spurred a number of interesting conversations with my son about emotions, how to deal with anger, sadness, frustration, lonliness, etc., why some children lash out when upset, the importance of family, etc.

    (Mother of 7-year old son and 16-month-old daughter (who is at Les Enfants, where I saw this reference to your blog))

  • Betsy

    Thanks to you, Carley, for taking the time to read the blog and comment. (Sorry for the delay in my response.) It can be a tricky world out there in medialand. I recommend either previewing a movie before allowing a child to see it, or visiting one of the many good websites which help you to determine the appropriateness of a movie, like Good luck to you! Betsy BB

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