Q: Where the Wild Things Are was one of my favorite books growing up and now my 5 and 7 year old kids love it too. I'm eager to see the movie but I'm not sure if I should take the kids with me. The trailer looks kind of dark and I'm not sure they'd "get" what's really going on. What do you think?
–Wondering about Wild Things in Boston, MA
A: Dear Wondering,
Books and movies have very different ways of creating worlds. When we read a book—even if it’s illustrated—our minds add sounds, other images, and detail to the story. That means that what we imagine will be limited by what our brains are ready to create. Movies, however, describe worlds much more fully, with sounds and music and visual images, and so they make meaning for us.
This means that a story like Where the Wild Things Are, which can be great for adults in any medium, might work for children in one medium but not in another. For example, an adult who reads the book may see darkness in Max’s emotions, but a child who reads the book may not see that darkness at all, simply because her brain is not ready to create that darkness on its own. In contrast, the world of the movie is so fully formed that it will pull her into that darkness whether she’s ready for it or not.
What that means for your children depends on their age and sensitivities. At almost any age, they will perceive the fear and anger and sadness in this movie. The younger they are though, the less likely they will be able to understand that this movie is about managing and living through those feelings—what they will walk away with is those feelings themselves, not resolution of them. That’s all their experience so far has prepared them for.
For all of these reasons, if you’re considering sharing this movie with your children, I strongly recommend that you see it first, talk to people who have already seen it, or read parent reviews from Common Sense Media. Then think about what you know of your children as individuals to help you make your decision. In some ways, this movie is a great representation of how kids Max's age think, and adults might be able to learn a lot from that. But the kids themselves certainly won't come away with the same understanding as you do.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,