By almost any measure, this is a very well made movie. The visuals are terrific, the creatures look about as real as they can, and the kid who plays Max (real name Max Records, believe it or not) does a great job.
But is it a children’s movie?
It depends on the kid. There are parts that get a little scary — some baring of teeth by the monsters, some collapsing of structures that Max is inside. And the monsters are so neurotic, they make Telly from Sesame Street look like Elmo. So there are a few emotional meltdowns that could be frightening to little kids, or even slightly larger kids.
At the show I attended (note: I paid for the tickets, this wasn’t a critics’ screening) three or four children left because they were scared. But that was a very small percentage of the kids that were in attendance.
As for the movie, I’m not sure yet what I think of it. On the one hand it was subtle, on the other hand it hit you like a ton of bricks. Since it is an adaptation of a really short book, director Spike Jonze and co-screenwriter Dave Eggers added some stuff (the neurotic monsters, a semi-dysfunctional family for Max) that didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. The trailer is far more precious than the film itself; this is not a movie that believes that childhood is always wonderful, sometimes being a kid sucks.
Overall the movie is as much about how it feels as it is about what the characters say or do. There is a lot of feeling on screen, which is probably why very young kids won’t be bothered by some of the sequences. Since these moments aren’t designed to be frightening the way that, say, the scene where squirrels eat a little girl alive in Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is, they can be more easily digested or even ignored. My youngest son said that his favorite part was when Max, the King of the Wild Things, says “Let the wild rumpus start!” So that’s what he took from it.
There is some emotional complexity here, and I’d like to see the film again in order to analyze certain scenes that I found interesting. (Plus there was a fair amount of little kid chatter that caused me to miss a couple of lines.) This is a movie that will likely turn up in the type of college classes that make parents wonder what the hell they are paying for (think “Classic Films Of 2009″), but at least it should inspire some lively discussion.
Bottom line: “Where the Wild Things Are” is worth seeing in a theater (assuming you can afford it — movie tickets, at least in Manhattan, have become insanely expensive), and you can probably feel OK taking your children. The more nervous your child is, the more concerned you should be. That’s not a pejorative, it’s a caveat. Nothing wrong with having a nervous kid. It happens. But if they get scared easily, consider that fact before you buy them a ticket.
Anyone out there who has seen “Where The Wild Things Are”, let us know what you thought of the film. And what your kids thought of it, if you took them to see it.