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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ too dangerous for children?

I wondered in my review of Where the Wild Things Are whether the film wasn’t the beginnings of a shift away from overprotecting children from themselves and the world. After all, it offers a very dark portrait of the most secret workings of a child’s imagination, and it fully embraces of the fact that children are people and that they can be angry, resentful, and bitter.

Maybe I was wrong, however, that grownups were loosening up a bit, because the other day USA Today ran a story with this headline:

‘Things’ too wild and dangerous for a child to see?

Now, the rest of the piece is the usual catalog of bitching from some parents who chose to ignore the PG rating and bring their small children with them to the film anyway without vetting it themselves first:

O’Brien, 37, of Phoenix, took 7-year-old Eileen to Where the Wild Things Are on Sunday, hoping the girl would enjoy the movie as much as O’Brien loved the 1963 picture book.

Mom was wrong. “She was pretty scared,” O’Brien says at the AMC Century City in Los Angeles. “We spent most of the time in the lobby playing video games. This isn’t a children’s movie.”

And the parents who assume that because their kid didn’t cry through the whole damn movie, it’s fine for everyone else’s kids, too:

“Parents who complain the movie isn’t for kids didn’t do their homework,” says Joseph Vargas, 41, of Fresno, who brought his 9-year-old son, Antonio. “He wasn’t bothered by anything in it,” including the kid being in danger. “If anything, he wanted more danger.”

It’s all “balanced” out by a sorta precious disclaimer from Warner Bros.:

Warner Bros., which released Wild, says the studio never misrepresented the tone of the movie, which has earned positive reviews. “We were very clear what this movie is,” says Dan Fellman, distribution chief for Warner Bros. “We were careful not to market it to young people. This is a choice parents should look into and make for themselves.”

I don’t see how a movie based on a beloved children’s book can possible escape the connection in anyone’s head that, you know, the movie is for kids, too. Still, we aren’t getting bombarded with ads for Where the Wild Things Are Happy Meal toys or sugary breakfast cereal, so perhaps we’ll give Warner Bros. the benefit of the doubt here.

That said, Is ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ too dangerous for children? Are we still so overprotecting children that there’s no fair answer to that? Or is the only fair answer, “It depends on the kid”?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • LaSargenta

    The same question has been asked ad nauseum of the book.

    I disagree with your introducing the third quote from the article with

    And the parents who assume that because their kid didn’t cry through the whole damn movie, it’s fine for everyone else’s kids, too:

    That quote from the dad of a 9-year old doesn’t look to me like he’s saying that at all.

    I don’t think it is too scary, but, then again I took my seven year old to see Happy-Go-Lucky, which was rated R. I saw it first, then I took him. I did NOT take him to see Wall-E. I am far more ready to discuss the necking and real-life-type situations of Happy-Go-Lucky than to discuss the casual, oblivious racism of Wall-E. (In that spaceship circling the earth, waiting for it to be clean, I recall seeing a sea of white faces. Great. Make the earth safe for white people, little robot!)

    We all have our standards and there are obviously parents who think that having their child(ren) seeing a child exhibit real emotions about an imaginary world is something more than they (the parents) can handle.

  • JoshDM

    That one scene with Richards and Campbell with Dillon looking on was almost too hot for my 2-year-old.

  • Drave

    I don’t think it’s too much for children, but I also don’t think that the majority of children would necessarily enjoy it all that much. Really, though, it does depend on the child. I agree that WB has not been aiming the marketing at children. Most of the trailers I have seen have bored children, but have moved many of my adult friends to tears. Now that I think about it, all the television ads I have seen have been during prime time shows.

  • doa766

    haven’t seen it yet but I don’t think any movie is too dangerous for children

    I remember going to the movies with my day when I was about 10 years old to see stuff like Robocop 2 or Terminator 2 and it didn’t have any negative effect on me, all the contrary those movies made start loving movies in general

    and movie lovers are usually great people: non violent, open minded, thoughtful, smart, never discriminatory, etc, we deal with all that shit on movies so we know the right choices when the time comes

  • Matt

    LOL @ the giant tool who is seriously claiming there is racism in WALL-E. You clearly weren’t paying attention if you saw no one of color on The Axiom. In fact there was quite a diverse crowd up there. Why don’t you go to IMDb and troll, that’s where idiots who think every film is racist belong, as trolls.

  • In that spaceship circling the earth, waiting for it to be clean, I recall seeing a sea of white faces. Great. Make the earth safe for white people, little robot!

    And here I thought it was kinda cool that Eve would always pronounce her name as if it was “Eva,” the Spanish equivalent of “Eve.” :-(

  • Brian

    Caveat emptor, parents. If you can’t help your kids to confront their fears in a fictional story, how are you going to teach them to do it when it really matters? Furthermore, if you can’t be bothered to do the leg work it takes to find out if something is appropriate for your child, what does that say about your attentiveness and responsibility as a parent?

  • LaSargenta

    Matt, I beg to differ with this:

    In fact there was quite a diverse crowd up there.

    When I think of a representative sampling of the earth, I don’t expect it to have one (or one plus the obligatory second) of each non-white “type” with white as the default unless specified as otherwise.

  • amanohyo

    doa766, that’s a bit too extreme for me. I actually think the Saw movies are too dangerous for many adults. There’s no reason for small kids to be subjected to graphic violence. Conseual sex and nudity? Sure, if it’s not gratuitous. But even make believe violence can leave lasting scars on kids, even those with fantastic, supportive parents. I’ve taught small kids and seen the kind of behavior that can result from parents that are too lax when it comes to controlling what their children are exposed to.

    Clearly there are many examples where the kid turns out just fine, but when I see small kids (under 12) watching movies (or worse, playing games) where they chop people’s heads off with a chainsaw, stab prostitutes, or make someone’s head explode with a sniper rifle (and this includes movies like Saving Private Ryan), I can’t help but think that their parents have made a poor choice.

  • Accounting Ninja

    It depends on the kid. I was (and still am) rather sensitive to graphic violence. But many of my friends weren’t. I remember being 13 and trying to enjoy a Night Of The Living Dead movie with my friend but all it did was give me bad dreams and racing thoughts. I put on a brave front though!

    But I know that about myself, and am comfortable with never seeing a Saw movie. But I do like creepy/scary, as long as it isn’t gross.

    My son is five, and he too is sensitive to violence and scariness. But, even I, the gigantic wimp, try to encourage him to watch things that aren’t all rainbows and sunshine. As long as it doesn’t have any bloody violence, I don’t see the problem with heavy themes, suggestive scariness, or even non-graphic sex.

    Every parent needs to know their kid. I probably wouldn’t take my son to a theater to see WTWTA, because he might get scared in a dark theater. But we might rent it. BUT, that doesn’t mean I think it’s “not for kids” or is inappropriate for children!

    Just because something contains heavier themes than Dora the Explorer finding her way to Candy Mountain doesn’t mean kids can’t enjoy it.

    LOL @ the giant tool who is seriously claiming there is racism in WALL-E. You clearly weren’t paying attention if you saw no one of color on The Axiom. In fact there was quite a diverse crowd up there. Why don’t you go to IMDb and troll, that’s where idiots who think every film is racist belong, as trolls.

    LaSargenta is not a troll, numbnuts. Don’t you love the assertion that, because she had a complaint about one movie, now she thinks “every film is racist”. I’m willing to bet you’re a white teenage/20 something guy who doesn’t ever like to admit his beloved geek culture can be just as racist as anything else.

    Btw, this white woman also noticed all the white (or near-white), homogenous faces.

  • LaSargenta

    Now, now Accounting Ninja,

    LaSargenta is not a troll, numbnuts.

    I am very grateful you’ve got my back and admittedly I agree with you that Matt might be asking for some backchat; however, must we insult his genetalia when his mind makes such a tempting and juicy target?

    ;-)

  • MaryAnn

    I remember going to the movies with my day when I was about 10 years old to see stuff like Robocop 2 or Terminator 2 and it didn’t have any negative effect on me

    How do you know?

    LaSargenta is not a troll, numbnuts.

    Thanks, Ninja. LaSargenta is a respected commenter round these parts.

    I have to confess that I, white woman, did not notice a lack of nonwhite faces in *Wall-E,* but now I’ll have to have another look…

  • shedd

    Are we really gonna pretend WALL-E was overtly racist? The two main characters were in many ways different “races” after all. Racism is real and this white 20-something is more than aware of that, but WALL-E was too fabulous a movie (with plenty positive messages) to dismiss offhand because there seemed to be more white faces than you’d like on the Axiom.

    Anyway, WTWTA. I understand that the movie is based on a kid’s book, but the truth is that it really doesn’t seem to be meant for kids. It definitely wasn’t marketed that way. BUT, it is such an honest representation of childhood that I don’t think taking a young-ish child to see it should be dismissed outright. Parents should know what their kids can and can’t handle, so some simple research via Google should answer questions as to whether or not a specific child would be ok with the movie.

  • bitchen frizzy

    –“Are we really gonna pretend WALL-E was overtly racist? The two main characters were in many ways different “races” after all. Racism is real and this white 20-something is more than aware of that, but WALL-E was too fabulous a movie (with plenty positive messages) to dismiss offhand because there seemed to be more white faces than you’d like on the Axiom.”

    I’d like to know the screenwriters’ full intentions, because the orbiting lifeboat full of white faces could either be racist or another indictment of humanity. It isn’t racist to acknowledge racism or to say that life ain’t fair…

    …movies based on the Titanic disaster make the point that the lifeboats held a disproportionate number of first-class passengers. Are those movies elitist?

    In all probability, the screenwriters didn’t put that much thought into it, but maybe in the consumerist society that trashed the Earth, the people in orbit were the ones with the money or connections to get there.

    Nah. But the writers might still have thought that they covered their bases by putting a few nonwhite faces there. After all, most whites are staggered by the realization that only about 5%-10% of the world’s population is white.

  • Accounting Ninja

    @ bitchen frizzy: That’s a very interesting point. But since the movie really doesn’t deal with it one way or another, we can only speculate. My vote is: They didn’t think about it and “covered their bases” with a couple non-white faces.

    But just because I noticed it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movie. I’m so used to just accepting the “token” minorities and females in movies and tv that if I DIDN’T watch anything that clearly didn’t think about race/gender disparities, I’d never watch anything. :)

    Are we really gonna pretend WALL-E was overtly racist?

    But it WASN’T overtly racist. It was subtlely, almost invisibly, racist. And that’s even worse. So part of the culture that no one notices the omission of non-white faces on the Axiom. Sometimes the omissions sting more than overt insults.

    I am very grateful you’ve got my back and admittedly I agree with you that Matt might be asking for some backchat; however, must we insult his genetalia when his mind makes such a tempting and juicy target?

    ;-)

    You know, I thought about that after I wrote it. Especially since I was waxing all egalitarian before about gendered insults and how I don’t like to use them.

    But then I thought, Fuck it. I don’t like when some know-nothing idiot insults my peeps. Even if y’all are internets peeps. ;)

  • Btw, this white woman also noticed all the white (or near-white), homogenous faces.

    Yes, and this son of a Mexican father and a white Polish-American mother noticed it too.

    Then again I notice that aspect in all too many movies and TV shows and I remembered joking on the old Cinemarati forum about how odd it was that a certain favorite fantasy show set in Southern California had an acute lack of certain ethnic groups found in Southern California.

    That said, I must confess that you have to pick your battles on this issue.

    After all, I would hardly argue that the worst issue facing minorities today are the fact that there are too many damn white faces on the damn movies and TV shows.

    Ay, dios! If only that were true.

  • LOL @ the giant tool who is seriously claiming there is racism in WALL-E. You clearly weren’t paying attention if you saw no one of color on The Axiom. In fact there was quite a diverse crowd up there. Why don’t you go to IMDb and troll, that’s where idiots who think every film is racist belong, as trolls.

    Ah, more gracious living.

    Look, I disagree with LaSargenta on a lot of issues but I wouldn’t call her a tool or troll or even just insult her for disagreeing with me.

    Then again my parents taught me manners…

  • But it WASN’T overtly racist. It was subtlely, almost invisibly, racist. And that’s even worse. So part of the culture that no one notices the omission of non-white faces on the Axiom. Sometimes the omissions sting more than overt insults.

    Then again, always seeing the type of people you grew up with be solely represented by a maid or a gardener or worse yet, a crook, isn’t all that great either.

    But I suspect I’m arguing in circles now.

    Mea culpa.

  • Accounting Ninja

    D’oh! I should have said “It’s ALMOST worse”. Of course, the overt racism is worse. But with this subtle kind, no one believes you (or LaSargenta) when it’s called out. Especially in this “post-racism, post-sexism” (HA) society, where everyone likes to think we are “beyond” it.

  • JoshB

    The Axiom was anchored, if I recall, in New York, or at the very least some other large U.S. city. Whites may make up only 5-10% of Earth’s population, but they still make up the majority of the U.S. population.

    Btw, this white woman

    I have to confess that I, white woman

    Yes, and this son of a Mexican father and a white Polish-American mother

    I’m a Mexican-Irish mutt. Am I more allowed to shrug at Wall E’s lack of diversity than the pureblood blancos?

  • doa766

    @MaryAnn: How do I know that watching violent movies when I was a kid didn’t have any negative effect on me? Well for one thing I didn’t do any of the things adults things kids will do if they watch violent movies like trying to replicate what’s on the screen with real people or having nightmares or growing up thinking that problems are best solved with violence, all the contrary

    the thing is that I just don’t see how watching a violent movie might affect negatively a child (or an adult for that matter) besides being shocked/impressed on the theater when the violence takes place but that effect is no different from kids going on a rollercoster

    a lot of movies or cartoons or TV shows aimed at kids are extremely violent but not explicit (like Spy Kids, Narnia, etc) and I think that might be really bad for kids because they don’t see the consequences of the violence

    kids should see movies where the guns and violence have real effect on people to learn what they shouldn’t do

    otherwise they might grow up to think that saying things like “bring it on” to the other side of an armed conflict makes you look cool

  • doa766

    Wall-E racist?

    in any case it’s racist towards white people because we don’t see any black guys falling victims of that regime where people are controlled not by coercion but by pleasure, according to the movie they know better than that

  • shreck

    For me there’s an argument on this topic that often gets missed: all things in moderation.

    There are a few scenes in movies I saw as a kid that stick out in my memory and most of them are shocking. Of course now they seem timid but at 6 or 8 or even 12 there were movies that managed to truly shock me and leave an impression. I find it healty though. It really made me fear, made me curious, made me think about my own mortality, my own weakness, my own vulerability. However, I rarely saw anything that had these types of images. I had friends though, violent, careless friends whose parents seemingly cared less about what their kids saw and their kids saw everything. Were violent movies the only influence? Of course not. There did seem to be a link, though.

    I had my first drink at 9. My dad gave it to me. There was an understanding though, that it was an adult beverage, this is what it tastes like, and you should be able to respect it for what it is. It was the same with violence and sex in movies: if there was an opportunity to learn, or my parents didn’t pre-screen some show or another (rare!) then it was a growing opportunity.

    All things in moderation. Except politcal talk shows. Stay away kids!

    shreck

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