'Where the Wild Things Are' brain trust Spike Jonze, David Eggers, and Maurice Sendak don't care if their movie scares kids

While the chatter about this Friday’s release of Where the Wild Things Are hasn’t exactly reached wild rumpus-like proportions, the filmmakers did their best to spark a little brushfire of controversy in Newsweek today. Jonze, Eggers, and Sendak gathered in Sendak’s living room for what was supposed to be a free-flowing conversation about what it was like for three geniuses to harmonically converge on one project. But at eighty years old, Sendak had no interest in spoon-feeding platitudes to the press. Instead, he and Jonze and Eggers lamented how vanilla childhood in America has become. Worrywart parents aren’t doing their kids any favors by depriving them of their right to get scared out of their minds watching movies or reading books. Scarytales are character building and virtually guarantees a stormy artistic temperament if not a legit career as an artist. This rant made me stop and think about how I spent most of my childhood watching wildly inappropriate movies like the deeply-creepy futuristic cannibalism-tinged Soylent Green. I still can’t forget the image of the big bulldozers rolling through city streets and scooping up fleeing crowds of people to turn them into nutritious biscuits. Nothing that happened to me in real life came close to keeping me up at night the way that and other movies did. But now I wonder if my mom didn’t do me a favor by setting me up for that kind of terror. If these guys are to be believed, the only thing we have to fear for our children is the lack of fear itself. I gotta say, I kind of agree that we’re short changing kids by letting them fill their minds with Disney schmaltz instead of quality filmmaking.

What are the movies that scared the crap out of you as a kid and/or the ones that depressed you with heavy emotional turmoil? Do you think that experience had a net positive or negative effect on you? And do you think we need to relax the parental guidance standards a little to allow for challenging material like Pan’s Labyrinth or even Harold and Maude? And are you, as an adult, interested in seeing the children’s book-based Where the Wild Things Are?

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  • Loper


  • Caitlin

    I’m 19, and I’m terrified of this movie. I’ll see it anyway, because I loved the book. But Im still scared. :(

  • Alex

    The nuclear holocaust depicted in 1983’s ‘The Day After’ was particularly terrifying to behold at age 10. I don’t know if it instilled an artistic temperament per se, but it certainly instilled an indelible image of the real world consequences of the Cold War. As a kid, I never wanted to be “protected” from knowing or seeing anything!

    • AA

      That was a great one, as was “Threads,” which came out the same year or the year before (I think). BBC production, nuclear holocaust, followed the survivors for 10 years I think.

  • BoMoh

    I definitely plan on seeing this movie, but I’m not sure if I would bring kids to it. It looks a little intense, and frankly I’d feel bad if I took my nephew to the movies and he had nightmares as a result. I remember that most of my terrifying memories as a child came from watching tv without my parent’s permission. Definitely character building, but I don’t think I’d ensure that my kids had the same experience.

  • ps in seattle

    I don’t think this movie will be any scarier than the book. This was actually one of my college textbooks for Children’s Lit, and it was pointed out that even though Max goes to live and cavort with monsters he never appears afraid, and children notice that and also are not afraid. Also, in the trailer the monsters don’t have monster voices, one even has a “mommy” voice. Don’t underestimate kids, they’ll be fine.

    • superso

      agreed. took children’s lit twice (because i enjoyed it so much, not because i failed it, haha) and WTWTA was required reading in both. we had the same discussion. i’m definitely planning on seeing it, not sure how i’ll feel if we see any small kids in the theater, though.

  • Cate

    The best kids movies are always the ones that are infused with a little darkness. Sanitizing everything your child watches just makes for bland, naive adults.

  • Kelly

    One of my friends let me watch Child’s Play at her house when I was little and then threw her brother’s Chucky doll at me. I still am scared of dolls.

    • Josie

      Same here. A friends birthday party when we were 7 or 8. Her older brothers showed us Child’s Play when her parents went to bed. Still can’t watch these movies without nightmares!

  • Erin

    Oh I don’t worry about today’s kids. “Up” certainly wasn’t all warm and fuzzy and though I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, older/potentially scarier movies were on TV all the time for me to watch. Namely, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” That chocolate river boat ride is *still* scary to me even now. Hopefully, they’ll bring back a revamped “Are You Afraid of the Dark” for the next gen. And let’s not forget books. Alvin Schwartz’ Scary Stories series were terrifying as a kid. The illustrations kept me up nights: http://lh6.ggpht.com/_5L_v3TaHj2M/Sd5C8pcd94I/AAAAAAAAEGI/V0pRrthu8ro/s512/8bad1ecf.gif

    • stephanie

      you really posted that pic?! you are wrong for that

  • crispy

    My parents let me which Poltergeist when I was about 10 years old. To this day, I cannot go to bed with the TV set on.

  • Chris

    One thing I find reassuring is that the filmmakers seem dedicated to the vision they’ve put forth, and not compromise their integrity; so long as they aren’t making the film scary in spite of the child audience that WtWTA is bound to attract (regardless of how many warnings are put forth ahead of time).

    As for scary children’s movies I remember as a kid, there’s a few. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory had some intense moments: The Psychedelic Ferry Boat ride, the stern Wonka lecture in his-half office, and anything involving Slugworth.

    Following that, I’d add Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, most notably one character: Large Marge.

    And finally Dary O’Gill and the little People. The Banshee and Phantom Carriage still freak me out.

    As for Movies I prolly shouldna seen as a kid, I would mention The Lady in White, Flowers in the Attic, and any of the Basketcase movies .

    • Lynny

      My sister and I would run up and put our faces to the set for the Large Marge part of that movie. It was awesomely scary.

      • Dixie

        Hee hee, Large Marge! I still have to brace myself for that part!

    • shana

      stop it. i had completely repressed all memory of Flowers in the Attic, until i read this post. now the image of those creepy platinum blond kids staring out from their little window keeps flashing thru my head… shivers. and Basketcase! there are no words. just, no.

  • TL

    Uh… Pan’s Labyrinth? For kids? That movie disturbed me to the core — and I was 38 when I saw it!

    • Amy

      I completely agree. Are you SERIOUS? Excellent story and movie, but any value it would have for kids would be entirely negated by how profoundly disturbing it is. I know plenty of adults (myself included) who were freaked out by this movie. As for me, Labyrinth scared the royal bejesus out of me – that whole musical number where those dudes throw their heads and body parts around? Still makes my skin crawl…

    • Penny

      Agreed! In now way is Pan’s Labyrinth appropriate for children. It makes adults sqeamish.

  • ct

    when i was a kid, i LOVED the dark crystal. it’s essentially about genocide, addiction, death and there’s a little good over evil thrown in too. this movie would never get made today. even the cartoon gem had her father’s death and funeral in the first episode. there is no need to completely overprotect children.

    • Kim

      Oooh, the Dark Crystal is a GREAT movie! I have it on DVD, I should watch it again sometime. Totally has a lot of scary parts for kids, but everything is resolved fairly positively and I think it’s good for kids to see increasing increments of scariness/darkness in their entertainment as they age. How else can they be prepared to handle their fright in the often-terrifying real world in which we live?

    • Anne Marie

      I was just talking about the Dark Crystal yesterday because I think a certain Senator from Maine resembles a Skeksis (which is mean, I know, but I can’t help it). My younger coworkers didn’t know about the Dark Crystal and I definitely said that is the scariest movie meant for little kids. That and the Labyrinth. Even though it scared the bejesus out of me, I would still let my niece and nephew watch. It’s a way for kids to be introduced to complicated issues on a level that they can understand.

  • ashley

    wow, alot of cartoons from the 90’s, actually! Mr. Hyde from the Pagemaster gave me nightmares. I love the movie.
    AND FANTASIA! holy crap. that movie IS NOT appropriate for children. But i watched it all the time. At one point (when i was like 8) when i thought lava was in the living room and was going to kill me. Oh, yeah. :)

  • Meredith44

    I think it depends on the child. I was fine with reading violence and scary stuff (my mother read the Greek myths and “real” fairy tales to me as a child), but I could not handle seeing it on the screen. Something about actually seeing it freaked me out to no end (even things that one wouldn’t guess would be that scary). I once pulled a triple all-nighter because I was so scared of sleeping! My sister, on the other hand, was scared by virtually nothing and watched things at a rather young age (like Friday the 13th the Series) that one wouldn’t really think would be appropriate. Parents should know what works for their children and adapt.

    And I haven’t decided if I’m going to see the movie. The book is such a classic, one that I read to my classes every year. I’m not sure I want to have it expanded and moved from the realm of my imagination to the screen.

  • wildecat

    In my experience, the people who insist that children should be exposed to dark and scary images for their “character” have never had the unique pleasure of having to lay down and help their child go to sleep every night for a week (at least) because said child got terrified by some image in a movie. Jonze, Eggers, Sendak – all childless. I’ll stick with being a “worrywart parent,” thank you very much.

    • wildecat

      Oops, Eggers actually had kids. Oh well. I still stick by my point.

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