Australian Council on Children and the Media

Where the Wild Things Are

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Not recommended under 9, and PG to 11 (Scary Scenes, Violence, Themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Where the Wild Things Are
  • a review of Where the Wild Things Are completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 3 December 2009.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 9 Not recommended due to scary scenes and violence
Children aged 9-11 parental guidance recommended due to scary scenes and violence
Children aged 11 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Where the Wild Things Are
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild violence and scary scenes
Length 101 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Based on the picture book by Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are is about a young boy named Max (Max Records) with a vivid imagination, who travels to an island by boat and befriends the wild monsters who live there. The movie differs from the book in that Max actually travels to the island, after having an argument with his Mum (Catherine Keener) and running away from home.

Max travels across the ocean and is washed up in a storm onto an island inhabited by monstrous looking Wild Things who are very much like savage children themselves. In order to save his life he tells them that he has special powers that can fix their problems and in response they decide to make him King of all the Wild Things with the understanding that under his rule they will be happy and everything will be exactly as they have always dreamed it could be. There he meets an aggressive male Wild Thing named Carol (voice of Gandolfini) who, fortunately for Max, decides not to eat him and becomes his friend. A depressed Judith (voice of Catherine O’Hara) is not so sure and is more suspicious of Max. Eventually they believe Max’s story that he’s a king and make him their own king.

At first Max does a great job. His wild rumpus brings them all together, his plans for a huge, impenetrable fortress where they can all sleep in a big pile are going well, everyone is helping and cooperating but slowly differences of opinion begin to arise, loyalties are questioned and Carol begins to show a far more darker and dangerous side. It is only after Max barely escapes with his life that he begins to appreciate what he had before and begins to realize that what the Wild Things need is not king, but a Mum.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Loneliness; family relationships and breakdown, depression, elements of domestic violence

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Max aggressively kicks and yells at a fence.
  • Max initiates a snowball fight with some of his sister’s friends. They fight back and wind up collapsing his igloo while Max is inside it. Although Max is crying, his sister doesn’t do anything to help him.
  • Angry at his sister Max runs into her room and destroys something he’d made for her. He makes a huge mess and gets snow and water all over her bed and carpet.
  • Max stands on the counter and shouts at his mother: “Feed me woman!” He refuses to get down and when she pulls him off the counter he bites her. Max is dropped to the ground and then runs away into the woods.
  • In a rage Carol smashes the wild things’ homes. He throws another wild thing through the air and he crashes through the house.
  • Max joins in and tries to destroy other houses as well.
  • The wild things threaten to eat Max, repeatedly.
  • Max’s crown is taken from a pile of bones. The remains belong to previous kings who have all been eaten by the wild things.
  • During the wild rumpus there is a lot of jumping, crashing and knocking into one another, there is hitting with sticks and head butting. Max is nearly bumped off a cliff and crushed by a falling tree.
  • KW pushes Max down a sand dune.
  • KW hits two birds with stones, knocking both of them out of the air. She then picks them up and carries them like footballs under her arms insisting that they like it.
  • Max decrees that there will be a war. They divide into a good side and a bad side and they throw dirt clods at each other. Max is hit in the head. Alexander is knocked off his feet and although he is down and says that he is hurt Max instructs someone to hit him again. The next clod hits him in the head. We later see a dirty, matted gash on the side of his face.
  • KW steps on Carol’s head. This puts Carol into a foul mood.
  • When Max asks for a small secret compartment in the fort Carol gets angry, punches a hole in the wall and wanders off in a rage.
  • In a fury Carol rips Douglas’ arm off his body. Douglas is later seen with a prosthetic (stick) limb.
  • Carol lunges at Max and chases him through the woods screaming “I’ll eat you up!” in a terrifying and ferocious tone.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The Wild Things themselves are scary. They have enormous heads and gnashing teeth and often appear very menacing or violent. Many young viewers could be scared by these images alone Max runs away into the woods, which are dark and scary.
  • The movie opens with Max chasing a dog down the stairs, there is shouting and screaming and falling while the dog tries desperately to get away. The savage chase leads them downstairs where Max throws himself on the animal and roughly clasps the dog in his arms.
  • After Max has a fight with his mum he runs away into the woods. It is dark and creepy and there are screams and wild howls accompanied by intense music.
  • Max’s boat is nearly smashed against rocks that jut out from the island where the Wild Things live. The sea is a swirling, raging mess of towering waves and pounding surf and Max struggles desperately to get to shore without being dashed to pieces. Waves crash over his head and he must, at one stage, jump into the water. There scene is very intense and many children would be concerned for Max, although he manages to scramble onto the beach in one piece.
  • The Wild Things crowd around Max and Judith tells him that they “eat their problems.” They close in on him in a menacing fashion while asking if he has sharp bones. Max is clearly frightened while he tries to tell them that they can’t eat him. The threat “I’ll eat you up.” is present throughout the film.
  • Max’s school teacher explains to his class of young, impressionable, students that the sun is going to die. That the universe that we know will cease to exist and that our world will end. He goes on to talk about the many ways that it could potentially end including earthquakes, global warming and various calamities all the while oblivious that he is frightening some of his students. Max was very disturbed by what his teacher had said and even broaches the topic with Carol asking him if he knew that the sun was going to die. This could be potentially distressing for other younger viewers.
  • While Carol is sleeping he is dreaming about harming Max. Max lies awake next to him watching as his sharp claws gouge the ground and Carol mutters in his sleep about getting him. Max is clearly frightened and is becoming wearier of Carol. The other Wild Things begin to warn him not to let Carol know that he isn’t really a King.
  • When Carol finds out that Max is not really a King he freaks out and literally tears Douglas’ arm right off his body. He then goes after Max, chasing him through a darkened forest while shrieking war cries ring out above the music. Max runs for his life. There is no question that Carol aims to kill him (though he later says that he wouldn’t have). Max hides from him by climbing inside KW’s mouth and hiding in her stomach. After Carol has gone KW’s throat begins to close up and Max says he is having rouble breathing. For a moment it is unclear as to whether he will get out of her stomach alive or not, then she reaches down and pulls him out through her mouth. He is covered in slimy goo, but is otherwise unharmed.
  • Throughout the film in every chase scene or any scene that involves running the camera becomes extremely unsteady as if the camera operator were running too. The camera angles, images and footage are often dizzying and nauseating and when coupled with an intense scene and scary music they could be very unsettling to some viewers.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the above mentioned scenes and characters

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Younger children in this age group may also be scared by some of the above mentioned scenes and by the scene where Max’s teacher at school tells the class about the eventual death of the sun and alarms the children with the impending doom of planet Earth.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing of concern

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

None of concern

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern

Use of substances

Social drinking among adults

Coarse language

None of concern

In a nutshell

Where the Wild Things Are is a dark, fantasy, adventure being promoted as a children’s film but is entirely unsuitable for young audiences. Fans of the book may well want to see it but they should be forewarned that any similarities end with the costumes and characters and that the plot of the movie heads in a far more sinister direction. There is also a lot of handheld camera footage.

The main messages from this movie are that sometimes you don’t realize what you have until it is gone. Be grateful for family and for those that love you for who or what you are.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include

  • Independence
  • Resourcefulness
  • Taking responsibility for your own actions
  • Forgiveness

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as

  • Running away from your problems instead of facing them or talking about them.
  • Using violence as a means to solve conflict.
  • Taking out your aggression on others.
  • Taking unnecessary or dangerous risks.
  • Destroying other people’s property.
  • The lack of parent child communication.
  • Making others believe that you’re something you’re not.
  • Role reversals and the fact that Max took on the role of leader or adult for the wild things, despite the fact that he is just a child himself.

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