Late Night, Illness-Fueled Ramblings on Where the Wild Things Are
It’s been a weird day. My 21-month-son and I are both sick this week; we’re sharing a fairly awful head cold. I don’t know what it feels like for a toddler, but Neil Finn’s son once described it as Pineapple Head, and that seems a fairly apt description. My brain feels chunky, but thanks to parenthood, I’m not allowed to wallow in self-pity, which is my natural inclination. My kid is woozy. He has permanent bedhead, a runny nose, and Kathleen Turner’s voice after a six-carton night in a speakeasy. Nothing’s as painfully helpless as hearing your kid’s phlegmy cough and hoarse babbling.
He’s also been unusually cuddly. During much of the afternoon, he sidled up next to me on the couch and insisted we read Where the Wild Things Are. On repeat. I’d read a few words, turn the page, and he’d pick up the next sentence — uttering words half of which he probably doesn’t understand. He just loves the way they sound, the routine, and — I’d like to think — the possibilities they represent.
All of which is to say, I was feeling hyperemotional when I watched the Where the Wild Things Are trailer. It gutted me. I’ve watched it 12 - 15 times since this afternoon, and the images in the trailer, combined with this cold, have had a nostalgic affect. I feel like I did when I was 11, home from school, wrapped up in blankets with a 101 fever, watching The Princess Bride or Neverending Story to get me through the day. I’ve ambled about with that flutter, brain-mush feeling most of the day.
But tonight, as I sat back down to pore through the trade news, I caught a piece by Jeffrey Wells over on Hollywood Elsewhere (via Spout) that absolutely floored me, and had me wondering how this guy could possibly be writing about movies if his capacity to allow in that childhood magic had all but evaporated. In reference to the release of the trailer, Wells wrote:
I don’t want to see Where The Wild Things Are because I don’t like movies about kids. Not any more. Exceptions will always occur (and thank god for that), but I pretty much don’t give a damn about coming-of-age movies or learning-a-tough-lesson movies or movies about young kids going through an adventure that changes their life and/or has a profound impact. Really, throw all that shit out the window.
I’ll tell you one reason why I’m not the only one thinking this. The Great Recession has been scaring the hell out of people, and with everyone getting down to brass tacks and doing what they can to survive parents are realizing that they haven’t done their kids any favors by funding a cut-off, over-indulged fantasy realm for them to live in. That’s what the Wall Street pirates have been doing in a sense since Bush came in and look what happened.
Kids need to grow up and grim up and learn the skills and disciplines that will allow them to survive. So enough with the Spielberg-aping films that portray a child’s world as a magical-fantastical kingdom in and of itself that adults might be able to learn something from …
… I hate teenager movies unless they have characters who remind me of myself when I was 16 or 17, which is to say a kid with at least a semblance of a brain and a semi-developed vocabulary and actual curiosity about the world outside his/her immediate realm. Twilight met that test for me — I believed in that film almost all the way through.
Maybe it’s the cold-medicine speaking, but reading that actually made me feel sad. I’ll concede that decent kids movies are few and far between (and the same can be said for teenage movies), but to not only dismiss the entire genre, but to also suggest that parents need to get down to the “brass tacks” and strip away their kid’s magical kingdoms strikes me as … depressing. “Kids need to grow up and grim up”? God, what an awful thought.
There’s a paragraph in the opening pages of Robert McCammon’s This Boy’s Life that summed up why, even if I loathe 70 percent of what I see in the theater, I still love to go to the movies. I don’t remember exactly how it went, but it described how — during the few moments after a really great film, before you walk back outside and the sunlight brings you back to reality — you’re able to resurrect, even fleetingly, your child-like sense of wonder. It sits in your chest and effervesces and you can almost feel yourself, at age 12 again, riding your bike down a steep hill with one hand out, waving it into the shutters of wind.
That’s how watching that Where the Wild Things Are trailer made me feel this afternoon. And no matter how big of an asshole we collectively become here on this site, I hope to hell we never come to a point where we’re completely willing to write off the possibility that a kid’s movie, or a teenager movie, can make us feel that way again. Even a food critic, after all, will at least try the Ratatouille before completely dismissing it.
And in case you missed it, or want to see it again, here’s that trailer: