Mischief of one kind and another.

Two blogs I read linked to this interesting article about children’s movies. Here’s an excellent passage from it:

The impulse to protect children from these kinds of stories is understandable. Like adults, they experience plenty of hard feelings in their daily lives — at home, on the playground, in the classroom, in their dreams — and they may want, as we do, to use movies and books as a form of escape. Bright colors, easy lessons and thrilling rides that end safely and predictably on terra firma have their place. But so, surely, do representations of the grimmer, thornier thickets of experience. That’s what art is, and surely our children deserve some of that too. Which includes movies that elicit displeasure and argument along with rapture.

Sometimes we make too much of the division between generations, which is after all not a gap but a continuum. Every adult is a former child, just as every child is an incipient adult, and at their best, children’s film and literature (which of course are almost never made by children themselves) is an attempt to communicate across this distance. Young viewers may see a premonition of what lies ahead as well as a sympathetic rendering of what they already know, whereas adults may find pleasure in recalling old hurts and relief that they are not at the mercy of them.

I am an unabashed lover of children’s books and an unabashed hater of children’s movies. Children’s books often have bigger things to say about the human experience (at least, the children’s books I read do. I am not talking about Captain Underpants here. Though I have never read Captain Underpants. Perhaps he has quite a lot to say about the human condition) and children’s movies are often aimed at the lowest common denominator. I know that you are going to start yelling at me, and the sentences you yell at me will begin with the word Pixar. But you must understand that I am so soured on animated movies in general that I just can’t bring myself to sit through any Pixar ones. Haven’t seen Finding Nemo. Or Cars. Or Up. Or Wall-E. (I saw The Incredibles and didn’t like it.) Maybe I will one day. But I haven’t yet. Because of all the other animated films with the poop jokes. (Note: I do enjoy a good poop joke. Just not a whole movie of them.)

Mike saw Where the Wild Things Are twice before he took me. Since he saw the trailer (which was sublime), he has been declaring that it would be his favorite movie of all time. Which is kind of a lot of pressure. When I finally went to see it, I felt that it did not live up to the glorious trailer, but I agree with the article above – it has a depth to it that many adult movies don’t manage (I am looking at you, romantic comedies).

As a child, I was drawn to books with big questions that had no easy answers. I think that my students are drawn to these kinds of questions, too. In middle school, what I see the most is students asking questions about who they are and whether it is possible to change that. Can I reinvent myself? Can I get new friends? Who would I be if I changed? Max asks that question, too. Can he be the king of the wild things? What does it mean to trade one set of “family” for another?

In the end, though it was not a perfect movie, I would cast my vote for more like it rather than more lame romantic comedies or more animated poop fests. I would rather that we were teaching our children to ask big questions. I would rather cast aside the idea that families (and life) can be perfect and instead focus on making the most of what we have.

A wild rumpus is a good thing. But as we all learn, including Max, it’s good to be safe at home again, too.

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