Tuesday, October 13, 2009


What kinds of surprises or fears can kids tolerate? At least, in books and movies? Children's book author Maurice Sendak says in a Newsweek interview that the publishers of his book "Where the Wild Things Are" wanted him to change the line on the last page from "The soup was still hot" to "The soup was still warm." That's because "hot" seemed to imply that the kid would burn himself. He says "it turned into a real word war," and as any fan of the book knows, Sendak won. 

The group interview is with Sendak, and two of the creatives behind the new film adaptation of his famous book -- director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers. Jonze says the studio "thought I was making a children's film and I thought I was making a film about childhood." In the end, the studio let them make the film they wanted -- one that doesn't gloss over the rough emotions of childhood. Sendak says American films tend to be Disneyfied, and remove all the scary bits. I see what he means, but of course several Disney movies (such as "Bambi" and "The Lion King") feature a child losing a parent, or other traumas. Sendak seems to acknowledge this when he points out that Mickey Mouse used to have teeth -- literally! -- and that he, Sendak, stopped liking Mickey when he was turned into a "schmaltzer," a cuddly character.  Sendak says, "We don't want children to suffer. But what do we do about the fact that they do? The trick is to turn that into art. Not to scare children, that's never our intention."

Dave Eggers points to the film version of "The Wizard of Oz." That's some pretty upsetting stuff, what with Toto getting taken and the house being sucked up in the tornado, and the wicked witch. "But there is something at stake," says Eggers, "and ultimately kids do want something at stake." Maybe that requires that they be a little scared.

One last little note. The Newsweek interviewer asks, "What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?" Sendak replies, "I would tell them to go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate."

Again, check out the whole fun interview, by Ramin Setoodeh and Andrew Romano, here

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