Maurice Sendak's 1963 children's book 'Where the Wild Things Are' is nine sentences of pure, unadulterated childhood nostalgia. Reading or listening to a parent read Sendak's words while staring slack-jawed at the gorgeous, detailed, hyper-imaginative illustrations of the titular fantastical beasts has become as intrinsic a part of growing up as learning the ABCs.

The book is a work of surprising poignancy for something so utterly brief and simple -- and for almost two decades now filmmakers have labored fruitlessly to flesh it out and bring it to the big screen. That will all change on Oct. 16, when the world Sendak conjured four-and-a-half decades ago at long last comes to breathtaking life in a live-action feature film steered into theaters by the equally unbridled mind of director Spike Jonze.

But now that our prayers have been answered and the Wild Things and their mischievous boy-king Max are here in all their howling, teeth-gnashing glory, does the movie live up to fans' 'Wild'-est dreams? And equally as important, is it suitable for kids? Or is it an "adult" movie about a kid, rendered too scarily for small children?

The short answers are: Yes, yes ... and probably not. The long answers are a wee bit more complex. Maurice Sendak's 1963 children's book 'Where the Wild Things Are' is nine sentences of pure, unadulterated childhood nostalgia. Reading or listening to a parent read Sendak's words while staring slack-jawed at the gorgeous, detailed, hyper-imaginative illustrations of the titular fantastical beasts has become as intrinsic a part of growing up as learning the ABCs.

The book is a work of surprising poignancy for something so utterly brief and simple -- and for almost two decades now filmmakers have labored fruitlessly to flesh it out and bring it to the big screen. That will all change on Oct. 16, when the world Sendak conjured four-and-a-half decades ago at long last comes to breathtaking life in a live-action feature film steered into theaters by the equally unbridled mind of director Spike Jonze.

But now that our prayers have been answered and the Wild Things and their mischievous boy-king Max are here in all their howling, teeth-gnashing glory, does the movie live up to fans' 'Wild'-est dreams? And equally as important, is it suitable for kids? Or is it an "adult" movie about a kid, rendered too scarily for small children?

The short answers are: Yes, yes ... and probably not. The long answers are a wee bit more complex.


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For grownups with fond memories of reading the book to their children or having been children whose parents lovingly read the story to them, 'Wild Things' is a sheer delight -- an emotionally true, visually stunning rendering of the book with a more satisfyingly developed plot. Max (Max Records) still wears the iconic wolf suit, of course, but instead of being a little brat for no good reason, he acts up because his big sister won't give him the time of day and his divorced mom (Catherine Keener) has a new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo). After being sent to bed without supper for causing a ruckus, Max runs off, finds a boat in the woods and sails away to a magical forest inhabited by a host of gargantuan talking beasts (voiced by the A-list likes of James Gandolfini, Forrest Whitaker, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Catherine O'Hara and Paul Dano).

And it is here that the cinematic adaptation touchingly and adeptly grows into more than the book ... for the Wild Things are given distinctive personalities and real emotions and, as a result, become characters with which adults can truly identify. Thanks to some good writing and some mind-boggling costumes/effects (it's seriously hard to believe that the Wild Things aren't real), viewers can feel the beasts' insecurities, their need for leadership (which is why they make Max their king) and their genuine love for the boy who becomes more than a king to them.

For this self-same reason, however, the film may not connect with children. The complex themes and emotions of 'Wild Things' may indeed be over kids' heads, too "adult" for them to grasp. Of course, a number of recent family movies, most notably this summer's Pixar masterpiece 'Up,' dealt with real adult emotions and themes ... but 'Up' also had its fair share of kids'-oriented humor, something that's missing in 'Wild Things' and, to be honest, might feel out of place were it included in the movie.

That's not to say that children won't find enjoyment in the film. They'll giggle with delight during the "wild rumpus," which features the mammoth creatures -- whom resemble oversized roosters, bulls, goats, etc. -- playfully tossing each other, uprooting trees and generally howling at the sky. And they'll surely find merriment in watching the beasts engage in a game of peg-the-Wild-Thing-with-a-dirt-bomb.

Moreover, parents need not worry that their kids will be left emotionally scarred by visions of snarling Wild Things gobbling up dear young Max. While much was made of alleged reports that kids were left terrified by the Wild Things in early test screenings last year, any potentially nightmare-inducing sequences that may have existed have now been reshot or left completely on the cutting-room floor. The creatures are, for the most part, gentle beings prone to the occasional temper tantrum and (never-delivered-upon) "I'll eat you up" threat.

Still, there are some frightening parts. The movie's 12-year-old star Max Records even admitted that some of the younger children at his school were scared after a recent screening of 'Wild Things.' "There were some kids who absolutely loved it and just thought it was really amazing," he told the Huffington Post, but at certain points some of the younger kids "were just like, 'I don't want to listen to this.' They just, like, covered their ears or their eyes."

For their parts, Jonze and Sendak are unapologetic about the film, regardless of whether it's too dark for kids. Jonze himself has said this is "not a studio film for kids, or ... a traditional film about kids. We didn't have like a Movie Kid in our movie, or a Movie Performance in a Movie Kid world. We had a real kid and a real world."

Sendak more than agrees. When Newsweek asked what the author would say to parents who might think 'Wild Things' too frightening for their children, he didn't skip a beat in responding: "I would tell them to go to hell. That is a question I will not tolerate." Not one to mince words, he continued, "If they can't handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it's not a question that can be answered."

There you have it. According to Maurice Sendak, 'Wild Things' ISN'T too scary for children. But you might want to bring a spare pair of underpants to the theater ... just in case.