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UNLEASHING LIFE'S WILD THINGS. New York Times. A version of this article appeared in print on November 8, 2009, on page AR13 of the New York edition. Written by A. O. Scott.

Parents, most of whom want their kids to be both adventurous and protected, comfortable and sophisticated, tend to worry a lot about (and to judge one another by) how much and what kinds of movies children should see.

Mr. Jonze's film, (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE), extrapolated from a few hundred words and a dozen or so illustrations by Maurice Sendak - not uncontroversial in their own right, by the way - is dense with difficult emotions. The hero, Max, is often angry and lonely, frustrated when his sister neglects him and jealous when his divorced mother spends time with her boyfriend. The depiction of Max's home life and his impulsive, aggressive behaviour seem almost designed to provoke disapproval from some concerned, hypercritical party or another, even if those opening scenes of domestic chaos also elicit a flicker of pained recognition.

But like Dorothy before him, who found in Oz some of the same characters she'd left back in Kansas, Max escapes to an enchanted world that looks a lot like home. The furry, talking creatures who give the movie its name are strikingly grouchy, quarrelsome and passive-aggressive. They whine, they pout, they manipulate, they break things and hurt one another for no good reason. One of them makes a big deal about her cool new friends, who turn out to be a pair of terrified owls. Others use self-deprecation as a way to feel special, or deploy aggression to mask insecurity.

They act, in short, just like people and turn to Max, a human child in a wolf suit who proclaims himself a king, to deliver them from their humanity. The love between ruler and subjects is mutual, but so is the disillusionment that rounds off Max's sojourn on the island and sends him back across the sea to his mother. No place is free of conflict and bad feeling, and no person has the power to make problems disappear. Where there is happiness - friendship, adventure, affection, security - there is also, inevitably, disappointment. That's life.

When you stop to think about it, this is a pretty strong message, and not what you might expect from children's entertainment. But at the same time, this kind of honest, realistic assessment of human relationships has gone missing from far too many supposedly grown-up movies, which are almost hysterical in their eagerness to dispense comfort, sentimentality and neat, tidy endings. However violent or foulmouthed they may be, most of these commercial entertainments offer soothing scenarios of wish fulfillment. Justice is served. The bad guys pay. Love conquers all. Naughty boys come home from their crazy adventures and find that their mommies still love them. (That's a plot summary of THE HANGOVER by the way, not of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.)

But things are much more complicated in some children's movies, it seems, where the regressive infantilism of grown-up comedies and action pictures is answered by a grave precocity. A movie like WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, or Wes Anderson FANTASTIC MR. FOX play a kind of reverse dress-up, disguising adult anxieties in the costumes of innocent make-believe and fanciful spectacle.

Mr. Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's spiky little beast fable has some of the usual trappings of juvenile animation: talking animals voiced by movie stars; cool pop songs on the soundtrack; grotesque villains and a charming hero who foils their nasty schemes. But it also has some unusual features: not just the old-fashioned, super-analog stop-motion animation, but also an uneasy, downbeat undercurrent that makes it feel like, well, a Wes Anderson movie. The marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Fox is threaded with tensions that even Mr. Fox's successes don't resolve. A subplot involving their son, Ash, and his charismatic cousin, Kristofferson, explores adolescent rivalry with startling candour and force.

Will FANTASTIC MR. FOX be too scary for youngsters? Too confusing? Maybe for some. But so was CORALINE, Henry Selick's pitch-perfect adaptation of Neil Gaiman's kiddie-gothic novel. So was, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, Tim Burton's indelibly dark portrait of the artist as a young goth. So is THE WIZARD OF OZ' and half the books in the children' section of the library. And so, of course, is, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

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 colours, 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.

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