Exclusive: The World of Where the Wild Things Are
Spike Jonze, Maurice Sendak and more take RT on a journey through the film.
It has taken Being John Malkovich and Adaptation director Spike Jonze more than five years to bring Where the Wild Things Are to the big screen. Maurice Sendak, the writer and illustrator of the best-selling children's book (which has sold upward of 20 million copies), identified Jonze as the only man he trusted enough to render his story on film. That story focuses on Max, the boisterous boy in wolf pyjamas who, when sent to his room for bad behaviour, journeys in his imagination and travels to the realm of the Wild Things, a gaggle of hairy monsters who proclaim him king. The book contains only a few hundred words, and yet Jonze has created a full feature film, as wild as the source and as dark and brooding as any ancient fairy tale. The director joins Maurice Sendak and some of his key collaborators to explain exclusively to RT how they shaped the world of Where the Wild Things Are on the big screen.
Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator:
When I started working on the book back in 1960, I didn't really know why I'd written it. I think the inspiration came from a lot of our family's relatives who used to come from the old country to visit, and they were really unkempt, they didn't speak English, their teeth were horrifying, their hair all crazy and they'd pick you up and hug you and kiss you and would say 'Arrghhh, we could eat you up.' And my brother and sister and I knew that these people really would eat anything, so I decided to render them as Wild Things.
Spike Jonze, writer/director:
I had gotten to know Maurice about 15 years ago. We worked on a movie that didn't happen and through that became friends. One day he talked to me about doing Where The Wild Things Are
. I was excited by it but also really nervous about it because the book is so short but I didn't want to add some storyline or some plot. I'd look at it and say, 'How could you add to this?' And anything I felt like adding would just sound cheesy. But over the years, as I started thinking more about the book, I suddenly thought that the Wild Things could be wild emotions. Suddenly out of that everything tumbled and it felt like I could build from inside the book.
Spike wanted to make sure that what he remembered feeling through his childhood corresponded with what kids think today. He interviewed lots of kids of Max's age, and it really confirmed that they all deal with very deep emotions. So with the screenplay, the Wild Things embody those emotions. The film really is about childhood. It's about what it's like to be eight or nine years old and trying to figure out the world, the people around you, and emotions that are sometimes unpredictable or confusing.
We never set any rules about whether it would be a movie for kids or for adults. Maurice Sendak didn't consider himself a children's author; he wrote about what it felt like to be a kid. So it was really important that we got the main character right. For Max I wanted a real kid, not necessarily an actor that was going to give a typical 'movie-kid' performance. I wanted someone who was going to give a real, emotional performance, and after a very long search I found Max Records. He really is the heart of the movie, and he has such depth to him as a person. It doesn't feel as though he's acting at all. It's such a natural performance.