Exclusive: The World of Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze, Maurice Sendak and more take RT on a journey through the film.

by | December 7, 2009 | Comments

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:

Maurice SendakWhen 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.

Where the Wild Things Are


Spike Jonze, writer/director:

Spike JonzeI 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.


Dave Eggers, co-writer:

Dave EggersSpike 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.

Where the Wild Things Are


Spike Jonze:

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.


Max Records, actor (Max):

Max RecordsOne of my favourite scenes is the dirt clod scene, where the Wild Things and Max are chucking all this dirt at each other. I had a scene where I had to run through the forest and it was like a minefield with all these dirt clods exploding everywhere. That was maybe my favourite scene. My favourite moment was sliming Spike. There’s a scene where I get licked by a Wild Thing and covered in all this goo. So I got our revenge by covering Spike with goo, too!

Where the Wild Things Are


Catherine Keener, actor (Max’s Mom):

Catherine KeenerObviously Max and I didn’t know each other when we arrived on set, and I had to show him that he could trust me. I tried to play quite hard with Max, and encouraged him to really let loose. It’s funny, I have a young son who was on set and he asked me why Spike didn’t live with his mum and dad. I said it was because he was an adult, but that says a lot about Spike.


Catherine O’Hara, voice actor (Judith):

Catherine O'HaraSpike is very much in touch with the child within. In fact, even more so than the man without! No, seriously, we had a wild time on this movie. We improvised with this wonderful dialogue everyday and had such terrific fun. We’d do a lot of childish things and go really nuts. Which was just what Spike wanted.

Where the Wild Things Are


Spike Jonze:

The Wild Things are such a strange invention of Maurice’s and it’s weird to think that at some point they did not exist in the world. For me, since I knew it as a kid I knew thes designs, I knew these characters, and it is as though they always existed in this strange surreal dream-like way. Maurice had tapped into some primal thing when he created them. They are furry and cuddly but giants with teeth and nails, and they’re dangerous. But then they have the proportions. Their heads are half the size of their body so they are baby-like in that way. And they’re hairy. They have really captured something. It is creativity at its best. They are as close as you can get to creating something that really is magic.


Forest Whitaker, voice actor (Ira):

Forest WhitakerWe didn’t get inside the suits — they had other actors for that — but we did the voices and Spike captured our facial expressions to layer onto the body suits, to get the facial expressions and so forth. Once, he even interviewed us as characters, to build a little back-story for us, so we could get a better handle on who were and how we viewed our universe.

Where the Wild Things Are


Spike Jonze:

When we first screened the movie to the studio they were a bit freaked out. They thought it was too scary for kids. But we didn’t make this movie just for kids. This is a movie about childhood; for everyone. Thankfully, though, they learned to love our movie. The kids weren’t scared, it was just the executives that were scared. I think kids are just like us. They see something that’s honest and they are attracted to it. Kids are attracted to things that are funny but I think all of us are also attracted to things that are true.


Maurice Sendak:

No one could have guessed that when I created the Wild Things they’d have such a hold over people, even today. Lots have people have wanted to make the movie, but I only wanted Spike to make it. He’s crazy and whacked out and wild, but he’s so gifted, creatively and dramatically. I think he’s done a wonderful job bringing my book the screen. I’m so pleased that I pursued him.

Where the Wild Things Are is out in the UK this weekend.

Tag Cloud

comics adventure dc Marvel Studios miniseries TV Land 2015 Netflix latino breaking bad movies Disney streaming service casting Bravo halloween social media Photos Writers Guild of America Fall TV E3 Trailer TBS A24 hist YouTube Premium BET Sundance Valentine's Day Britbox transformers Action CBS All Access Marathons Walt Disney Pictures Musicals nature SXSW Acorn TV Martial Arts Creative Arts Emmys American Society of Cinematographers strong female leads Mary Tyler Moore LGBT Stephen King Epix richard e. Grant Star Wars binge CMT National Geographic MCU OWN rotten movies we love Lifetime Christmas movies Showtime BBC America disaster Horror Tumblr Calendar finale FXX sag awards USA Network X-Men Apple TV Plus Rocketman Watching Series 24 frames dceu Music Apple series DC streaming service YouTube Red ITV Food Network cops Mary Poppins Returns sitcom San Diego Comic-Con Ellie Kemper Classic Film spider-man zero dark thirty LGBTQ Lucasfilm 45 blockbuster TLC festivals NBC Disney Plus Hulu Esquire space Disney+ Disney Plus Rom-Com supernatural Lifetime GIFs serial killer cancelled television cooking First Reviews streaming Crunchyroll Star Trek Oscars Cartoon Network Pixar Nominations joker VH1 book 2016 BBC Superheroe Disney Channel Tomatazos blaxploitation 21st Century Fox independent renewed TV shows Cosplay indie dragons Amazon Prime Reality Podcast Pirates Turner Video Games Spectrum Originals period drama Disney tv talk Super Bowl technology DC Comics MTV jamie lee curtis Ovation Reality Competition Christmas Pet Sematary spanish language RT21 Thanksgiving Amazon Prime Video Universal Apple TV+ Binge Guide cancelled TV shows unscripted discovery Interview CNN animated Fox News Comedy Starz Western composers President comic The Walking Dead Shondaland Black Mirror adaptation Marvel Television SDCC 2020 cancelled TV game show Anna Paquin 2018 Emmy Nominations true crime Rocky teaser Cannes PaleyFest 007 TCA war cartoon Year in Review Columbia Pictures psychological thriller elevated horror stand-up comedy Television Academy Emmys Nickelodeon WGN Family free movies ABC Family police drama christmas movies video toy story DGA game of thrones Superheroes Tarantino robots Song of Ice and Fire Opinion boxoffice cancelled TV series politics werewolf Film Festival anthology Polls and Games facebook Premiere Dates spinoff Box Office award winner harry potter APB doctor who canceled YouTube quibi First Look sequel MSNBC Trophy Talk Pop mockumentary Quiz Paramount Network ratings children's TV romance El Rey Avengers south america versus vampires travel Holiday spy thriller kids Set visit Amazon green book Schedule Mindy Kaling ABC GLAAD Winter TV HBO zombie cats Dark Horse Comics diversity Peacock screen actors guild CW Seed science fiction Film Trivia TIFF History Certified Fresh Countdown Summer The Witch New York Comic Con Election foreign Comic Book crime thriller Marvel spain Ghostbusters The Purge crossover theme song Netflix Christmas movies Red Carpet 2017 television Heroines PBS TCA 2017 Drama Chernobyl docudrama dramedy 20th Century Fox witnail The Arrangement Fantasy Sneak Peek USA RT History Musical Adult Swim NYCC Spring TV Chilling Adventures of Sabrina CBS Turner Classic Movies Women's History Month FX name the review hispanic Spike Sony Pictures ghosts Arrowverse The CW golden globes Extras GoT Country Comics on TV Syfy 71st Emmy Awards Pride Month screenings sports anime Warner Bros. Kids & Family mutant political drama natural history talk show See It Skip It biography Mary poppins Awards WarnerMedia medical drama thriller Comedy Central E! Sci-Fi ESPN Elton John comiccon slashers Masterpiece zombies Crackle Hallmark crime drama cults IFC SundanceTV cinemax Endgame Logo singing competition crime Mudbound historical drama HBO Max Captain marvel batman TV renewals A&E cars Biopics what to watch Awards Tour TruTV Vudu VICE FOX Freeform AMC Mystery Best and Worst Winners IFC Films TNT Paramount Toys based on movie TCM Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Teen Nat Geo Animation Holidays Grammys Lionsgate DirecTV Infographic revenge Sundance Now canceled TV shows romantic comedy YA 2019 Shudder Character Guide Rock justice league aliens DC Universe psycho Brie Larson Hallmark Christmas movies