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

BAFTA sequel Shudder composers richard e. Grant Polls and Games television sports Amazon Prime Video Netflix Christmas movies docudrama name the review Food Network DC Comics Country TCA Awards Pop cults slashers Awards Tour Esquire Infographic Certified Fresh adaptation Paramount Network USA Network Hallmark technology CMT films Bravo Binge Guide The Arrangement documentary Extras Anna Paquin LGBT Awards Western Animation Trophy Talk 71st Emmy Awards strong female leads Disney streaming service politics VICE Year in Review Comics on TV The Walking Dead harry potter Crackle Comedy Central festivals Character Guide CBS All Access movie sitcom PlayStation medical drama cancelled TV shows Music cars BBC Premiere Dates spy thriller AMC American Society of Cinematographers TV series Ghostbusters Avengers Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Amazon ABC Showtime Mary Poppins Returns toy story Emmys criterion Horror Spring TV Pop TV GIFs concert 007 YouTube die hard game of thrones MCU Pride Month Crunchyroll Nat Geo NYCC video on demand Thanksgiving best See It Skip It YA Drama mockumentary Cannes Emmy Nominations thriller History FXX transformers Hallmark Christmas movies Interview FX ghosts Travel Channel 45 zero dark thirty comedies Captain marvel singing competition police drama Action PBS Marathons reboot aliens Set visit TBS 2020 Freeform Fantasy parents Shondaland hist Hulu Syfy Comic Book NBC 2015 werewolf crossover facebook VH1 asian-american renewed TV shows psychological thriller Lifetime Christmas movies ESPN Super Bowl Writers Guild of America Netflix natural history south america Best and Worst Chernobyl romantic comedy Dark Horse Comics CBS BBC One robots LGBTQ Rom-Com anime stoner indiana jones TV Land cancelled television ITV Photos binge halloween MTV chucky twilight Turner Election HBO cooking Acorn TV Pet Sematary USA Tubi IFC Films Valentine's Day true crime RT History screen actors guild Rocketman TNT El Rey Superheroe ratings dceu X-Men a nightmare on elm street BET casting Heroines Toys quibi comics indie Logo versus Vudu IFC Amazon Prime Disney Plus Musical talk show Teen 2019 Cosplay A24 Paramount Apple TV Plus Calendar anthology spider-man mission: impossible Comedy cancelled TV series dogs Adult Swim Trivia TLC spanish language TIFF Sony Pictures tv talk elevated horror zombies 2018 Black History Month sag awards period drama Endgame Family child's play The CW canceled Britbox breaking bad Apple TV+ Box Office Epix stand-up comedy Arrowverse WarnerMedia Rock Baby Yoda Mystery dragons BET Awards green book Columbia Pictures Christmas HBO Max CNN Black Mirror Watching Series Peacock PaleyFest DGA Creative Arts Emmys TCA Winter 2020 theme song First Look independent President RT21 Winners Biopics Tomatazos Martial Arts Walt Disney Pictures Pixar DC streaming service National Geographic Star Wars Starz WGN teaser Hear Us Out comic award winner video Lionsgate biography Winter TV travel Opinion Universal CW Seed Marvel Studios historical drama Disney APB jamie lee curtis Podcast San Diego Comic-Con canceled TV shows Nickelodeon Warner Bros. latino justice league Discovery Channel animated blockbuster Academy Awards Reality HBO Go 2016 FOX Fall TV Film TCA 2017 Trailer nature Rocky Sundance TV Classic Film franchise TCA psycho Cartoon Network Mary poppins New York Comic Con cats discovery Amazon Studios Holidays satire reviews E3 Summer streaming news critics Sci-Fi crime drama dc SDCC political drama Video Games Marvel what to watch vampires Film Festival Masterpiece OWN crime Nominations directors Spike Holiday ABC Family Superheroes Ellie Kemper romance GoT free movies Star Trek children's TV dramedy universal monsters Chilling Adventures of Sabrina finale revenge Marvel Television kids supernatural game show screenings DirecTV space The Witch Mary Tyler Moore witnail spinoff YouTube Premium hispanic Fox News batman Red Carpet TV renewals MSNBC Reality Competition Grammys movies Turner Classic Movies foreign DC Universe boxoffice Disney Channel Brie Larson cancelled joker based on movie TCM cops science fiction Spectrum Originals Sundance dark First Reviews crime thriller 20th Century Fox 21st Century Fox Mindy Kaling Mudbound cartoon adventure all-time Tarantino blaxploitation cinemax serial killer SundanceTV diversity spain war Musicals OneApp The Purge christmas movies Sundance Now book Funimation Countdown Quiz YouTube Red Lifetime Ovation Song of Ice and Fire Tumblr mutant documentaries comiccon unscripted miniseries Kids & Family 24 frames TruTV Television Academy zombie Lucasfilm E! Television Critics Association VOD rotten movies we love doctor who Women's History Month Disney+ Disney Plus SXSW 4/20 social media golden globes FX on Hulu Pirates BBC America A&E Sneak Peek disaster Apple Schedule Oscars Stephen King 2017 GLAAD scary movies Elton John