Magazine preview: Spike Jonze goes 'Where the Wild Things Are'

where-the-wild-things-are_l”To make a movie about what it feels like to be 9 years old — that was my simple intention,” says Spike Jonze, whose edgy riff on Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are hits theaters on Oct. 16. But don’t let the PG rating fool you. Where most family films are comically zany and full of morals, Wild Things is naturalistic, dramatic, and raw. Jonze — who clashed with Warner Bros. over the final product — has directed what’s  reportedly a $80 million family film about childhood that
really isn’t for children, leaving its box office prospects as cloudy as a sky full of meatballs.

”Even in the first month that Spike and I started working on it together, we realized this wasn’t going to be a traditional, easy-to-market children’s movie,” says Jonze’s writing partner on the project, novelist Dave Eggers. ”I expected resistance, trepidation, and fights. And by golly, they happened.”

Where the Wild Things Are bloomed out of Jonze’s friendship with the book’s author, Maurice Sendak. In 1995, Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) was developing an adaptation of Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon, the rights to which Sendak controlled. The movie imploded, but Jonze and Sendak became tight. After Crayon crumbled, Sendak and his producing partner John Carls began talking with Jonze about adapting Wild Things. ”I loved the book as a child. Its images are seared into my brain,” says the director, 39. ”The book was filled with emotions I could connect with. Being hurt. Being angry. Being wild. I yearned to be Max. I wanted to play with the Wild Things and hug them. But they scared me, too.” When Jonze decided to make Wild Things in 2003, Sendak gave him the following commission: Make it your own. Make it personal. Make it dangerous. Says Sendak: ”I would rather not have had a film than turn it into a kiddie movie.”

Jonze felt the same way. ”The book is like a poem — it could mean different things to different people,” he says. Max’s parents would be divorced — but his father would be conspicuously absent from the story. The Wild Things would metaphorically mirror Max’s turbulent emotions about himself and his family — but the correlations wouldn’t be so obviously on the nose. If that sounds intriguing but still nebulous or shifty, welcome to Planet Spike. The director is notorious for his unwillingness — or inability — to explain himself. ”It’s hard to get inside the head of Spike Jonze,” says his longtime producer Vincent Landay. ”I’ve worked with him for 16 years, and most of the time I only understand 60 percent of what he wants. Nobody knows exactly what he wants until it’s over.”

In 2007, Jonze showed Warner Bros. an incomplete first cut of his movie — and the studio, which is splitting the price tag with Legendary Pictures,  got nervous. Jeff Robinov, president of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, says he was concerned about the film’s pacing, clarity, and tone, and he further worried that Max might be too edgy for the typical family-film audience. ”He just isn’t your typical ‘movie kid,’ ” says Robinov, who compares Max in some ways to Edward Furlong’s rebellious, troubled youth in Terminator 2. ”He was just so real that at times, it was jarring.”

Warner Bros. execs say they didn’t want Jonze to sanitize his work — but they did want a movie that had a better chance at recouping its financial investment. The director, who had final cut, refused to compromise. ”I was never going to work on something for that long and not make what I set out to make. That was not an option,” he says. Throughout the stalemate, Jonze continued to work, and as he did, his vision evolved.  In March 2008, Jonze submitted a new version of the script — one that he believed in, and one that Warner Bros. would support — and spent eight more days shooting.

Today, Jonze says that the Wild Things that people will see in theaters is very much the one he’s had in his head. Robinov says the studio is very proud to be releasing Jonze’s film — but he also thinks parents should take the film’s ”Parental Guidance” rating seriously. ”I would say it’s a movie for adults first and for a certain kind of child second,” he says. ”It doesn’t completely fit your expectation of a pure family film. It’s all good, but it is surprising.”

For more details about the new movie and more about Spike Jonze’s eccentric filmmaking style pick up this week’s EW on stands now

Comments (22 total) Add your comment
  • mcl

    I can’t wait for the 16th! Where the Wild Things Are was one of my favorite books from childhood and I am a huge fan of Jonze – I think that it is going to be terrific!

  • crispy

    Spike Jonze is a mad genius, and I can’t wait to see this. I for one am thrilled that he’s using animatronic suits rather than CGI for the Wild Things.

  • chalky

    This looks like a winner, even if it’s not a traditional family film. Can’t wait til next week.

  • Porkins

    When the only complaints a studio has about a movie are that it’s not typical or traditional, it’s the best of signs it’s going to be great.

    • Zach

      Exactly!! any movie that the studio execs are worried about typically ends up being gold!.

      Spize Jones is genius!

  • Fredro

    This movie looks horrible! I have no interest in watching a movie based on a childs book that only has 10 sentences in it!

    • Chris


    • katie

      you are an idiot

    • Nick T


      • Derrick

        How is he an idiot? The book might be a classic, but so was How the Grinch Stole Christmas and I thought even that was too short to be made a movie(the 30-minute masterpiece was just fine), which was pretty bad. The only reason I think this stands a chance is because of Spike Jonze.

    • Zach

      yea. with a comment like that you truly are an idiot.

  • matt

    this is gonna be great, jonze is a true artist.. typical of a studio exec to say that max is “too real”.. life’s hard man, the more real the better, and i think this films gonna do great at the box office, most of the people who read it as children and revere it so much are grown up now anyway, i think those people will pay to see what jonze has come up with for such a beloved book

  • eli

    This is going to be an awesome movie. I remember reading this book as a kid and when i heard Jonze would be the one to make it into a movie i was thrilled. He has the youthful vision that other people don’t have. I can’t imagine this being horrible, especially after the trailers i’ve seen. It looks like a masterpiece and only someone who never understood the book or related to it, could say anything negative about it.

  • jmiklane

    Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way. When I first saw the trailer, I thought it would be awesome. Loved the book, and I love most of Jonze’s movies. However, I’m a bit nervous now. The book was great because I was a child and I loved it. This movie does NOT look like it is meant for children, but for adults. My parents didn’t read Where the Wild Things Are for fun, I DID. This should be a movie for children, and I think kids will probably fall asleep while watching this. I can picture hipster parents forcing their kids to watch it and the kids being bored to death.
    Or maybe it’ll be brilliant, who knows. I’ll give it a chance anyway, but I’m a little cautious about this one.

  • Kevin Bragg


  • Ryan

    I agree with jmiklane. The book is for children and the film seems like it is more adults. And as English major, this film appeals to my studies in Children Literature. Will children under 10 enjoy it? I don’t think so, becuase the themes of this movie will go way over a child’s head. We can only wait and see.

    • Harry Peters

      An English major studying children’s literature? What, was Mass Comm too demanding for you?

  • Zach

    LOOOVE his work. Adaptation is still one of my all time favorite films. im skeptical but at the same time not worried on whether he’ll do a good job.

    Side note – my halloween costume this year has to do with this movie ;-)

  • Danno

    I’ve looked forward to this ever since the first time I heard it was being made. Then I heard Spike Jonze was directing and that sealed it for me. I’m a former elementary school teacher and to this day I can read and enjoy this story. I about filed for divorce when my wife told me she has never read the book. I’ll be seeing this one and expect some major Oscar buzz based on the trailers.

  • bunyan 10

    Jonze, like the rest of Hollywood,
    no doubt being funded with VAST market favors from the most awesomely genocidal regime in history —across the Pacific!

    70 million murdered in ‘peacetime’
    doesn’t seem to bother the long rich —and ALWAYS connected Jonze.

  • Rochelle Norlund

    I really like this movie, cause it all looks similar to the books that both Maurice Sendak and Dave Eggers both had written. Spike Jonze, Maurice Sendak, Dave Eggers, Tom Hanks, Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, and many more did a wonderful job on that film.

    For me, I do like the scenes that has to do with Carol and Max, cause James Gandolfini and Max Records both had such a very good friendship in those scenes that has to do with their characters.

    I am hoping there will be a sequel to this movie, cause according to the Where The Wild Things Are Movie Study Guide, under the category of Sequel, it says; “Maurice Sendak never written a sequel to his book; Where The Wild Things Are. But for the movie studios, they say there MIGHT be a sequel.”

    What do you think? Wishing for a sequel?

    Thank you.

  • titanium flat iron

    Wow, incredible weblog structure! How long have you ever been running a blog for? you make blogging glance easy. The entire glance of your web site is wonderful, as smartly as the content material!

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