A couple of Mondays before the opening of his latest film, Spike Jonze prescreened the much-anticipated adaptation of the Maurice Sendak book at the Directors Guild of America. Afterwards, there was a question and answer period that covered Jonze’s approach to making the children’s classic come to life.
According to Jonze, the innovative director (“Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation”) collaborated every step of the way with author Maurice Sendak to bring one of the most beloved books of all time to the big screen. The process of adapting “Where the Wild Things Are” lasted more than six years, which included some long and complicated rehearsal time with the voice-over actors (Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara and Forest Whitaker).
Unlike similar situations where the talent may never even meet, Jonze had the voice actors actually play out their roles together in a rehearsal space. The taped performances were later fed into monitors built into the heads of the costumes worn by the “creature” actors on set. That way, one performer could actually hear and see the physical intentions of another actor lending the voice. This was particularly crucial since Jonze wanted to rely upon the movements of the costumed performers to convey emotions and attitudes, limiting post computer manipulation of the facial expressions.
The combined effort of two performers for each “creature” is particularly effective, giving the characters depth and dimension they might otherwise have lacked. And it’s particularly apropos given the underlying theme of two worlds in conflict, real and imaginary. Both worlds infringe upon the other, creating complicated situations that are not easy to deal with, be it by boy or by Wild Thing.
Max, the boy, is rambunctious and sensitive and feels misunderstood, so he runs away to avoid the difficulties at home. However, he finds that the mysterious and strange creatures that he meets have emotions as wild and unpredictable as their actions. The similarities between the two worlds becomes obvious to Max and give cause for him to return to his own kind.
It is a simple tale told in a relatively simple and straightforward manner that stays true to the source material and is faithful to the millions of fans eagerly awaiting their chance to see what Jonze has produced. Fortunately for the devoted, it was Jonze who directed the film and not someone showier, for as strange and unusual as his previous works may have been, Jonze has always strived to present the bizarre in a very real and accessible fashion. And that’s exactly the approach that “Where the Wild Things Are” required. In this case, there could not have been a more perfect interpreter to translate the pages to screen.