Where the Wild Things Are: Look, Feel, Breadth and Breath of Story

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“Where the Wild Things Are,” directed by Spike Jonze, is the feature film ¬† of the popular Maurice Sendak children’s book of the same name. The film is being released October 16, 2009 by Warner Bros.

Making Fantasy Look Like Reality

As much as Jonze wanted to present Max as a real boy, he sought to give the story’s imaginative elements a realistic execution, explaining, “I wanted to build and shoot the Wild Things so that Max could touch them, lean on them, shove them, hug them. I wanted them to be there so people could feel their breath, their size and their weight in a visceral and immediate way and I couldn’t imagine doing that wholly in a computer or on a soundstage.” ?

“Each story dictates a filmmaking process that best serves it,” producer John Carls observes. “In the case of ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ Spike wanted to deliver an adventure that felt real, rather than a dream or a fantasy. Casting an actor to interact with physical creatures on a real location was the best way to accomplish that. He and this talented team of artists brought the Wild Things to life in the way we imagined them when reading the book.”

?Producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, also longtime fans of Sendak’s work, concur. Says Goetzman, “We started developing ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ twelve years ago with Maurice and John Carls. It actually predated the inception of our production company, Playtone, and was one of the first projects we started working on as a company. We considered animated and CGI versions but it wasn’t until we met Spike Jonze and heard his approach that we felt we’d found a truly visionary director able to flesh out this iconic book into a feature-length film.”

A Combination of Various Types of Media

The film is an extraordinary merger of live action, state-of-the-art puppetry and computer animation, putting Max directly into the company of nine-foot-tall monsters in all their fanged, tufted, striped and wide-eyed glory, simultaneously ferocious and endearing. ?

The beasts were given heart and soul by voice performances from a stellar ensemble cast led by Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara and Forest Whitaker, then put through their paces on location by costumed actors who melded body language to the dialogue. Finally, their already expressive faces were digitally enhanced for the range of movement and subtlety their thoughts and actions required.

Says Jonze, “I knew it was going to be a complicated process. It seemed that every choice we made turned out to be the hardest possible way to do it. Building the creatures alone took eight months. But we decided what we wanted it to feel like and worked backwards from there on how to achieve that, and stuck to it.”

Producer Landay, integral to the daily hands-on effort and the master plan, admits, “I’m pretty tenacious. I feel if something’s not happening it’s because we didn’t try hard enough or we didn’t look into enough ways to make it happen. The only way to get through something this massive is to break it down and solve each component, step by step. It’s all a puzzle, and making movies is just a gigantic crossword. Luckily, we’ve built a great team over the years, with a strong vocabulary.”

In addition to Landay, who worked with Jonze on both “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” Jonze’s creative team on “Where the Wild Things Are” reunited many of his longtime colleagues, including cinematographer Lance Acord, production designer K.K. Barrett, editor Eric Zumbrunnen and costume designer Casey Storm. He also re-enlisted the musical talents of former collaborators Karen O and Carter Burwell.