Spike Jonze’s “WtWTA” is Never Coming Out

wild things

A few months back, New York magazine’s Vulture blog asked, “Which will come out first, [Guns ‘N’ Roses album] Chinese Democracy or [Spike Jonze’s Maurice Sendak movie] Where the Wild Things Are?”

Well, we now have our answer. Despite being buried in the dark crevasses of Axl’s mind since about 1994, Chinese Democracy was leaked in its entirety yesterday and should be on store shelves by Christmas. More to come on that if it turns out to be any good…

As for Jonze’s Maurice Sendak adaptation (with script by Dave Eggers), it’s pretty well mired in development hell. Which is a damn shame, since the book is a classic, Spike Jonze rules and everything about the adaptation sounds awesome.

ROTI contributor C. Dave sent us something of an update. Ain’t it Cool News ran a typically self-indulgent interview transcript with Spike in which most of the questions are longer than the answers – nobody cares what you think, “Moriarty” – but still delivered some interesting tidbits:

Spike Jonze: We were trying to make it as organic as possible, but even then… but the guys in the suits, the actors in the suits were incredible, and they really worked hard. I didn’t want performances of the suits or the animation to be like traditional puppetry or animation where everything’s sort of over-indicated, everything’s like “Wow wow WOW! Hey Max, how you doing!” It’s like they think everything has to be sold.

So we shot the whole movie with the voice actors on a soundstage, and we just shot it like a workshop. It looked like some sort of ‘70s experimental theatre or something like that, because it was just this blank soundstage with shag carpeting, and they were all in their socks so the sound was muted. It was just a really dead soundstage, sound-wise, and they could just act it out. We’d take foam cubes and build little trees or huts or whatever, and then we’d just workshop the scene like I would do with a live-action movie, and just find what the scene is about through blocking and improvising dialogue. And out of that stuff, then… because puppeteering and animation isn’t spontaneous in any way, but I wanted the movie to feel alive and immediate. I knew I could get that with Max, but I wanted the wild things also to have that kind of performance, so by doing that with the actors where everything is spontaneous, the guys in the suits would feed off of that. They would watch the tapes; we’d do playback for them so they’d be acting along to James Gandolfini’s voice in these speakers. And then the guy in the suit would just “feel” what Gandolfini did in his body and his shoulders, so after playback, when he starts to go, “Well… I don’t know, Max,” or whatever the line was, every little head movement would be intentional, because Gandolfini did everything with intention. They’re actors, so they aren’t even really thinking about it. With puppeteering, you have to decide what the intention is and then you have to figure out how to communicate it, because every puppet works differently. So nothing’s immediate or spontaneous about that form.

But with actors, it’s just something that happens between two or more of them. Somebody will say something, and the other will react in a way that just feels true in that moment. So we used that as the sort of basis for their performances and for the animation. It was like working backwards, finding what I wanted it to feel like and then creating a process.


I think it started from what Maurice said in the beginning. One of the things I was worried about is that the book is just so beloved to so many people. And as I started to have ideas for it I was worried that I was just making what it means to me, and what the book triggers in me from when I was a kid. And I’d be worried that other people were gonna be disappointed, because it’s like adapting a poem. It can mean so much to so many different people.

And Maurice was very insistent that that’s all I had to do… just make what it was to me, just to make something personal and make something that takes kids seriously and doesn’t pander to them. He told me that when his book came out, it was considered dangerous. It was panned by critics and child psychologists and librarians, because it wasn’t how kids were talked to. And it took like only two years after the book was out that kids started finding it in the libraries, and basically kids discovered it and made it what it is. And now it’s 40 years later and it’s a classic. So he said you just have to make something according to your own instinct.


I went over to Lance’s house the other night and Pearl, his daughter, who just turned 10… she was asking me… cause I showed the kids the movie, all the kids that came with us to Australia, Eric’s kids and our producer Vince’s… we showed the kids the movie a few weeks ago. And Pearl’s like, “I was thinking about the movie, Spike, and what’s the moral of that story? ‘Cause it made me sad.”

And I don’t know, I think the idea that Maurice talked about is not to be scared of those feelings. Kids are complicated, and they’re in touch with all those feelings. I didn’t want to make a movie that was just sad, or just heavy, or just anxious. I think I tried to make a movie that had a lot of the other sides of kids too; there are also soft feelings and sweet feelings and I think I tried to make the movie have Max’s imagination, Max’s sense of play, of love and hope and caring, but just let him be complicated, and the world that he goes to in order to figure out what’s going on be as complicated as he needs it to be. And so, I don’t know. For better or worse, we made it.


AICN: …I think we try and make kids into saints in movies, and we kind of smooth off the rough edges, and it’s just so much more interesting to see a real kid, and to see how kids try and process the world.

JONZE: And I think that’s what freaked the studio out about the movie too. It wasn’t a studio film for kids, or it wasn’t a traditional film about kids. We didn’t have like a Movie Kid in our movie, or a Movie Performance in a Movie Kid world. We had a real kid and a real world, and I think that’s sort of where our problem was. In the end they realized the movie is what it is, and there’s no real way to… it’s sort of like they were expecting a boy and I gave birth to a girl. [laughs] So they just needed their time to sort that out and figure out how they were going to learn to love their new daughter.

…[making the film] just took a lot longer. And that was hard, but you know, in the end I got to make my movie. And with the version you saw, I was trying to get the money to do the pick-ups I wanted to do, and it just took a lot longer to finish it.

The Vulture blog reviews all of this and concludes, “This movie will never be released.”

For what it’s worth, the Hollywood Stock Exchange is still guardedly optimistic:

It’s never a good sign when a movie takes this long to come out. But given the awesomeness of the people involved in this production and the brilliance of the source material…we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

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