The Story Behind Where The Wild Things Are

And its ten year journey to the big screen...


Every now and then a trailer hits the totalfilm.com office that makes us sit up and take notice.

Sometimes it’s because they’re exciting, like the third Star Trek trailer and sometimes it’s because they’re worrying, like the second Wolverine trailer.

But sometimes, it’s because they’re so beautiful they make us gawp in wonder.

Where The Wild Things Are is one such trailer.

It looks like Labyrinth meets The Neverending Story with a little bit of Being John Malkovich thrown in for good measure, which is exactly what we’ve always hoped for from this project.

It seems Spike Jonze has turned a ten sentence kids’ book into a work of cinematic art.

In short, we adore it. It’s perfect. And it’s vindication for Jonze, who has seen his pet project kicked and punched several times during its long journey to the trailer stage.

So we thought we’d stop replaying it over and over again, and take a moment to look back at Wild Things’ tortured ten year travel to our laptop screens…[page-break]


Inside All Of Us There Is Hope…

1999 – Maurice Sendak approaches Spike Jonze...

A film version of Maurice Sendak’s moving mediation on the nature of anger had been mooted since the early ‘90s, but the creator couldn’t connect with a director enough to send his baby into the Hollywood forest.

Until he saw Being John Malkovich, and instantly decided to offer his book to Spike Jonze, who took it from him with a childlike glee.

It was originally intended as an animated flick, but Spike had other ideas…[page-break]


2000 – First teaser trailer hits...

Yep, we got that date right – the first trailer hit nearly ten years ago. Spike initially took the property to Universal, who were so cocky about the flick they shoved a teaser trailer for it in front of The Grinch.

But then the suits actually started listening to Spike’s vision for the film – do it live-action, stick actors into 9-foot tall foam suits, use low-key real locations – and they decided that it didn’t sound anything like what Ron Howard would have done with the material, and kicked him off the lot.

Jonze went to Warner Brothers who preferred his pitch, signing him up and sending him away to actually write the thing.[page-break]


2005 – Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze turn in their first script...

…Which retained the spirit of the original book, whilst making the changes necessary to expand a ten-sentence story into an 111-page screenplay.

Max now has an absent father, an older sister who’s outgrowing him, and a mother who’s too busy to spend time with him. Combined with a difficult school-life, Max’s frustrations cause him to remove himself further and further from reality, until, eventually, he steps into the woods of the Wild Things and becomes their king.

The script is packed with powerful imagery,  like the moment when Max falls asleep against a squirming pile of Wild Things; intense set-pieces – two words: tornado wrestling – and parts that are pure Spike Jonze, like the tiny city made out of sticks which has rivers for streets.

When we read the script we thought, if it gets made untouched, it'd make a truly incredible movie. Having seen the trailer, which has so many glimpses at scenes we remember from this early draft, we’re pretty sure Spike’s early vision is totally intact.[page-break]


2006 – One of the biggest ever open-call auditions begins...

On July 8th, 2006, Spike Jonze’s production started the open audition process to find their Max.

Little did they know it’d lead to one of the biggest casting processes in history, with tens of thousands of misunderstood and rebellious 7 – 11 year olds from all over the world turning up in homemade wolf suits. The process took months, but, eventually the appropriately named Max Records was cast.[page-break]


2006 – Production starts

In April, 2006, filming finally began. There was one slight hitch – Michelle Williams was cast as girl monster KW, only to leave the project after her voice “didn’t match the original vision of how the Wild Thing should sound.” She was replaced by Lauren Ambrose, and filming continued.

Jonze kept in close consultation with Maurice Sendak throughout the process, and Sendak approved the Jim Henson Company creature designs.[page-break]

 

2007 – Warner Brothers release the first official stills...

...And they look amazing – like the book made into fairy-tale flesh. Fans were ecstatic, and marked October 2008 as the best movie month ever. Surely nothing could go wrong at this point, right? Wrong...[page-break]

 

Inside All Of Us There Is Fear…

2008 – Footage Leaks…

And it’s… bad. It’s clearly early footage, but everything about it feels wrong, from the creepy (holding) voice-over, to the awkward  acting from a too-young Max, to the clichéd Beck music that introduces it.

We’re worried, but we don’t have to wait long for an explanation.[page-break]

 

2008 – Spike responds to the leak…

...And makes us feel instantly better.

“That was a very early test with the sole purpose of just getting some footage to Ben our VFX supervisor to see if our VFX plan for the faces would work.

The clip doesn’t look or feel anything like the movie, the Wild Thing suit is a very early cringy prototype, and the boy is a friend of ours Griffin, who we had used in a Yeah Yeah Yeahs video we shot a few weeks before. We love him, but he is not in the actually film…

Oh and that is not a wolf suit, its a lamb suit we bought on the internet. Talk to you later…”

But it may have made us feel better, but it scared the cash out of Warner Brothers’ pockets…[page-break]

 

2008 - Warner Brothers announces a major delay…

If everything had gone to plan, we should have all seen Where The Wild Things Are by now, and already decided where it sits in out top ten films of all time list.

But, sadly, following fan outcry over the leaked footage and rumoured “scared kids” in test audiences, WB announced a massive 12-month delay.

Rumours got tossed around the internet that the suits planned to reshoot the film themselves, which studio chief Alan Horn was quick to deny:

“We've given him more money and, even more importantly, more time for him to work on the film.

We'd like to find a common ground that represents Spike's vision but still offers a film that really delivers for a broad-based audience.

No one wants to turn this into a bland, sanitized studio movie. This is a very special piece of material and we're just trying to get it right.”

Which didn’t sound so bad, until…[page-break]

 

2008 – Howard Berger is mean about the project...

In November, Howard Berger revealed that he was approached several times to work on the project, but:

“The direction that they were taking in the movie was certainly not the direction that I would have taken. It was potentially a catastrophe. I had a sinking feeling about it. I didn't want to get myself in it. It's a horrible idea.”

Which made every single Wild Things fan shudder in terror. We’d got a bad feeling from the test footage, the test audience reactions seemed to confirm our fears, and now even Howard Berger, the nicest man in SFX, was slagging it off?

Had Spike refashioned glorious Wild Things into terrible turkeys?[page-break]

 

Inside All Of Us There Is Adventure...

2009 - We get our first proper glimpse at the Wild Things… via skateboards?!

It’s not often we see early official imagery from an upcoming film on the back of a skateboard, and in any other instance we’d decry it as a cheap marketing stunt.

But there was something so perfectly synchronistic about it– Spike started his career taking pictures for skateboard magazines – that we didn’t mind.

In fact, they seemed to be the first sign that the project was back on track. Mainly because they were beautiful.[page-break]

 

2009 – More official pictures are released…

And they make us feel as excited as we were when we first heard about the project.  You can see more of them by going here.[page-break]

 

2009 – And, two days later, the trailer...

It’s taken ten years to reach us. It was well worth the wait, it's a joyous celebration of using your imagination to escape the cruelty of everyday life. If the film's half as good, it'll get five stars across the board. Now, can we see the full flick now, please? We've waited long enough...

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