I read that when you were writing you watched a lot of The Wizard of Oz. How much did you try to connect the things that happen to Max on the island back to what's happening at home?
I love The Wizard of Oz to death and I must have seen it a hundred times at this point. Fifty of those times were in writing the screenplay and since my daughter was born. It's an unimprovable, perfect movie. But there, the relationship between all of these people have direct correlation in Dorothy's real life and all the foreshadowing of which farmhand is going to touch on what theme. We sort of sought actively not to have any direct parallels. That way, it lends itself to the way a brain might work at eight years old, where it's more dreamlike and there's a good deal of confusion of who's who and who in your life represents what.
There's one primary sympathetic female Wild Thing, but you can't really say it's Max's sister. Is it Max's mom? It's not really just one; it's sort of in between. Is Carol Max's dad? Sort of, in a way, but it's Max, too. The Wild Things are very immature in a lot of ways and very adult-like in a lot of ways. One of the points is that there are a lot of overlaps between kids and adults, but the main point was to keep it from being a puzzle that needed to be solved or would click tidily into place. It's more of a Venn diagram than a puzzle.
Without belaboring the debate about whether the movie is too scary or dark for kids, The Wizard of Oz is a scary movie that still is a beloved children's movie, and very attractive to children.
I think that Where The Wild Things Are is a lot less scary than The Wizard of Oz by a long shot. At a certain point kids need plot of some kind of a rift. They can't just watch people eating ice cream for two hours straight. I think as a culture we've gotten a lot more prone to overprotecting kids from any risk, disappointment, fear or threat. But when kids write their own stories, they are always full of all of those things: death and decapitation and disappointment and treachery. Even at three, four, five years old. I think a lot of parents have forgotten these things.
Between Sendak's book, your book and the screenplay we see the refrain "I'll eat you up." Sometimes it's meant ferociously, other times it's tender. Is that also part of the confusion, that parents don't realize that these expressions even of love can seem scary?
I was told a hundred times my mom was going to kill me, once a day probably, and kids know the difference. Part of the point of the Wild Things in Maurice's book and mine and in Spike's movie is that they're like adults in anyone's lives: a Wild Thing is a larger version of an adult — and a hairier version — but they share similarities like posing a great threat to a child if they wanted to and a kid has to learn how to navigate among giant creatures, learn how to protect themselves and dodge a giant claw metaphorically and literally.
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