No film project has enthralled the indie-blogiverse more than Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are. But in the past year, the film has been plagued by rumors: that Jonze’s version was too dark, that the studio hated it, that Jonze might take his name off the movie. Here, the media-shy Jonze finally sets the record straight on one of 2009’s most anticipated films.
Fans were thrilled that you and Eggers were collaborating on WTWTA. But then it was reported that Warner Bros. was concerned about an early version, that it wasn’t the mass-audience movie they wanted. What happened?
Well, the editing process wasn’t always fun, but in the end, we’ve made the movie we set out to make. All the reasons you were excited about it, those were the reasons they [Warner Bros.] were uncomfortable with it. It isn’t what they’re familiar with. But they’ve become comfortable and embraced it. In the end, they let me finish my movie.
They had to have known if they hired you and Eggers, it was going to be unusual.
It’s just not the kind of movie that they make on their own. In most movies about kids, there’s, like, a movie reality: The conflict is a movie conflict, the kid is a movie kid. So when you see behavior or a tone that’s not like that, it took them a while to embrace that.
What specifically did you and the producers argue about?
You know, it’s like talking about a couple that’s been fighting and going to counseling. What matters now is that we made it through all of that — and it’s probably better not to rehash what happened in counseling. I got to make my movie. It is true to the intention of what I set out to do.
What was your intention?
I wanted to make a movie that felt true to me and my experience of being a kid, trying to understand the world and people around me, trying to understand the relationships and wild emotions inside me and the people I was close to. As a kid, there’s no road map to navigate any of that. Basically, I wanted to take this nine-year-old kid seriously as a person who is trying to understand the world and himself.
Some early reports said that the film might be too intense for young kids.
We’re walking that line of making something that’s intense, because kids are so open that something that’s just kind of intense is really intense to an eight-year-old. But any rumor gets so blown out of proportion.
Is it a film for young kids?
It’s not for all four-year-olds. It might not be right for one four-year-old but could work for another. When Maurice wrote the book, Max was five. When I started, it felt like the natural age for Max was eight or nine. So the movie is different in that way.
Is it true there was a moment you almost walked away?
It goes back to the couples counseling. There was definitely a point in time when they were sleeping on the sofa.
Has Maurice Sendak seen it?
Maurice is happy with it. It was important to me that he felt it was honest. To know that he is happy and didn’t think it was pandering or cutesy . . . that passed his barometer test of honesty. That meant a lot.
What was the biggest lesson of all this?
I think I was sort of willfully naive about how hard it was going to be, given the size of the movie, the technical difficulty, that it’s a movie starring a kid, shot on locations. But I think it’s important to stay naive through all of that. If you make decisions based on how hard they’re going to be, then it could be a mistake. So I hope I can be as naive to how hard it is next time. But I need to sleep for a year before I can do anything again.