STARRING Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo
WRITTEN BY Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers
DIRECTED BY Spike Jonze
When Max Records auditioned for the role of Max, the precocious boy in a dirty white wolf suit who sails to an island full of fearsome horned monsters and becomes their even more fearsome king, he arrived with one advantage — and it wasn’t his first name. ”I had memorized all the lines,” says the now-12-year-old acting novice from Portland, Ore. ”I was totally obsessed with the book, like from the age of half a year old to, like, 4. So I was really familiar with it.” (Ah, the perspective of youth.) Of course, Maurice Sendak’s 1963 kid-lit masterpiece is a picture book containing just 10 sentences. But Records clearly has a deep feel for the material. ”It’s not moralistic or patronizing. It’s not ‘Johnny did something bad and had to apologize.’ It’s about being a kid. It’s just real.”
Spike Jonze, the auteur behind Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, says he initially balked when offered the project more than a decade ago — by no less than Sendak himself. ”I felt it was just so perfect in the form in which it already existed,” says Jonze. ”I didn’t know what more you’d add to flesh it into a movie, or even why you would want to add to it.” He’s reluctant to share too many details, but says his live-action adaptation elaborates on the world of the wild things as well as Max’s relationship with his mom (Catherine Keener) and her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo).
Jonze began shooting in 2006, but by 2008 the movie was not yet finished and there were reports that Warner Bros. wanted the whole thing reshot. Not true, says Jonze and producer Vincent Landay, though both admit the production was a long, challenging process — from finding a naturalistic way to depict the fantasy world (”I wanted everything to feel like it had really happened, not fabricated with CGI,” says Jonze) to filming in the remote wilderness of Australia to getting emotionally resonant performances from Records, the puppet monsters, and the voice cast (including James Gandolfini and Forest Whitaker). Laughs Jonze, ”We made it really, really hard on ourselves.”