Ink & Pixel: Where The Wild Things Are

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

I want you to stop whatever it is you’re doing at this very moment, and think back to when you were a child. Picture yourself pressed against your favorite couch corner, or tucked tightly beneath your favorite dinosaur or She-Ra: Princess of Power bed sheets. Are you there? Good. Now, with memories of your tender years all around you, I want you to recall – as best you can – the stories that helped to inspire and shape who you are today. For me, I spent countless nights reading books like Calvin and Hobbes, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark by Al Schwartz, or the fine works of Roald Dahl. In a way, these books helped to shape me into the creative, slightly twisted, and exploratory individual that I am today.

One story that towers above the others from my youth is author/illustrator Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where The Wild Things Are’. This hauntingly dark piece of fiction was difficult to avoid back in the day. The book was strategically included in the stacks of just about every library, and could always be found as part of the Scholastic book sales that periodically featured during your elementary school years. The fact of the matter is: many writers, directors, and producers have approached Sendak throughout the years, hoping that he would grant them the permission to bring his timeless classic to life on the big screen. However, it wasn’t until director Spike Jonze offered his unique vision that Sendak finally gave in.

Released in the year 2009, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is the collective vision of Jonze, Sendak, and riot girl musical artist Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The film stars first-time child actor Max Records, alongside the voice talent of actors James Gandolfini, Catherine O’ Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry Jr., Chris Cooper, and Lauren Ambrose. As one would imagine, the film took many liberties with its source material, yet managed to stay true to the book’s exploration of a child’s over-active imagination.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, the book, was written and illustrated by Sendak in the year 1963, and distributed by the Harper & Row publishing house. I mentioned earlier that Sendak had passed on allowing his story to be converted into a major motion picture on many occasions, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t translated into other mediums throughout the years. In the year 1974, the story was adapted into an animated short film, then presented again in 1988 using a rather crude method of claymation.

When asked as to why Maurice agreed to let Jonze make the picture, he had this to say about the child-like director, “What’s been a film for about 16 to 18 years, there were many people who were interested in it, but those people did not interest me. And then Spike came into my life. He’s roughly the age I was when I did the book. Now, he’s doing his version of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. What I’ve seen him do, he’s turned it into his, without giving up mine – embodying mine with Spike Jonze. Astonishingly, it maintains its perculiarness as it were, but flows through whole thing, giving it such a strange feeling. I’ve never seen a movie that looked or felt like this.

For those of you who might be a little too young to remember what WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is all about, allow me to paint you a picture. Max, an unruly young man dressed in wolf pajamas, has arrived at his wits end in the face of the many changes to his family life. After being sent to his room in a huff by his aggravated mother, Max escapes into a world of imagination where beasts referred to as “Wild Things” dwell. When Max shows no fear, despite the gargantuan size and freakish nature of the “Wild Things”, they come to declare Max as the king of their land. Thinking that he’s finally found a place where he belongs, Max soon begins to miss his mother and wishes to return home, much to the dismay of the “Wild Things”.

Jonze and his crew began filming in April of 2006 inside the Docklands Studio Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia. Now, like any film that’s got style and class, Jonze employed the aid of the Jim Henson Creature Shop when settling on the designs and overall aesthetic of his film. Using a combination of live-action and CGI, Jonze brought the fur and scale-covered monstrosities to life. Anyone who has been a patron of for the better part of the last 3 years knows that I’ve written many Ink & Pixel articles, yet it never ceases to amaze me how these visionary artists bring the films discussed here to life.

In the case of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, the bulk of the voice recordings were done on a tiny sound stage, rigged with green screens, while the actors performed their roles as they would any other live-action outing. Fitted with cameras, reflective paint, and special microphones, each actor’s voiced was recorded, then synched with the costumed actor’s performance via CGI techniques. In addition to the lavish locations and effects, songs such as “Hideaway”, “Rumpus”, “Worried Shoes”, and “All Is Love” – performed by none other than Karen O, Zalhda, Anisa R.K., and the Kids – are featured in the film. These songs lent an other-worldly and enigmatic feel to the film, breathing a unique sense of energy and life to Max’s fantasy world.

At the time of its release, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE more or less broke even at the box office with a worldwide return that equaled $100,086,793 against its $100 million dollar budget. The film continues to dazzle audiences in the home theater market, and is often the subject of many film-related gatherings all throughout the world. Basically, don’t be surprised if you see an NYC venue such as The Bell House, or The Williamsburg Music Hall throwing a shindig from time to time in which people from all over The Big Apple gather to rock along and be memorized by the film once more.

Personally, I’m a big fan of this film. I adore the soundtrack, and positively love the Lance Acord’s gorgeous cinematography. For me, the film emphasizes the power of imagination in the children of tomorrow, and I for one encourage anyone who’s never seen WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE to do so. Till next time, folks. Keep dreaming.


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.