Monday, October 12, 2009

Sailing from Book to Screen

This Friday the much anticipated film adaptation of the children's classic, Where the Wild Things Are, hits theaters. I am extremely excited about this film. It is because of this that I am going to be highlighting the film every day this week in anticipation for the release.

I will cover as many aspects of the film as I can, then on Thursday I will post my pre-movie thoughts, and then on Friday I will post my review of the film itself. Today I want to take a look at how this film became a reality, the genesis of Where the Wild Things Are, so to speak.

The book was written way back in 1963 by Maurice Sendak. While the story was done as an animated short back in 1973 for Weston Woods Studios, it was very much a literal adaptation of the book, simply for children's amusement, and did not expand upon the story cinematically.

Nearly a decade later, in 1983, John Lasseter (now head of Disney Animation and founder of Pixar) wanted to make a CGI-animated film for Disney. In order to sway Disney he made an early test utilizing Where the Wild Things Are as a template. If the Disney execs liked the test it would have started up production on a CG-produced Disney version of Sendak's book, but of course it fell through and the execs fired Lasseter for being too innovative. Lasseter went on to now be the head of animation at Disney, due to a little place he started up upon being fired with friend Ed Catmull, called Pixar (kinda funny how everything all works out).

All was quiet for nearly an entire decade, until in the early '90s interests in possibly adapting Sendak's book to the big screen became a reality. Countless directors filed in, but due to Sendak's contract, he had say over which director got the job, and he never found a connection with any of the directors who came in-and-out over this period. After seeing Being John Malkovich, Sendak offered the job to director Spike Jonze.

Jonze set the film up at Universal, a teaser trailer was even attached to Ron Howard's 2000 film How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Of course as things usually happen in development, differences arose between Jonze and the studio and Jonze parted to make Adaptation. In that time Universal tried to make an animated version of the film, but it fell through as well.

After completing Adaptation, Jonze pursued Wild Things once more, setting it up at Warner Bros. In 2005, Jonze and screenwriting partner Dave Eggers turned in the script and shooting began the following year.

All seemed to be on track until early 2008 when test footage from the film leaked out online. The response was for the most part negative. As well, after viewing a rough cut, rumors were that Warner Bros. execs were considering replacing Jonze and re-shooting the entire film. Lots of stuff happened behind the scenes that we'll never truly know, but it seems everyone got what they wanted because the Spike Jonze version of the film is going to be hitting theaters this Friday.

I read in a recent interview that Jonze said that he was very satisfied with the end product, thus it makes me think that majority of Jonze's original vision is in tact. Friday can't come any faster.

For a special treat, check out the CG-animated test directed by John Lasseter from 1983:

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