Most everyone I know was looking forward to The Where the Wild Things Are movie with great anticipation. It had taken so long to bring to the screen and when it was announced that Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers were collaborating on the film there was an audible buzz about things like integrity and fidelity. As it turned out, the film was not the expected result. It was not a Pixar or Disney animation, but rather a live action production that was spare and expressionistic. It wasn't catering to children (but in a way, neither was the book). Dave Eggers also surprised many in his full blown novelization of a children's picture book. While for me the initial screening and reading were a bit of shock, it didn't take long to become uncomfortably comfortable with the new interpretations. Prior to the premiere of the film I interviewed Maurice Sendak for NYC & Company. His insights into the book never disappoint. I also read Egger's novel, [The Wild Things](http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Things-Fur-covered-Dave-Eggers/dp/1934781622/?tag=core77-20), and requested an interview as well. He graciously agreed to talk about his motivations and process.
Steven Heller: I know that Sendak gave you and Spike Jonze total freedom. He told me that his goal was to be as liberal with you as his editor Ursula Nordstrom was with him as a young writer and artist. Nonetheless, did you feel any constraints in adapting and reinterpreting his material?
Dave Eggers: Well, I think art of any kind usually benefits from a constraint or two. When I teach writing to high school kids, they almost always do their best writing when there are some constraints, or a very specific prompt. It makes you work a bit harder, for some reason. With Wild Things, it was good to know how the book would start and end. With that settled, there was a lot of freedom in the pages in between.
Heller: I never understood until speaking with Maurice that the Wild Things were his immigrant relatives. That realization made the book and movie more resonant for me since I had the same embarrassed feelings. What was your visceral response to the wild thing characters?
Eggers: We definitely went in a new direction with who the Wild Things are. In the movie they're not immigrants from Eastern Europe, of course. But in both cases, Sendak's and ours, they're versions of humans seen through a child's eyes: huge, dangerous, hairy, smelly, full of pain and often finding it difficult to sleep at night. But they're also just as capable of joy and goofiness, and irrational acts of creativity and hope, as children.
Heller: What struck me about both the movie and novel reinterpretations was the, well, naturalism of the approach. Since the film was live action and the book was not exactly illustrated, the characters take on a more realistic aura. Was this something you wanted to achieve? More realism?
Eggers: Yeah, I would say that that's a cue that began with Spike. Early on in the writing of the script, I would suggest various semi-magical powers that the Wild Things would have, and he always struck down that kind of idea in favor of strict naturalism. They had to only be capable of what a human of that size would be capable of. And in the end, the way they lumber around resembles the movements of middle-aged humans. I think that gives the movie so much of its melancholy. But with the book, because I didn't have to worry about how Australian technicians would figure out how to make the creatures run or jump, I took a few more liberties with their abilities.
Heller: Where there any true differences between the three of you in doing this project? I know that Sendak has very high regard for both you and Spike Jonze. But Wild Things is his "baby" and you are kind of tampering with it.
Eggers: Well, in both cases Sendak asked us to do these things. He wanted the movie to be directed by Spike, and he asked me to write this novel. So I think he knew he had only himself to blame; he empowered us to mess with his baby. Every so often he had small requests to make on the script or the book. But they were always pretty surgical and minor. When he was finished reading my novel he only had two requests. One was that the dog at the beginning be white, not black, and the other was the excision of an insult that Max hurls at Mr. Beckman--a representation of Maurice himself. So I cut it. I think those are the only two changes he asked for. I think he and Spike and I all thought the best way to have these different versions of the story co-exist was to make them as distinct as possible, and that meant we all had to allow each other to pull the story in our own, sometimes very personal, directions.
Heller: You were a painter, did you have any desire to engage in altering the look of the Wild Things?
Eggers: No, I couldn't do that. I couldn't tamper with anything Sendak's done. Nothing he's drawn can be improved upon.
Heller: I have to admit that having read the Wild Things so many times to myself and my son, I was not as prepared for your interpretations as I might have been if I was a casual reader. At first it shocked me. Maybe it was the realism. But ultimately I settled in and accepted both film and novel as a new experience. What was it that brought you to the final outcome?
Eggers: When Spike and I started writing, we spent weeks talking about our own childhoods, and there was so much that got dredged up during the process that would never fit in the script. So for me, the book was a chance to explore a lot of my own ideas about childhood, some of them very personal, some satirical. So with the novel, I made Max a bit more like the kid I was, and the kids I knew growing up. We did a lot of bad stuff as boys, a lot of dangerous stuff. That was the goal, every day--to do go off into the woods and do something stupid. In some ways his life before the island, in the book, is an homage to a childhood that's probably not as common as it used to--where a kid of eight could just get on his bike and leave in the morning and not return till it's dark. So Max feels a little like a caged animal, or an animal who's had his habitat taken away. Even at his school, they've paved over the grass to save money to buy more Scantron forms. But kids need space, and they need freedom, they need to get dirty as often as possible.