LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Before joining the cast of "Where the Wild Things Are," the actors had fond memories of Maurice Sendak's picture book about an unruly boy's journey to a make-believe realm of monsters after he's sent to his room without his supper.
Here are recollections — and a bit of literary analysis — from on-camera stars Catherine Keener and Max Records, along with Forest Whitaker, Lauren Ambrose and Catherine O'Hara, who provide voices for the wild things in Spike Jonze's adaptation.
— Records, who stars as Sendak's rebellious protagonist Max, and Keener, who plays his mom, talk in a joint interview on how the book reflects the savage words that sometimes pass between parents and children:
Records: I was a really big fan of the book. My parents started reading it to me when I was probably like 1 1/2 years old or something. It was definitely, it was probably my favorite book for a good portion of two, three, four years. It's not like the classic moralistic story. You do this, you realize what you did was wrong, you go home, and then you learn your lesson. It's different. The boy gets (ticked) off, the mom gets (ticked) off.
Keener: And they don't sit down and talk about it and resolve it and have conflict resolution. They just go for it emotionally. That's what happens sometimes, especially in kind of the stew pot that they were in on that particular day. And at that moment, it made perfect sense to me. It's just like, I'm done, and he's done. At that moment, if they say, `I hate your guts,' they mean it.
— O'Hara on the furor the book provoked when it came out in 1963 over the way Max and his mother clash:
One of the reasons it was controversial is one of the reasons it's great. It shows you a child who is a wild thing, like we all are when we're born. Human beings are wild, unformed, misshapen animals, and it in a very simple, beautiful way captures that little wild animal of a human being. And the mother having the lamest answer, saying, `OK, go upstairs, because I don't want to deal with this in this moment.' Somebody asked today, `What's the wildest thing you've ever done?' And I said, `Parenting.' Because I had a terrible fight over homework this week with my child. And I felt like you come up with this stupid answer. `You go to your room!' Because really, you don't know what to do. You don't know how to control this little being that doesn't want to do what you want them to do. ... The book dares to tell that story. It dares to point up the fact that we're wild animals.
— Whitaker on the tautness of Sendak's words, the power of his images and the mythic nature of the wild things:
I never really concentrated on how many words the book had until now. It seemed to have a lot more to it, even though it was only sparse. The piece deals with such primal issues, that you can't help but inform it. It's a kid up alone in his room, and all of a sudden these monsters appear. And he starts to do rituals with them. Because he's dancing around a fire, and he starts to like, find himself in these rituals. And ultimately returns. For me, with those words and those images that are pretty hieroglyphic in their essence, something powerful comes off the page. ... The monsters, they had these giant heads, and they looked a little friendly. But they had really sharp teeth and really sharp claws, so I think there was some kind of danger in looking at the book. That's what made it unique.
— Ambrose on the book's value as a springboard for readers to reflect on personal issues:
That's exactly what we all do, trying to solve our problems. People lying on couches and going to therapy and trying to access this vast unconscious to allow it to help us solve our problems. That's what the book is about. One of the things it's about to me is that this kid goes and is able to access his vast imagination, childlike imagination, which is what we all try to get back to, to help him learn how to be in the world and learn how to solve his problems with his mom. It's also about how success and fame and being the king is nothing compared to family, community, soup and your mom. That's the last page, that soup that's still hot.