Surprising just about everyone with its strong opening weekend (#1 spot, $32.7 million), Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are is determinedly not your typical kid flick – a fact that director Jonze, his co-writer Dave Eggers and the book’s author/illustrator (and film’s producer) Maurice Sendak are rightfully pleased with themselves about.
And one of the quirkier elements in the live-action endeavor -- which takes place mostly on a fantasy isle where behemoth horned-and-clawed neurotics build huts and bicker with their boy intruder, Max (Max Records) – is the music. Folks who saw the Where the Wild Things Are trailers over the summer recognized Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” with its alt-anthemic rhythms, meshing perfectly with Jonze’s imaginary world visuals. But that’s not how the director wanted to go with the final sound track. Instead, he recruited Yeah Yeah Yeah’s lead singer Karen O to come up with a set of dreamy pop ditties. This she did, working with a choir of kids to give the songs a kind of artful artlessness.
“The first Arcade Fire record is called Funeral, which that song, `Wake Up,’ is on,” explains Jonze, in an interview just before his film opened. “I was listening to that record a lot when we were writing Where the Wild Things Are and it’s a record that thematically is very similar to our movie. It’s about childhood. And so that song was always a part of the movie in some way.
“But we never wanted to use any known songs in the movie, we wanted all the songs to be original. And so very early on I asked Karen to do the music.... Even though Karen had never done music for a movie before, I just knew she had the heart and sensibility for it: that sort of depth and innocence, at the same time.”
Jonze, director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, says that the whole movie was done in that same spirit.
“We were trying to make something that felt like what it feels like to be nine-years-old, and nine-year-olds create really intuitively. They’re not analytical and cerebral. And I can tend to be cerebral — my first two films, I think, worked in a much more cerebral way.This time, I wanted to work more intuitively.”
And bringing in Karen O was a product of that intuitiveness.
“Karen and I talked about how we wanted the score to be more like pop songs — not like bubblegum pop songs, but pop songs like when you’re a kid and you hear a Beatles song, or you hear `God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys. Those are songs that as a kid you might not know exactly what they’re writing about, but you know the feeling that they’re getting at. So that was the idea: pop songs with depth and feeling that were thematically related to the movie, if not literally, lyrically related.”