Sendak on Screen

OK, with the Where the Wild Things movie coming out on Friday, it’s about time for a blog post on Sendak’s ventures into film. For those of you counting down the days until the release, you might enjoy this Newsweek article about the film, this MTV page in which the actors talk about their memories of the book, or the AP review of the film.

Having not yet seen the film myself, I’ll have to hold off on any further commentary on Jonze’s efforts. But WWTA does not represent the first attempt to translate Sendak’s work into moving pictures and I thought I might digress and talk a bit about some of his previous on-screen projects.

My earliest Sendak memory actually involves his 1975 TV special Really Rosie. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this project, it was a animated special for which Sendak collaborated with Carole King. It incorporated characters from Sendak’s Nutshell library (Pierre, Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, One was Johnny) along with Rosie, who came from such books as The Sign on Rosie’s Door. Anyway, I was not alive in 1975 to see Really Rosie on TV, but when I was in kindergarden in 1984 my teacher used to play music during naptime/quiet time in order to keep us from talking. She usually played classical music, but occasionally she would play the soundtrack to Really Rosie, which would make my day since I thought it was MUCH more interesting than Mozart or Ravel or whatever.

As a special, Really Rosie was a one-shot deal. But there have been two actual TV series based on Sendak’s books–Little Bear, which ran from 1995 to 2000, and Seven Little Monsters, which ran from 2000 to 20003. Interestingly, Seven Little Monsters is based on a book which itself is based on an unaired segment that Sendak created with Jim Henson for Sesame Street. Because of his clout as a children’s book author, Sendak was involved in some of the earliest discussion seminars that led to creation of Sesame Street–there are some amusing stories about this in the Sesame Street history Street Gang, which I picked up at the library a few months back.

In addition to Sendak’s characters, Sendak himself has made some on-screen appearances over the years (including in our own Sendak-umentary DVD that you can buy at the museum shop). One of the most surprising Sendak appearances is probably Last Dance, which is a documentary about a collaboration Sendak did with the Pilobolus Dance Company on a Holocaust-based dance piece. During the 1980s Sendak was extremely involved with opera, theater, and dance projects, which may come as a surprise to folks who only know him through his books. Another unusual appearance was a cameo as a rabbi in his friend Tony Kushner’s HBO series Angels in America (Kushner and Meryl Streep also played rabbis in the same scene).

That’s about it for my discursive musings on Sendak movies. I’d be interested to know if any of you have memories of his previous TV/film projects, or thoughts about the new movie–feel free to add your comments below.