Guillermo del Toro might be distinguishable to many for his rotund physique, but he’s better known these days, production-wise at least, for stretching himself too thin. Since his last film — 2008’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” — he famously hotfooted it from “The Hobbit” over a year ago, citing production delays even before MGM declared bankruptcy, though he’s yet to get started on a new project, even as Peter Jackson’s two-part epic began production earlier in the year. Conventional logic would dictate that del Toro’s long overdue for getting a Spanish-language “one for me” out of his system along the lines of “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”, but he tells The LA Times he’d seriously consider taking on Disney’s revisionist fairy tale “Maleficent” that’s been shopped around since 2009, usually with Angelina Jolie in consideration for the lead role, if the studio asked him. “Let me put it this way, if they ask I’ll take the meeting”, del Toro assures us. Wait, what? Aren’t you meant to be getting ready to make “Pacific Rim”?
What’s clear is that the director is totally hot for the villainous witch Maleficent — the Big Bad in 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty” — in dragon form: “I think Maleficent’s dragon is the only design with the wings separate from the front legs, the only time that design has ever worked. And let me tell you how much of a fan I am. I have a collection of over two or three dozen Maleficent figures, some of them four or five feet tall. I own about 10 pieces of conceptual art from ‘Sleeping Beauty‘ that include the dragon and a lot more pieces that are just from ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ It’s one of my three favorite Disney films. I would love to.”
Del Toro’s reputation is formidable, and with good reason. He’s one of the best filmmakers we have, even if he’s yet to totally parlay this into a wholly satisfactory Hollywood effort (though even lesser works like “Mimic” have their moments). But “Maleficent” is a property with its own problems, which recently lost Tim Burton as its attached director. The story — which rejiggers the conventional “Sleeping Beauty” tale to the villain’s perspective — seems to be straightforwardly stalking territory the musical “Wicked” marked out on stage some years ago, and the potential for del Toro to get lost in the mire of the demands of a blockbuster on this scale is huge. Del Toro seems to acknowledge these problems, saying he “cannot take any more projects on a fast track”. No kidding – though “At the Mountains of Madness” was recently killed stone-dead, his commitments to “Pacific Rim” are obvious, while “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”, which proudly proclaims itself to be “A Guillermo del Toro Production” in its moody trailer, drops later this year.
Burton, the project’s original helmer, despite being an A-list director and Disney lackey for several decades, is still bizarrely heralded by some as a visionary with an anarcho-goth sensibility, even if he managed to sledgehammer any the nuance out of “Alice in Wonderland” and its literary origins by ramming the tale through a McKee-approved story-structure. “Maleficent”, unfortunately, shares “Alice”’s screenwriter, Linda Woolverton and presumably a similarly blasé approach to its source material that would likely not chime with del Toro’s idiosyncratic sensibilities.
At this point you have to wonder what del Toro would seriously consider turning down. A “Plants vs. Zombies” adaptation? Poe-inspired kabuki puppetry? A “Tinkerbell” reboot? Del Toro getting his mitts on this Disney revisionist trend would, of course, like everything else he vaguely expresses interest in, be an interesting prospect. But as he’s proven himself to be such an easy flipskirt in the past, it’s probably best to file this one in the “Doug Jones as Frankenstein’s Monster” drawer.