We are not, by any stretch of the imagination, Tim Burton haters. One very senior Playlist member of staff considers “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” one of the greatest movies ever made. The rest of us have our favorites: “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood,” even “Sleepy Hollow.” The filmmaker is an extremely talented visualist, and a man with a certain empathy for life’s outsiders, which has led to work, over the years, both staggeringly beautiful and moving.
Which is why we’ve been so bummed out by his gradual ossification. Starting, arguably, with “Planet of the Apes” (and possibly even further back – it’ s not like “Batman Returns” or “Mars Attacks” were the model of filmmaking restrain), Burton’s shrunk into his comfort zone, tackling only the kind of projects that could be described even before he signs on as ‘Burton-esque,’ masterclasses in production and costume design, which are mostly empty of anything else, reaching an apex with 2010’s miserable, hollow “Alice in Wonderland.”
We’re fearful, but ever hopeful, of this year’s “Dark Shadows” and “Frankenweenie,” neither of which immediately show a desire to do anything new or exciting, and we can’t help but feel that his further-off projects are just as disappointing. Already attached to Jane Goldman‘s adaptation of bestselling novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” a title that reads like an “Entourage” parody of a Tim Burton movie, Burton is, according to Heat Vision, closing on another live-action take on a fairy tale; in this case a version of “Pinocchio” set up at Warner Bros.
There are in fact a trio of films about the little wooden puppet who wanted to be a real boy in development – Guillermo del Toro has been working on a stop-motion animated take with music by Nick Cave, while “Real Steel” helmer Shawn Levy is attached to direct a prequel, “The Three Misfortunes of Geppetto,” over at Fox. But WB’s take, to be produced by Dan Jinks (“American Beauty,” “Milk“), has a big head start, as it’s attracted the attention of Burton, who in turn wants one of the biggest stars of the moment, Robert Downey Jr., to star as woodcarver Geppetto, the creator of L’il Pinocchio.
It’s not entirely surprising; while Downey Jr. might feel miscast in the part, he’s likely studios’ first or second suggestion for any vaguely quirky part going, and Warners, who’ve taken him to major hits in the “Sherlock Holmes” franchise, would undoubtedly be keen to have him. And the interest appears to be mutual, although apparently dependent on working out a schedule – Downey Jr. will shoot “Iron Man 3” soon and has another half-dozen projects in development.
Right now, it seems that Warners are prioritizing getting their film made before the competition, with the trade suggesting that, if Burton chooses to make ‘Miss Peregrine’ first, they won’t wait for him, or Downey Jr. (who previously flirted with, but bailed on, another reboot of a classic tale, Sam Raimi’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful“).
We’re being pretty cynical here, and to be fair, there’s one big reason for optimism as the script comes from Bryan Fuller, a TV veteran who was behind the likes of “Wonderfalls” and “Pushing Daisies,” here making his big screen debut. The screenplay’s been praised by those who’ve read it, and the fact that it exists puts it one up on ‘Miss Peregrine,’ which is still in progress, so should Downey Jr. sign on, this could move ahead swiftly as Burton’s project. We just hope our worst fears about it don’t come true. In the meantime, Burton’s “Dark Shadows” hits on May 11, with “Frankenweenie” following on October 5.