Infamously, writer/director Joss Whedon, who had recently been saddled with the task of bringing the Marvel Universe’s crown jewel “The Avengers” to cinematic life, took a two-week vacation from editing that monstrous movie and spent it cheaply shooting an adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing,” filmed entirely in his Los Angeles home with a bunch of his showbiz friends. What’s so shocking, is that for a no-budget black-and-white movie that nobody even knew existed until it was finished, “Much Ado About Nothing” is just as entertaining as “The Avengers” was in a completely different way. Both feel very much like Whedon applying his specific skill set to a preexisting property and coming away with something that’s identifiably Whedon-esque but also true to the original material. It got us thinking about other things we’d like to see Whedon tackle.
A Pixar Movie
Few remember that Joss Whedon is an Academy Award nominee. And the script that he was nominated for was none other than “Toy Story,” Pixar‘s first feature-length film (and the first computer-animated feature ever). Whedon’s job on the first movie, which included an extended, four-month stay at Pixar, was to streamline the script (claiming that it was “in shambles” when it was delivered to him) and solidify the characters (amongst other contributions, he created the Rex character and the band of merry mutant toys). In the years since the phenomenal success of “Toy Story,” the director has never been invited back, and at least once has (pre-“Brave“) publicly raised concerns about the studio’s lack of strong female characters, which probably didn’t win anyone over at the studio. But now that Whedon is seen as a true asset to not only Marvel but the Disney corporation as a whole, any bad blood has likely been washed down the drain. A Pixar movie would allow Whedon’s seemingly limitless imagination run totally free, in a way rarely seen outside of his comic book work and potentially bring us a stronger female lead than even Merida in “Brave.” We imagine the results would be something along the lines of Brad Bird‘s “The Incredibles” – a genuine animation game-changer. (And hey, there are currently four as-yet-unidentified Pixar movies on the schedule through 2018…)
A “Star Wars” Entry
Assuming that J.J. Abrams either leads the “Star Wars” franchise into darkness, or gets itchy about taking on one of the roughly four thousand projects he and his Bad Robot banner have amassed over the past few years, Whedon could easily pick up the reins to the storied franchise that takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. As far as contemporaries go, Abrams and Whedon are practically Kirk and Khan, so a swap could be very easy (they both got their start in genre television, overseeing large, intricately complex mythologies before transitioning to big time franchise movies), and given how beloved Whedon is by the larger Disney framework (that now owns Lucasfilm), could be easily facilitated. Whedon is clearly adept at handling this kind of material, too. Not only is he truly gifted when it comes to juggling a large ensemble cast (the “team” dynamic, reminiscent of early “X-Men” comic books, that runs through everything from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Dollhouse“) but he also has experience in the genre – his short-lived Fox television series “Firefly” and its spin-off movie “Serenity” both featured a ragtag group of space outlaws. Basically, Whedon had fashioned a version of “Star Wars” that was exclusively centered around the Millennium Falcon and its roguish captain Han Solo (Harrison Ford) – its churlish hero even had a similar name, Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). Whedon’s abilities would also aid in revitalizing the franchise, too, with his emphasis on humor and emotional realism a stark contrast to the cardboard phoniness that the prequels traded in.
A Disney Animated Feature
With the lines between Pixar and Disney getting blurrier by the moment (the marriage’s unholy consecration – it’s very own red wedding – being the induction of Merida from “Brave” into the hallowed halls of the Disney Princess family), there is a sharp distinction to be made, not to mention some not-so-distant history with Disney Feature Animation and Whedon. To explain: in the ’90s Whedon worked very closely with Disney Feature Animation on a number of huge projects (in fact, when he went to rehab “Toy Story,” he was already set up at Disney). Whedon was mostly inspired by the recent work that lyricist and writer Howard Ashman did at the company (“Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Beauty and the Beast“). He most notably worked on two traditionally animated projects while there – an early version of “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” (in the words of Whedon his version was “Journey to the Center of the Earth” meets “Man Who Would Be King“) and a musical version of “Marco Polo” in the vein of “My Fair Lady.” What makes the “Marco Polo” project so tantalizing is that, beyond the finished script, Whedon also contributed at least three songs (with music by Broadway stalwart Robert Lindsey-Nassif). Let’s just restate that: a Disney musical, with a script and songs by Joss Whedon, is sitting in the Disney vault somewhere, going unmade. Should Disney want to return to the traditionally animated ground that precipitated the so-called Disney Renaissance, we can’t think of a better place – or a better person – to start.
A Straight-Up Musical Adaptation
It’s no secret that Whedon is a total theater queen – he has overseen a musical episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (something Ryan Murphy called “one of the great musical episodes in the history of television”), a ballet episode of undervalued ‘Buffy’ spin-off “Angel,” an episode of “Glee” and an award-winning musical web series called “Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” that featured Broadway stalwart Neil Patrick Harris in the title role (not to mention the “Marco Polo” Disney project). So clearly the dude knows his shit. And it would be fascinating to see him take on one of his favorite musicals, especially considering the amount of successful Broadway musicals that have either a) never been tackled cinematically or b) haven’t been remade for literally decades, is kind of staggering. In the same way that he refashioned one of his favorite Shakespeare plays for a modern audience while keeping much of the original text, Whedon could redo a musical (even one that’s musty and covered in wig residue), contemporizing it and upping the number of witty quips. There isn’t one particular musical that stands out as being ripe for the Whedon picking, but that makes the possibility even more exciting. It’s a shame that Disney’s big adaptation of Stephen Sondheim‘s “Into the Woods” is being mounted during Whedon’s extended tenure at Marvel U because that would have been perfect for the filmmaker (Whedon is a huge Sondheim buff). Alas. Superheroes punching each other called.
Whedon’s “Firefly“/”Serenity” is first and foremost a sci-fi tale, with zooming space ships and cannibalistic mutants (or something), but it’s also very much a western. Part of the shock of the series was just how much of a western it was, complete with people riding horses, a kind of lawless frontier aesthetic (both thematically and design-wise) and a honky tonk theme song. It would be fun to see Whedon tackle, in a more pure fashion, a genre he clearly loves, taking all of the hackneyed trappings and inverting them in a way that only Whedon can do (he’s a filmmaker constantly celebrating genre while also deconstructing it). Whedon is also clearly obsessed with period settings, with some of the most effective episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” being flashback-intensive ones (his run on ace Marvel comic “Runaways” also featured an extensive time travel angle that sent the main characters back to a steampunk-y New York). He’s already comfortable with horses, which is always a requirement.
It would also be nice to see Whedon tackle a straight-up horror film, since “Cabin in the Woods” (which he co-wrote and produced) sometimes felt more like a heady thesis project than an actual scare-the-shit-out-of-you chiller. And it might be nice to see Whedon return to the action genre – he famously co-wrote (without receiving screen credit) Jan de Bont‘s masterful “Speed” and sold a $1 million spec script called “Suspension” about a terrorist attack on a bridge (it was never actualized and was, at one point, considered for a sequel to the Sylvester Stallone disaster movie “Daylight“). Also, it’d be interesting to see if DC and Warner Bros. try to woo him back to that universe, following the contentious development of a Whedon-helmed “Wonder Woman” project (felled largely due to producer Joel Silver‘s unhappiness with Whedon’s script). If he did that, he might as well be called the superhero whisperer. Or something.
Thoughts? Where do you want to see Whedon go next? “Much Ado About Nothing” opens this Friday, June 7th.