Yes, Jack the Giant Slayer landed with an epic thud at the box office last week, but don’t expect that misbegotten project to put a dent in Hollywood’s enthusiasm for expensive films based on fairy tales: When these things hit, they hit big, as the billion-dollar gross of Tim Burton’s 2010 take on Alice in Wonderland proves. This weekend, Disney will launch Oz the Great and Powerful, another fantasy epic with broad brand-name recognition, and there are plenty more fairy-tale projects coming down the pike after that. (You can’t quibble with a public-domain property that could generate a billion bucks!) Can any of these eight projects hit Alice-level highs, or are they cursed like Jack and Red Riding Hood to suffer an unhappy ending?
It’s long been a dream of Angelina Jolie’s to play the “Mistress of All Evil” from Sleeping Beauty, and she once had Tim Burton signed to direct her in a version scripted by his Alice in Wonderland writer Linda Woolverton, completing a trio of talent that surely had Disney seeing dollar signs. Once Burton fell out, Jolie courted helmers like David O. Russell and Darren Aronofsky before settling on Robert Stromberg, a first-time director who’s won back-to-back Oscars for art direction (thanks to his work on Avatar and Alice). Stromberg shot the film last summer with a stacked supporting cast that includes Elle Fanning as Aurora (and, famously, Jolie’s daughter Vivienne as young Aurora); Maleficent is due out July 2, 2014.
Disney’s live-action take on the glass-slipper fairy tale hit a roadblock in January when director Mark Romanek left the project; word is that his take was too dark for the Mouse House. (It’s not the first time that the Never Let Me Go helmer departed a fantasy film at the last minute because of creative differences, as he famously walked away from The Wolfman only three weeks before shooting began.) Fortunately, Disney kept star Cate Blanchett onboard to play the Wicked Stepmother and lured Kenneth Branagh to sub in for Romanek, while last week, Emma Watson emerged as the top pick to play Cinderella. The studio is still aiming for a 2014 release.
Expect a few different takes on the loinclothed hero: While brawny Twilight star Kellan Lutz shot a motion-captured Tarzan tale last year, Warner Bros. has been trying to mount a live-action version with director David Yates, who made the final few installments of the Harry Potter franchise. Rumored to star Alexander Skarsgård as the title character, this Tarzan would serve as a sequel of sorts to the original Edgar Rice Burroughs story: Here, the ape-man has left the jungle and assimilated into British society, but he’s asked by the queen to guide a military leader (Samuel L. Jackson) back into his vine-strewn home turf. (Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in!) If that’s not enticing enough, a report this week revealed that Yates is wooing Jessica Chastain to play Tarzan’s love interest Jane.
Disney’s been trying to mount an animated take on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen for years, but we’d wager that the success of Tangled cracked the code. Like that supersize hit, Frozen has shed the title of its source material for something more gender-neutral, added a rugged outdoorsman (voiced by real-life Disney prince Jonathan Groff) to entice young boys, and amped up the adventure in this story of a young woman (Kristen Bell) trying to end the reign of Idina Menzel’s evil ruler.
The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up is suddenly Hollywood’s hottest property, as no fewer than three films are planned with wildly different takes on Peter Pan. The Hunger Games director Gary Ross recently committed to the prequel Peter and the Starcatchers, while Channing Tatum and director Gavin O’Connor are working on Neverland, which would explore the origin stories of Peter and Captain Hook. Neither is as weird as the long-gestating Pan, though, which imagines Captain Hook as a police detective in pursuit of a childlike kidnapper. Once pegged as a Guillermo del Toro project, Aaron Eckhart began circling the film two years ago, though it’s yet to go into production.
A film adaptation of the Broadway behemoth seems like a no-brainer, but Universal’s been awfully cautious with this property. In 2010, J.J. Abrams, Ryan Murphy, and Rob Marshall were among the top-drawer directors meeting to make the movie, but things went silent until last July, when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close helmer Stephen Daldry began flirting with the project. Still, there’s been no news since, and Universal chairman Adam Fogelson demurred on the subject in a recent interview, claiming, “We should be in agreement together on when the right time to do this is. I will tell you I believe that we are collectively moving toward Wicked coming to the screen sooner rather than later.” It’s complicated to film a show that’s currently an enormous Broadway hit — that’s why we won’t be seeing a Book of Mormon adaptation for several years at least — but did Universal wait too long by allowing Oz the Great and Powerful to come out first?
Beauty and the Beast
If Emma Watson takes that Cinderella role, there will be ripples felt throughout the fairy-tale kingdom, since the Harry Potter actress has been attached to star in Guillermo del Toro’s take on Beauty and the Beast since 2011. What’s more, Beauty is supposed to film this summer, setting up a potential scheduling conflict with Cinderella, not to mention an obvious genre overlap. Would Watson be able to do both fairy-tale films … and would she want to?
The Little Mermaid
Redheaded heroines are big business for Disney right now, and yet Ariel … well, flounders. (Sorry, we had to.) The studio recently canceled a planned 3-D reissue of the beloved movie musical after its other 3-D rereleases started bowing to limited returns; meanwhile, Anna Karenina director Joe Wright was long attached to a dark reimagining of Mermaid, but confessed that the recent fairy-tale boom has actually lessened his enthusiasm for the project. Still, if Oz makes a mint and studios keep strip-mining name-brand fantasy stories, we’d expect Mermaid to find her legs pretty soon. (If only so Disney could cast Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, because come on.)