Marc Forster, director of the Academy Award winning deep-south racial drama Monster’s Ball is teaming up with Tom McCarthy, director of the Academy Award winning journalism and Catholic abuse scandal drama Spotlight, to make a live-action Winnie the Pooh.
I mention the pedigree of these filmmakers not to denigrate their next project, but to highlight the commitment Disney has made in bringing their animated library to the screen in big-budget pictures from prestige directors.
That model has worked for Disney, which has a string of critical and box office hits in their recent live-action efforts. March will see the release of Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, which comes quick on the heels of Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book and David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon.
The recent enthusiasm for Disney was likely created after 2014’s Into the Woods smashed through theaters, making more than $213 Million worldwide, and Maleficent broke bigger, earning $715 Million. Two years later, The Jungle Book made (hold on your butts) more than $909 Million. Expectations for Beauty and the Beast are likely as high (though a March release doesn’t inspire that level of confidence). Bill Condon’s Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2 combined for a worldwide box office of over $1.6 Billion.
Those films are good predecessors to measure a live action musical version of Beauty and the Beast. Breaking Dawn 1+2 are underrated (it’s true), and they show Condon’s ability to tell a sweeping and bizarre love story in the midst of a pretty dumb project. Early looks at The Beauty and The Beast have been underwhelming, however, and it’s very possible that Emma Watson will sing Disney to their first live-action dud in more than a decade.
Which brings us back to the Winnie the Pooh. Bringing live-action to the Hundred Acre Wood is a delicate matter, in both story and character. How to render Pooh Bear in live action will be a challenge, no matter what story one tells. Reports are that Christopher Robin will be the central figure except, TWIST, Robin will be a “work-obsessed adult who has little time for his wife and child, let alone to indulge the imagination he had when he was younger.” Disney is looking for an A-lister for the part (“think of a Benedict Cumberbatch-level star”).
We’ve seen that one before from Disney, in the much-beloved but not much good, Hook.
A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, and the subsequent animation from Disney are, like so much from the company, beloved by millions. Forster and McCarthy have their work cut out, but if Disney’s previous efforts are a model, there’s reason for optimism.