“I wanted to make something my kids could see.”
Ah, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard that phrase, I could retire comfortably by now. It's a common refrain because many artists start their careers with a kind of ferocity, unafraid to explore any topic, unwilling to compromise, and determined to demolish taboos in every form. But like everyone, when they have kids, they are changed by that experience, and it makes sense that when those kids start asking about what their parents do, those parents get real motivated real fast to be involved in something that they can share with their kids.
There's nothing I've made that I can show my own kids any time soon. “Cigarette Burns,” “Pro-Life,” and “Skin and Bones” are all horror with some truly nasty and dark little corners. I'm not even sure how I'd preface screening any of those for the boys. It will be a long, long time before they see those movies. There are things I've written that I wish they could see, but those things remain unproduced. If you're in a position to suddenly shift gears in a big way and make something that you can feel good about sharing with your kids, then why wouldn't you?
In the case of Paul Thomas Anderson, there's nothing he's made so far that in any way even remotely approaches the realm of “kid-friendly.” I picture a kid's film by him looking like “Where The Wild Things Are,” so it would seem like “Pinocchio” is a perfect starting place for him since it is one of the strangest, darkest stories for children I can imagine.
This is the version that's been kicking around for a little while now with Robert Downey Jr. set to star as Geppetto. They've thrown some big talent at the script in the past, including Bryan Fuller and Jane Goldman, and now it looks like Paul Thomas Anderson is working on the script with the possibility that he'll come on to direct as well. I imagine that's all about how the development process goes with Team Downey, the company run by Susan Downey.
I'm curious about the general chemistry between RDJ and PTA. I adore “Inherent Vice,” and part of me is still curious about what the film would have been like with Downey in the role. I'll honestly be excited by anything the two of them want to do together, and I have to believe that neither one of them would be terribly excited about doing some cookie-cutter super-safe version of the story. As I get older, I am more and more amazed by just how dark even the Disney version is, and as Disney leads a charge to make live-action versions of every damn thing they've ever released (I'm sure that $300 million reboot of “Oliver and Company” is just around the corner, so keep dreaming the dream), I wonder how they'll approach this one. I can't imagine the modern Alan Horn-run Disney greenlighting a film with the Pleasure Island sequence intact, but I can see Paul Thomas Anderson positively giddy to get his hands on that scene.
I will confess that as a child, “Pinocchio” spoke to me very directly because I was adopted, and I found Geppetto's devotion to his little wooden boy to be incredibly moving and significant. I think people forget that the reason we imprint on these stories when we're young isn't because of the merchandise or the marketing or even the technical polish. It's because certain stories or certain characters push past everything else and speak to the core of who we are. I know that it's a trend right now to bring these public domain fairy tales back because of brand recognition. I get the cynical side of things. But when you've got two artists like Robert Downey Jr. and Paul Thomas Anderson and you're giving them support to tell what will hopefully be a major and heartfelt telling of a story that has endured for good reason, there is reason to be optimistic. I've seen some grumbling online about PTA being out of his wheelhouse here, but how about we let him tell us what his wheelhouse is?
Consider me curious.