Saturday, July 20, 2013

What Do Robert Downey Jr., Mini-Me and Pinocchio Have in Common?

Megan Reichelt over at The Dark Forest announced this news earlier in the week and I've been waiting to see if there's any developing info to add to the announcement which, in case you missed it was:
Robert Downey Jr. To Play Pinocchio 
Flavorwire has reported that Robert Downey Jr. will play both a young (ger than we are used to) Gepetto and motion capture and voice Pinocchio in an upcoming movie directed by Ben Stiller. Usually Pinocchio is about a man who wants a son, but in this case, due to the strange casting, it might be about a man who wants to make a duplicate of himself. Strange, but intriguing, and appropriate for the roles that Robert Downey Jr typically embodies.
So, yes, RDJr will likely be playing two roles; dual roles that might actually be dueling roles, since it's a father/son-creator/creation relationship (hence the mini-me).

But what have I found out to add to this?

It's a little vague from all corners really, although there are additional "teaser-clues" scattered about if you can track them down, so bear with me while I dig up the tidbits that aren't making headlines because there many details that are quite intriguing. I have to do a little background to explain it all so please forgive any repeats:

From IGN:
In an unusual but utterly intriguing casting rumour, Robert Downey Jr.may play both Gepetto and Pinocchio in a movie adaptation of the classic story helmed by Ben Stiller. 
Warner Bros. was originally trying to unite Downey Jr. with director Tim Burton for the project, but it was subsequently revealed that those negotiations may have run afoul when the Iron Man star recently said he would like to collaborate with Stiller. "I want to make Pinocchio as a live action film," said Downey Jr. at an Iron Man 3 junket, "and not resorting to animation. I would like to do it with Ben Stiller…"  

Let's insert some info from Bleeding Cool for context:
"Stiller was since reported to be in official negotiations to direct the film and while it never became crystal clear if he signed up or not, or just became attached, it seems he's pressing on with development. I understand that the project is very much a going concern at Warner Bros., and more drafts of the script will be incoming, working to new ideas by Downey and Stiller. (Edit FTNH: Note that Stiller and Downey are big on the story and script input here. It's actually been called a "passion project" for Downey Jr.)
Back to IGN:
It appears that his (Downey Jr.'s) wish may now become a reality. According to investigations by website Bleeding Cool, a Stiller/Downey Jr. Pinocchio movie is currently going ahead, with Downey Jr. set to play both Gepetto and the little wooden boy himself. While the practicalities of that casting decision are unconfirmed, one would imagine there would be an element of performance capture, or perhaps Downey Jr. will just be lending his voice to compliment practical effects.
So: Burton dropped out. (By choice? By push? It's a little unclear if you read around.) And Ben Stiller is "attached" but not yet signed yet definitely working on it already (all a little unconventional but more power to them). RDJr will definitely play Gepetto and at least an aspect of Pinocchio that WON'T (?) be animation?? (? Nobody is sure what that means right now.)

More clues on what the project was going to be like (and may still be like in some aspects) from Bleeding Cool:
✒ ✒ ✒  ✒ (click the "Read more" link below this line) ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ 

A couple of years back, Tim Burton became attached to direct a movie based on a new, excitingly fresh Pinocchio script by Pushing Daises and Hannibal writer Bryan Fuller. 
(Edit FTNH: How did I not know that a Hannibal writer worked on Pushing Daisies?! So much was just made clear...) 
At the time I (the Bleeding Cool reporter who saw Fuller's first pass script) singled out one climactic scene as indication of how Fuller had created new material for the story, and memorable stuff at that: 
"Pinocchio is being expected to crawl into what essentially amounts to his grave and to lie there until he sprouts back into a tree. It’s potentially quite nightmarish, in a may-I-sew-buttons-into-your-eyes way."
!! Whoa.
*shakes self, sits up and pays closer attention*

This is pre-Robert Downey Jr. being on board. Things started changing rapidly after that (though it's not clear how much that directly had to do with RDJ), including handing the script over to someone else. *disappointed face* The first pass sounded really cool and very much like the original Pinocchio. While Jane Goldman is more than capable, of course, I really was intrigued by Fuller's vision.

A little more info from Bleeding Cool, all current at this writing:
The plan, at least for today, is for Downey Jr. to play both Gepetto and Pinocchio. 
It’s a younger Gepetto than you might expect – not really with any need for any ageing makeup. As for Pinocchio, I assumed that it might be a performance capture role, but that seems to be still up in the air. It could be just a voice role, if earlier plans to have Pinocchio’s physical form be an actual physical form still live on, and there was certainly a lot of discussion about how that might work. 
(Edit FTNH: performance capture still requires animation so either the term "no animation" is not being used correctly, or they have a very different idea of how to go about it so that minimal animation will be used.) 
But whatever the approach, it’s an interesting prospect. At least the way Fuller wrote him in his draft of this screenplay, Pinocchio was a naughty boy and Downey does mischief. But he was also very charming, and Downey can most definitely do that too. 
(Edit FTNH: I'm very much hoping they keep that original earthy sense Fuller imbued his  script with.)

Here's a little more on how things were shaping up on the Pinocchio project with Burton in the Director seat and Fuller writing:

Brendan Connelly from Bleeding Cool is the writer that got to read the early Fuller script back when Burton was newly set to work with RDJr (Jan 2012) and, although it will have changed in Jane Goldman's hands, here's where the project was headed at the time:

I’ve recently read Bryan Fuller‘s screenplay Pinocchio, based upon the book by Carlo Collodi. It placed on the Black List last year and, thanks in part to the great source material, it read rather well. 
Most of the story as you know it is in there – Gepetto carves a wooden son who puts himself in moral danger, there’s a cricket guardian, there’s even the huge whale… except, this time, it’s a truly huge megadalon shark**. 
Seems that Tim Burton has also read and enjoyed the screenplay as, according to The Hollywood Reporter, he’s closing in on a deal to direct the film and his plan, they say, is to cast Robert Downey Jr. as Gepetto. 
I didn’t see it before, but I’ve just re-read a handful of pages with Downey in mind and, by jiminy, it works. Good call, Burton.  
Fuller’s screenplay has reworked the story a fair bit, and created several new ideas and scenes. Some of them are actually pretty powerful, and many lend themselves pretty obviously to Burton’s stylings. 
(Edit FTNH: What that means now... we've yet to find out.)
(A little bit more about the "climactic" scene with Pinoc' buried and waiting to sprout, then:) 
I promised you that, while it’s very much a fairy tale (really: it drips with fairies) this is definitely not just a sweetness-and-light version of the story. 
Burton and co. would have a long way to go in order to best the 1940 Disney Pinocchio, but the script, as it stands, is at least a good foundation. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this.
You cannot tell me this is not exciting stuff! Now I'm just worried that they've gone and changed it all... and I'm not the only one thinking that way:
With the addition of notorious joker Stiller, it seems likely the plot will move away from Burton's eerie fantasy universe and put a more comical spin on the classic tale. 
Kick Ass screenwriter Jane Goldman has penned a first draft of the script, but other writers are allegedly being considered.
The other generally agreed on factor is that this Pinocchio story will be from the father/maker, Gepetto's point of view, rather than Pinocchio's. This alone should keep the tone on the graver side, (unless they go all Finding Nemo on us!). We've seen the world and the journey through  the child-becoming human's eyes, the outcast finding his family, the wonder of childhood coming to terms with the harshness of the world, now it's Gepetto's turn to tell his story. So it would seem. (To be confirmed.)

Speculation station:

1) RDJr plays Gepetto and voices/motion-capture-acts the part of Pinocchio, playing dual roles - a nice acting challenge, getting to play against himself on screen...

2) RDJr plays a younger Gepetto that brings to life a mini-me version of himself and is startled to find out that he doesn't like himself in mini as much as he thought he might...

3) RDJr plays Gepetto and showcases the trials of a young single dad caught between wanting to be the kid himself and having to be the parent...

4) Pinocchio is actually all in RDJr's imagination and not real at all (to everyone else). He is a construct but the only one Pinocchio manifests to is Gepetto...

4a) Gepetto has a split personality  - Jekyll and Hyde-like, and has to figure out the balance between his mature self and his child self - with all the wonder, mischief and bad choices (and bad timing) that come with that. We, as the audience, get to see that manifested...

4b) Pinocchio is the inner child of Gepetto and the lifetime imaginary friend and muse he loses then sets out to find again...

This is fun! I could fill a page... but I will spare you. (For now.. ;)

The funny thing about number four is that I had a brief news alert come my way that mentioned Pinocchio, RDJr and Jekyll & Hyde all together (in the sense of a dual/mutating personality factor being applied to the Pinocchio story) but that alert now goes nowhere and I can't even find reference to it any more...

Whatever happens I really hope they make Pinocchio very different to RDJr (that's right - not just Gepetto but RDJr. as well). While (for all his faults) Robert Downey Jr certainly has the acting chops to manage both roles in whatever form they're in, watching him obviously talk to himself would be a definitely be a giant minus for the film. Roberto Benigni, for all that he achieved, still managed to give us enough creepy Pinocchio-vibes to last us a while (ie ever) thank you very much. I vote strongly in favor of anything they can do to reduce the ick factor on that front. It's the one aspect of the project that bothers me the most but I'm going to have to (try to) reserve judgement until we at least get a side-by-side preview of Pinoc' with his Dad.

I did find the other half of that quote that's been traveling the media circuit in the US, where RDJr said he'd like to work with Ben Stiller and ends with that dot, dot, dot... Here's the rest, which sheds a sliver more light on the current approach:
"I want to make Pinocchio as a live action film," said Downey Jr. at an Iron Man 3 junket, "and not resorting to animation. I would like to do it with Ben Stiller…"  
(>>>> ... and now from Fantasy Magazine in Italy... >>>) 
"...that sounds perfect (for making) history and I'd like to see where it was written. I'd like to shoot as much as possible in Italy, I think it would give (the film) more consistency . "
So, making history, going back to where Collodi wrote and serially published his stories of a mischievous puppet boy, filming on the location the story first grew: all sounds pretty good.What I'm most relieved about in reading this is that RDJr (and likely Stiller as well) appear to be respecting and referencing the source material.

Although they'll be creating a new version they are allowing themselves to be informed by history and the tales' origins (plural - because Pinocchio had many adventures).

In the meantime, I just want to read Fuller's script. It sounds awesome.

Note: All the book illustrations used throughout are by Roberto Innocenti, still my favorite picture book of Pinocchio's adventures artist to-date.

There is also Guillermo del Toro's version of Pinocchio, well into development but being stop-motion animation, will take a while yet. There's also a third film, titled The Three Misfortunes of Geppetto, which was acquired by Real Steel director Shawn Levy on spec a couple of years ago but has not seen any development since then.
** Roberto Innocenti used a "megadalon shark" in his Pinocchio illustrations as well... >>>>>>>


  1. In complete agreement with you about these illustrations--Innocenti's Pinocchio blew me away when I first saw it and the images never get tiresome. They are amazing (superhuman?) watercolors for an amazing tale. Not sure any movie version has added anything to the story that Collodi created, but the iterations have been, and probably will be, pretty fascinating.

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