In what seems, at first glance, one of the more bananas pairings of auteur and material in recent memory, THR is reporting Paul Thomas Anderson has joined Robert Downey Jr.’s upcoming live-action Pinocchio, writing a draft of the long-percolating screenplay “with an eye toward directing.”
But it isn’t as peculiar as it might sound. Sure, it’s yet another goddamn live-action remake of an animated classic, but there’s a couple of things to keep in mind here. First of all, Anderson has modeled much of his career on that of his idol Robert Altman—Boogie Nights was his Nashville, Magnolia was his Short Cuts, Punch Drunk Love was his Perfect Couple, There Will Be Blood was his McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Inherent Vice was his Long Goodbye—and Altman himself took a crack at a children’s movie with 1980’s Popeye. It was a critical and commercial disappointment; maybe Anderson wants to see if he can pull of what his mentor couldn’t?
Also worth noting: Downey is not only set to play Gepetto, but to produce, and the two friends (Downey’s father is, like Altman, an influence and a pal to Anderson) have been trying to work together for years. In fact, Downey was originally to play the lead in Inherent Vice, but had to drop out due to his Marvel commitments. So that could be the draw as well.
Or, y’know, maybe he just needs a hit. These movies make money, even when they’re dogs like Alice in Wonderland or Cinderella, and though Anderson is a critics’ darling, he’s never been a big moneymaker; his highest gross to date was There Will Be Blood’s $40 million, and while The Master’s $16 million gross was respectable enough for a Weinstein Company production (though not even half of that movie’s reported budget), the meager $8 million box office for Inherent Vice probably didn’t sit too well at Warner Brothers.
And what the hell, if Alex Ross Perry can write Winnie the Pooh and David Lowery can write and direct Pete’s Dragon, maybe these idiosyncratic independents can actually make these cash grabs into something worth watching? Anyway, a crisp one dollar bill to whoever comes up with the best Pinocchio’s nose/Dirk Diggler joke.