There were several “big” projects previewed at the 2013 CinemaCon in Las Vegas, but the one that (surprisingly) generated the most enthusiastic buzz was the 15-20 minute presentation for director/actor Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which opens in theaters this year on Christmas Day.
Furthermore, the positive reception for the Walter Mitty footage coincides with the reports about Robert Downey Jr. indicating he wants Ben Stiller to direct the new live-action cinematic take on Pinocchio that RDJ has pitched and intends to co-headline – by playing the puppet-maker Geppetto, rather than the titular wooden boy (lest you think the actor is pulling a Roberto Benigni).
Secret Life of Walter Mitty, for those not familiar, is a remake of the 1947 movie, which was loosely based on James Thurber’s short story. It details the experiences of the eponymous Mr. Mitty, who handles the unpleasantness of reality by leading an active fantasy life; that is, until the two merge, and Walter finds himself on an adventure as grand (and dangerous) as those in his daydreams.
The remake’s script was written by Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness) and spent many years bouncing around Hollywood – with various directors and comedic actors boarding/dropping the project – before Stiller agreed to star in and direct the film himself, back in 2011.
Here is the first image from Secret Life of Walter Mitty (via the LA Times):
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Stiller’s take on Walter Mitty drew strong reactions (in a good way, mind you) from those who saw the preview footage at CinemaCon; for example, check out this write-up from /Film‘s Peter Sciretta (you can head over to the site to watch his video blog reaction):
The film feels like a mixture of the loneliness of [Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind], the hopeful comedy of (500) Days of Summer, and the epic bigger-than-life moments of Forrest Gump. The always-lovable Kristen Wiig co-stars as a woman Walter has a crush on. He fantasizes about her in various moments of his life. These fantastical daydream sequences are what bring this film to a completely different level than the character-based comedies we’ve seen in the past.
… Walter Mitty feels like it could be a really special film, one that doesn’t come along every year. Heartfelt, funny, but with fantastical moments that are meant to be seen on the big screen in an audience full of strangers.
It’s worth noting that a similar film, Life of Pi, earned an equally-positive response from CinemaCon attendees last year, and then went on to become a hit at the box office and 2013 Academy Awards ceremony to boot. Naturally, the question on (most) everyone’s mind right now is: Will history repeat itself?
NEXT PAGE: Robert Downey Jr. wants Ben Stiller to direct Pinocchio?
Pinocchio is a retelling of the famous Carlo Collodi fairy tale, which was scripted by Bryan Fuller (creator of the Hannibal TV series) and thereafter given a rewrite from Jane Goldman (The Woman in Black), in the hope of getting Tim Burton to commit as director. However, now that Burton is moving forward with Big Eyes as his next project instead, it appears that RDJ is looking for someone else to take the helm.
It seems that the Iron Man/Sherlock Holmes actor may already have a candidate in mind, as he’s expressed a desire to reunite with Ben Stiller (who directed and co-starred with Downey in the popular comedy Tropic Thunder) on Pinocchio.
Downey, during a promotional event for the fast-approaching Iron Man 3 in Italy, expressed his desire to collaborate with Stiller on Pinocchio to Sky Italia, but the rough translation makes it hard to discern, for certain, whether or not the actor wants Stiller to direct the film. Stiller at the helm would make sense, though, given that Downey must be comfortable working under his direction at this point.
Moreover, the CinemaCon response to Walter Mitty suggests that Stiller would be a good choice to realize the darkly-whimsical world and fantastical characters found in the Pinocchio story onscreen for a new generation. He certainly has the right sense for dark and sardonic comedy that would befit a Fuller and Goldman-scripted fairy tale, having made such films as Reality Bites, The Cable Guy and Zoolander.
Of course, there’s no word yet on whether or not Stiller wants the job; though, if he does accept the offer, look for the live-action Pinocchio to make it to the big screen before Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion animated version.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opens in U.S. theaters on December 25th, 2013.