Walt Disney Pictures is aiming high with its selection of prospective directors to oversee Maleficent, now that Tim Burton is no longer onboard. The company reportedly had its eye on Darren Aronofsky just a few weeks back - and now Oscar-nominee David O. Russell is said to be circling the project.
Fans of the off-beat auteur know better than to just assume that Maleficent will become his next directorial effort. After all, it was less than a month ago when the news broke that Russell had left the Uncharted movie adaptation over creative differences - not to mention, recent rumors about he and actor Mark Wahlberg reuniting for a fourth time on The Silver Linings Playbook.
THR has confirmed that Angelina Jolie - who (not-so-coincidentally, it seems) was said to have recently met with Russell about appearing in Silver Linings Playbook - is still attached to play the titular role in Maleficent. The film is essentially a Wicked-style reworking of Sleeping Beauty that tells the famous fairy tale from the perspective of its villainous sorceress. It was scripted by longtime Disney screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan, and last year's Alice in Wonderland).
Burton and Woolverton's Alice was such an immense box office smash (over $1 billion grossed worldwide in theaters) that the Mouse House has since been looking to replicate its success by literally using the same ingredients - namely, a noteworthy director, a collection of name actors/actresses, and a screenplay that essentially re-imagines a piece of classic literature (see Sam Raimi's Oz: The Great and Powerful for another example).
Maleficent is being cut from the same block of wood that Alice and Oz were. Hence why Academy Award-nominees like Aronofsky and Russell have been linked to the project - along with noteworthy names like Harry Potter franchise helmer David Yates.
Uncharted was the most recent tentpole movie that Russell left due to (as he told Risky Business) "a parting of the ways creatively"; he also departed from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last year. With a reputation for being very passionate about his craft (and footage to prove that he's not always an easy director to work with), it's not all that shocking that Russell has met difficulty trying to navigate the waters of mainstream studio productions. Creative freedom tends to be restricted when the film in question could potentially have a budget in the hundreds of millions - so when working on a studio tentpole pic, Russell would definitely be kept on a shorter leash than he's used to.
Dark humor and dysfunctional characters are very much Russell's speciality, though, and a film like Maleficent could easily have its share of just that. So although it seems more likely right now that Russell won't end up directing the Sleeping Beauty tale - and will move on with a more independent project instead - this potential pairing of director and subject matter actually sounds like a promising one.
We'll keep you posted on the status of Maleficent (and let you know what film Russell does end up directing next) as more information is released.