Jon Favreau has enjoyed a string of mainstream directorial successes in recent years – Elf (still one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies), Zathura, and the Iron Man franchise have launched him into top tier of Hollywood directors. Next summer, he aims to continue this hot streak with the release of the star-studded, Western/Sci-fi mash-up, Cowboys and Aliens.
With his latest film wrapping up soon, Favreau is now focusing his attention towards his next family friendly movie, Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Favreau was a recent guest on the Ralph Cirellas Sirius Satellite talk show GEEKTIME! where he discussed his upcoming projects, opening up about his inspirations for Magic Kingdom and what he is expecting for the film.
"[The story for Magic Kingdom] is essentially a family caught in Disneyland, bringing all of the attractions to life. I really want to plumb the depths of the history of the park because it’s a place I love to go a few times a year."
Disney has several famous historical attractions they knew could make for potential movie franchises due of their brand recognition and familiarity with the general public. They started with a bang and capitalized on the public’s nostalgia in adapting the Pirates of the Caribbean ride into one of the biggest movie franchises in history. Disney is also turning other key attractions into films, hoping to mimic those same results.
Some of these include movies based on the Jungle Cruise and Tiki Room attractions, as well as upcoming remakes of Haunted Mansion and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Favreau has the daunting task of pulling inspiration for Magic Kingdom from all of those attractions and more into a single feature film. He is however, very aware of the fact that Disney’s theme parks conjure pleasant memories for most adults of their childhood and plans on taking that into account when making the movie.
"Is it going to be a mash up of all the other Disney movies? Is it going to be like they [Marvel] are doing with The Avengers or it is going to be like Night of the Museum? There is a fun nostalgic look that would be fun for the adults - like we did in Iron Man 2 with the Stark Expo and the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Park. We started to sit scratch the surface with that one and I think there’s a fun nostalgic to it. With Elf, there was a nostalgia to it like the Rankin Bass Christmas Specials and I think with Disneyland there is something I can do for the grown-ups - and for the kids you just make it this fun dream like experience."
"When Walt first set out to do it there was something very nostalgic and forward looking at the same time about Disneyland. When you went down Main Street it was the turn of the century, it was days gone by and Tomorrowland was the future. There is such a weird shared experience that any of us who’s ever gone to Disneyland feels that I don’t think has really been mined yet. It’s this collective subconscious that we have and there are these archetypes that are so strong that there’s a fun way to present something that is family entertainment but still will take you through the experience that you had [growing up]."
Favreau has a clear vision for Magic Kingdom and he’s putting in quite a bit of time and research to get that perfect feeling of nostalgia he is looking for.
"I said, look I’ve got to watch every Disney property. I started with Steamboat Willie working my way all the way up. I really want to focus on the classic stuff like Dumbo, Steamboat Willie, all the early black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons - all the Fantasyland stuff. I think there was something timeless about what Walt [Disney] did and I want to explore, not just Disneyland, but Walt’s vision of Disneyland. If you look at his concept art it diverges a little bit from what the park turned into over time; but if you look at his original concept art and really explore what that world is, I think there is something really fun and magical to be done there."
Sounds like his Netflix instant queue is going to be filled up for quite some time because even if he sticks to films made before 1980 he still has plenty of research to catch up on.
Favreau then spoke a bit about whether he will blend the existing Disney movies into Magic Kingdom – a natural assumption because plenty of people grew up watching Disney films in the 70s and 80s which included many characters that younger audiences today may not even know about. Will audiences see characters like Elliot from Pete’s Dragon or possibly take a trip on the bed from Bedknobs and Broomsticks? Or is it more likely that we'll see more recent names like Jack Sparrow, Buzz Lightyear or Lightning McQueen in Magic Kingdom?
"I don’t think it’s going to be mixing all the other movies. I think it’s going to be its own thing; I don’t think it will be like Night of the Museum. I want to make it a little bit spookier like the old Disney movies were and try to really capture that tone.
This is something that I’ve always been drawn to and now to say ‘What characters do you want to use and how do you not make it Space Jam or like the Christmas parade with every character?’ How do you show restraint and how do you make it tie into the emotional development of the characters?"
It’s encouraging to see Favreau concerned with not over-doing it with cameo appearances by all the Disney characters and he has earned the right to a little benefit of the doubt when it comes to directing Magic Kingdom - and it would seem Disney agrees.
"Disney just gave me the keys to the Kingdom, I'm supposed to meet with the Imagineers. Their big thing now, if you look, they have Guillermo del Toro making Haunted Mansion, David Fincher doing 20,000 Leagues and you see what they have done with Pirates [of the Caribbean]. They’re looking to bring interesting filmmakers with interesting takes to attack their historical material and bring new life to it."
Disney is making a noticeable effort to not just “cash in” their famous branding by making every attraction they have into a film franchise as quickly as possible. They have reached out to some of the hottest directors on the scene today to bring their stories to life and it will no doubt show in the final product.
Favreau also said that he would once again team up with the people he worked with on the upcoming Cowboys and Aliens and though he didn’t mention anyone specifically it is probably safe to assume he was referring to the SFX company Legacy who he's collaborated with since Zathura.
Magic Kingdom is slated to open its gates to visitors in 2013. Cowboys and Aliens hit theaters July 29th, 2011.
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