If I had written this article just 24 hours ago, the title would have been “Where Will The Jungle Book Rank Among Disney’s Live-Action Fairy Tales?” After all, Jon Favreau’s apparently amazing live-action re-telling of Jungle Book opens tomorrow, and Forbes’ Rob Cain thinks it will ultimately gross over $1 billion worldwide. That’s why Favreau and company are already working on a sequel.
However, frankly, from a box office perspective I find the following bit of news far more fascinating:
“According to Deadline, Disney has hired David Lowery to direct a [live-action] Peter Pan movie with a script to be written by both Lowery and Toby Halbrooks. Lowery and Halbrooks have already been working with Disney on Pete’s Dragon, which will be a remake of the 1977 film of the same name.”
Thanks a lot, Alice in Wonderland. Because you surprisingly rode the 3D wave to over $1 billion worldwide in 2010 Disney is aggressively cranking out live-action adaptations of its animated classics. Maleficent and Cinderella have come and gone, soon to be followed by Jungle Book (4/15), Alice in Wonderland 2 (5/27), Pete’s Dragon (an animation/live-action hybrid due 8/12) and Beauty and the Beast (3/17/17). On top of that, Disney currently has the following in some stage of development: Mulan, Dumbo, Cruella DeVil, Prince Charming, Sword in the Stone, a Tinker Bell spin-off and now Peter Pan.
Because many of these are based on fairy tales or novels which have entered into the public domain Disney doesn’t have the exclusive rights to the underlying story. That’s why WB has its own Jungle Book movie on the way, and also why Fox was at one point developing a Melissa McCarthy-fronted Tinker Bell movie, direct competition for Disney’s Reese Witherspoon-fronted Tinker Bell project. Of course, WB just pushed its Jungle Book back a full year, and at last check McCarthy’s Tinker Bell doesn’t appear to be moving forward.
The rest of Hollywood is not so good at this kind of thing, but Disney has it down to an art form. As such, if Disney lays claim to something the other studios shrug and whisper to each other, “Why couldn’t they just let us have this one? We don’t all have franchises pouring out of our mouse-shaped ears, y’know.”
Peter Pan is different. WB already beat Disney to the punch with last year’s Pan, which reportedly lost $150 million for the studio. That presents the following question: How much of that loss was a direct reflection of Pan‘s quality or lack thereof as a film, WB’s piss poor marketing and controversial casting choices, and how much came down to audiences signaling their basic disinterest in revisiting the Peter Pan story yet again? Further evidence for the latter argument might be the disappointing ratings for Peter Pan Live a year ago, well below similar live musical efforts which came before (Sound of Music) and after (The Wiz, Grease Live). Also, Universal made a near-perfect live-action Peter Pan in 2003, and their reward was a domestic gross which was two time smaller than their production budget.
Then again, there have been countless live-action versions of the basic Cinderella story made outside of the Disney castle, all of varying quality and financial success, yet that didn’t stop the Mouse House from turning Cinderella into a worldwide hit last year.
Sure, but Cinderella fit perfectly into Disney’s core identity as the home of the princesses. That was a far easier property to revive than Peter Pan. The Reese Witherspoon Tinker Bell is the easier sell, especially since DisneyToons has cranked out 7 direct-to-video computed animated Tinker Bell movies since 2008 thus ensuring the youngest among us remember and know who Tinker Bell is.
Hold on. The Jungle Book doesn’t have any freakin’ princesses, yet it’s about to join the $1 billion club. If Disney pulls that off who’s to say they won’t do the same with Peter Pan, which is, after all, still a timeless story? Plus, they can build up to it through the Tinker Bell movie.
Even so, if Disney’s new Peter Pan ever makes it to the screen it will be a test unlike any other they’ve experienced with their live-action fairy tales. They’ll be forced into the position of cleaning up another studio’s mess and assuring audiences that their version of the familiar story is worth seeing.
Where might Peter Pan end up in the pantheon of Disney’s live-action efforts? Considering Jungle Book‘s projected $1 billion performance, all bets are off. However, Fun.com put together the following Infographic breaking down the worldwide box office performances of not just Disney’s live-action fair tales but it’s live-action movies in general. Not surprisingly, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is still the brass ring, but among the live-action fairy tales nothing has come close to Alice in Wonderland.