Jon Favreau said Tuesday that he is walking away from the billion-dollar “Iron Man” franchise and will join Guillermo del Toro and David Fincher as part of a next wave of filmmakers making live-action feature films rooted in the imagery of Disney theme parks and classic characters.
Favreau is set to direct “Magic Kingdom,” which the 44-year-old filmmaker described as a family fantasy adventure that will tap into the vintage Disney creations that “loomed so large in the imagination” of his generation. Favreau said that Fincher (expected by many to be a strong Oscar contender for “The Social Network“) will direct the studio’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” a Jules Verne bookshelf classic that is closely associated with Disney after the landmark 1954 film and the submarine theme-park ride, and Disney confirmed that to be the case. Del Toro had already been announced as director of a new “Haunted Mansion” film.
Favreau spoke in reverent terms of the legacy of Walt Disney and made it clear that his departure from Marvel is no snap decision or the result of fractured relations. The main impulse was to “find something that lights a fire” inside of him as a filmmaker and gives him a chance to “blow people away, which is easier to do with a project that isn’t loaded with built-in expectations.” He also said he has been researching the film for many weeks even as he worked on the post-production phase of “Cowboys & Aliens,” the genre mash-up (starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig) that hits theaters next summer.
“Between the theme parks and the movies, the Disney iconography was probably the first set of archetypes that I was exposed to,” Favreau said of his youth in Flushing, N.Y. “Walt was able to expose me as a child to the full array of emotions, including fear and sorrow. Those movies and attractions haunted my dreams and made a deep impression on me as a child. When I first heard about the [‘Magic Kingdom’ film] project, I was on my way to visit Disneyland with my family. I took notes and had no problem filling a book with all the ideas that this concept offered, even on first blush. Since then, I was lucky enough to be given a tour of Imagineering by Tony Baxter, who knows just about everything there is to know about Disneyland. He pulled original concept art from the archives for me and exposed me to Walt’s original vision.”
Favreau walks away from the “Iron Man” franchise that pulled in $1.2 billion in worldwide grosses, raised the career of Robert Downey Jr. to a whole new strata and established upstart Marvel Studios as a serious player in the blockbuster business. In some corners of the Internet, the rumor of Favreau’s departure has been framed as a money issue or a conflict regarding Marvel’s aspiration to have all its superhero films crossover into one another. On Tuesday, though, Favreau said that he remains close to Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige (the executive has even been an informal sounding board for “Magic Kingdom” ideas) and that he will stay on as a producer on “The Avengers,” Marvel’s 2012 superhero team-up film.
Feige could not be reached for comment for this story. While declining to make any specific comment, a Disney spokesman confirmed that Favreau and Fincher are indeed working on “Magic Kingdom” and “20,000 Leagues,” respectively. Marvel’s parent, Marvel Entertainment, was purchased this year by Disney and it will be interesting to see if the smaller outfit becomes a proving ground that leads to the more deeply funded Disney proper. It’s telling that Favreau described his departure from Marvel more like a graduation than a divorce.
“Marvel and I both came of age together,” Favreau said. “The years that we shared were a pivotal experience. Kevin has a firm grasp on the many franchises and how they all interweave and I am happy that I had the opportunity to establish the world that these characters can now play in…. ‘Iron Man’ has given me tremendous opportunities and Kevin and I are enjoying a lot of momentum in our careers thanks to the ‘Iron Man’ films. I look forward to seeing what others can do playing in the same world.”
Favreau said he was eager for the challenge of “Magic Kingdom” and candidly added that part of that challenge will be separating the film from movies such “Night at the Museum” or “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which have a similar concept at their foundation — presenting a new adventure with a gallery of iconic personas as supporting characters. (The film also will have to take a step or two away from Epic Mickey, the high-profile video game that just hit stores and presents a quest that plays out across a dark alternate counterpart version of Disneyland.)
“It can’t just be like the Christmas parade with all the Disney characters going by,” Favreau said. Speaking of holiday fare, Favreau also said he wants to connect with the smart but family-friendly spirit of “Elf,” his 2003 holiday film with Will Ferrell that grossed $220 million worldwide (and cost less than $35 million to make) and has grown in stature on home video and through television reruns.
“I can’t begin to tell you how fulfilling the perennial nature of ‘Elf’ on television has been for me,” Favreau said. “It’s great to be able to connect parents with children both emotionally and through humor. I look forward to exploring family entertainment once again and examining the specifics of our day-to-day lives against the backdrop of an extraordinary adventure.”
— Geoff Boucher
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