Something very odd is happening at Disney. In a matter of weeks, the company will release Pete’s Dragon, a live-action remake of the famed childhood story of a young boy and his enormous, flying friend. From a marketing standpoint, its a very safe bet and could do very well, but there’s one thing that sticks out, at least for me, and that’s the director, David Lowery. Those who keep up with the American independent cinema will no doubt remember Lowery as the filmmaker behind Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a bewitching, beautiful neo-Western that featured Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as violent lovers torn apart by his sudden arrest. In terms of subject matter, the two films could not be more dissimilar, and yet Disney must have seen Lowery’s hard-to-miss formal gifts and gave him the job.
Similar instances of intelligent, daring filmmakers pairing with the Mouse House have been popping up with some level of frequency, the strangest of these partnerings being Queen of Earth director Alex Ross Perry penning the script for a live-action Winnie the Pooh. In contrast, no project may be more promising than Ava DuVernay‘s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle‘s beloved A Wrinkle in Time, which the director took on not long after the rumors of her meeting with Marvel about Black Panther dissipated. And DuVernay’s adaptation just got an added kick with the casting of Oprah Winfrey as, yes, Mrs. Which, which only adds to the anticipation for a film written by Frozen writer-director Jennifer Lee and directed by the woman behind Selma.
Selma, of course, also featured Winfrey in a harrowing dramatic turn and the iconic talk-show host has been making quite the impression as a performer in her recent work. Most people remember her best from Steven Spielberg‘s problematic yet deeply felt The Color Purple, but her real triumph as an actress thus far was undoubtedly in Lee Daniels‘ massively undervalued masterwork, The Butler, in which she played the depressed wife of the titular White House servant, played by Forrest Whitaker. In the role of Mrs. Which, she might very well out-due herself but for right now, I’m just glad to see Winfrey taking on substantive roles in such ambitious projects, the same way I’m glad to see Disney handing over big-budget work to young, ambitious filmmakers.