That film was called B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations.
Before getting knocked off of the slate, it was scheduled to be released this coming June. June 5th, to be exact...
It was set to be directed by Tony Leondis, the director of the 2008 MGM-released animated feature Igor. Tom Wheeler, writer of Puss in Boots, was set to pen the script. The cast included Seth Rogen, Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Matt Bomer, Octavia Spencer, Jennifer Collidge, and Benjamin Stockham. It was a sort of comedic sci-fi story about ghosts, and how they worked for an organization dedicated to protecting the world from evil ghosts and haunts. It sounded kind of cool.
It began life sometime in 2008 as Boo U, but back then all we know was that it was a "super-secret ghost project". Boo U had Seth Rogen attached very early on, but then the title and plot change came about in 2012. I'm guessing they didn't like the idea of an un-scary ghost going back to scare school, so they decided to come up with this plot. When the new ghost film was announced in fall 2012, it was always meant to be a 2015 release.
Last year at the Licensing Expo, DreamWorks' booth revealed what the main character looked like.
Then a learn-to-draw book surfaced sometime afterward, showcasing two more characters.
According to my friend and Rotoscoper comrade Max den Hartog, the film did indeed enter full animation production. He told me that several DWA staffers had told him that. I would've thought so beforehand anyways, given the character designs and merch being prepared for it!
Why was it pushed back?
DreamWorks had a rough year last year, as anyone in the know would know. Mr. Peabody & Sherman didn't double its production budget at the end of its run, and it was prematurely written off as a flop before things wrapped up. How To Train Your Dragon 2's relatively so-so domestic opening also lowered morale, though the picture ended up outgrossing its predecessor by a big margin worldwide. Then Penguins of Madagascar completely disappointed on opening weekend. Even though the film has made 2.7x its $132 million budget, the higher ups still called it a money-loser.
The release slate was changed up. Instead of releasing three films every calendar, DreamWorks now intends to release two in-house productions every calendar year. An outsourced/made by another studio film like Captain Underpants or the currently untitled 2018 release would function as a third release. This year originally housed both Home and B.O.O., the ghosts got the axe. 2016 lost Boss Baby, leaving it with two films: Kung Fu Panda 3 and Trolls. DreamWorks pushed Boss Baby back to 2017, axing Monkeys of Mumbai in the process. 2017 now houses that film and The Croods 2, and Captain Underpants. Madagascar 4 and Puss in Boots 2 got kicked off the slate as well, leaving 2018 with Larrikins and former 2017 release How To Train Your Dragon 3.
Mass layoffs ensued. The Pacific Data Images studio that had been functioning as DreamWorks' other unit - a 35-year-old studio that helped pioneer CGI - was shuttered, around 500 people were out of a job. A $247 million net loss in total. Things were pretty rough...
$155 million of that sum had to do with B.O.O. and other projects that were once on the release slate, like Monkeys of Mumbai.
DreamWorks CFO Fazal Merchant said that the film went back into development, and that if it ever gets released, it won't be like what we could've gotten this year. I would believe it, for I heard Katzenberg was not pleased with how the film was coming together as of last autumn...
But here's a plot hole!
That same artwork of the characters showed up at the NY ToyFair... And this was after it got pulled from the slate!
A mistake? Or does it suggest that DreamWorks still intends to make the film the way it was before all of this went down? I would think so, considering that actual animation was completed. It would be wrong, I think, to just scrap a film if enough animation was in the can. It has happened before, but I still don't think it makes it right. Especially when $130 million+ is at stake. Then again Most of that aforementioned $155 million could've come from B.O.O. while the rest was development costs for Monkeys of Mumbai, Puss in Boots 2, etc.
They probably can't continue making it right now, because it'll keep costing and that's the last thing they need this year. They need to restructure this year, and thankfully Home did strong business yesterday and will open big. They don't need another possible burden. If they go a super-cheap route with this film, the animation style will noticeably change (think the released versions of The Thief and the Cobbler). Will they get back to it around 2019 and just animate the rest while holding onto what is already finished?
I think they'll ultimately pull an Emperor's New Groove with this film.
DreamWorks apparently wants to somehow squeeze in a third film every calendar year. Captain Underpants is mostly going to be made at a studio in Canada called Mikros Image, and it will be done on a significantly lower budget than the future DreamWorks films ($120 million). They also teased a third 2018 release, which I assume will also be a small-scale flick made by another studio. Maybe they can do the same with B.O.O.?
They obviously already spent over $50-100 million on it before it got yanked, so what's the best way to go? Make a cheaper new film so the final budget won't be too, too much in the end. Remember the story of Kingdom of the Sun? The ill-fated Disney animated epic Incan musical love story that was set to be directed by Lion King director Roger Allers? The plug got pulled on the film in 1999, but around $25-30 million had already been spent on it... And some animation was even completed! So what did the crew behind the replacement film do? On top of reimagining the story completely, they went for something lower budget than the normal Disney fare (it cost around $70 million, definitely a country mile from the $110-125 million-costing Tarzan and Atlantis), aiming for a rather minimalistic look that was wonderfully stylized. Still, because it cost a bit to develop the scrapped film it replaced, it ended up costing $100 million.
So with B.O.O. - going by Mr. Merchant's comments, DreamWorks' plans to have some projects be done by other studios for lower budgets, and the fact that Katzenberg wasn't big on the project last autumn - I think they'll simply rewrite the whole thing and make something lower budget so it won't end up costing an astronomical amount of money. It won't be a Tangled situation where all the development stuff all ended up making the film cost $260 million, because the main film itself - if you take away the development/scrapped iterations stuff - must've cost around the same amount as Bolt: $150 million. It certainly looks it, too.
I really have no idea. Anything can happen, but that's my current theory.
Is it a goner? Will it still happen? Will a new iteration of the story end up being made in the future? Will the new iteration be made on a lower budget? What say you?