Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Warners' Yeti: Details on Warner Animation's 'Smallfoot' and Their Slate

Warner Animation Group held a nice presentation at Annecy earlier today...

The plan is to release Smallfoot, an original story created by Despicable Me originator/veteran Disney animator Sergio Pablos, in "Spring 2018". Pablos is also set to direct to feature, making some of us question if that will push his amazing-looking 2D/CG hybrid Klaus back a bit. No exact date was given, but it's obvious that it'll be slotted in the 2/9/2018 space Warner Animation staked out many moons ago. Variety says it'll be their fifth, so it lines right up...

What's it about? It'll be about a yeti who - unlike his yeti brethren - believe humans exist. Crazy. Stupid. Love's writing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa will pen the script, and a lot of the character design and the story reel itself will be done at Sergio's studio in Madrid. At least the team lives up to its name, for the productions are being made at other houses. The Lego Movie was mostly made by Animal Logic, while Sony ImageWorks (yes, them!) is doing the actual animation for this year's Storks.

It was emphasized during their presentation that Warner Animation Group aims to get a real Looney Tunes vibe for their pictures, and they want to honor the Looney Tunes legacy. The three minutes of Storks footage, unsurprisingly, was said to be very frenetic and Looney Tunes-esque. That's on full display in the zany teaser, and it's a given because it's being directed by Doug Sweetland (alongside comedy man Nicholas Stoller), who gave us the energetic, very Looney Tunes-esque Pixar short Presto.

WB head Christopher deFaria had this to say...

"The idea with WAG is to borrow on Warner Bros. legacy and its history of animation and also on their tone and feel. That was the biggest accomplishment of The Lego Movie. It felt like a Warner Bros. movie, distilling and channeling ‘Looney Tunes’ and the sensibility the studio was famous for. There is a tone, feel and voice you can recognize as the Warner Bros. animated film. It gives us a place to distinguish ourselves in what is otherwise a very crowded marketplace of incredible quality films."

That's good!

If anything, Warner Animation needs to be a non-Disney/Pixar house that isn't imitating them. During the Golden Age of Animation, you couldn't say the Disney studio's short cartoon output was the same as what Warner Bros. was giving audiences, and you couldn't say they were the same as MGM and Universal/Walter Lantz and so on. They influenced each other in ways, but they remained unique, even in the years of many of them trying out the style of the UPA. Even though today's big studios outside of Disney Animation and Pixar have things that differentiate themselves, they feel a little samey to me.

The Lego Movie, with its irreverent tone and over-the-top surprises, was a rare exception.

It was fresh, new, and exciting... It was rewarded for that, and then some. Storks, given the descriptions of the scenes shown at Annecy, looks to be no different and perhaps a surprise dark horse this autumn. To get back to what made Warner Bros.' animation unique in the world of cartoons back in the 1940s would be great, but more than anything, trying new things is key. Something like Osmosis Jones didn't fail because it was different, it failed because it didn't appeal to audiences from the get-go and it ended up being shovelware. The Iron Giant, we know why Brad Bird's masterpiece had trouble at the box office - Warner's marketing people mucked up on that one. Quest for Camelot and The King and I were soulless, terrible, executive-controlled Disney wannabes.

Animal Logic's Happy Feet was a rare box office smash amidst those losses, and got good reception for the most part, despite being a country mile from what visionary director George Miller originally envisioned. (Which sounded very, very cool!) Its sequel didn't do anywhere near as well five years later. Animal Logic also did Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole for WB, which was also killed by bad marketing, and that awful title. Should've gone by the book series' title, Guardians of Ga'Hoole.

It's good to see them try, try again... And how!

Two more original features are in development, one is to be directed by Paddington's Paul King. Now, long ago, a fishy site called Tracking Board reported that King was directing an animated film about The Beatles' early years for Warner Animation Group. Perhaps they were right this time? If so, sign me up! Animation and The Beatles. 'Nuff said! The other will be directed by Stoller, whatever that may be.

What say you?


  1. Many years ago, Warner Bros. Animation was supposed to be producing a film version of Jeff Smith's comic book Bone. The last anybody heard about it was in 2012, when it was reported that P. J. Hogan was going to be the director. We haven't heard anything about it since. Is it still being worked on? Or did it fall through the cracks when the department was reorganized as the Warner Animation Group?

  2. Did you see the new Storks trailer?

  3. I have to say, although I like some parts of Warners' strategy going forward, I'd have to play devil's advocate on the whole of it. I love the distributed aspect of the studio, in that WAG is not one studio but a group of many studios. However, they seem to want to establish a house style. While it's a noble goal to want to be different from Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, DreamWorks II (Sony), and DreamWorks III (Illumination), a specific, standard style is something more attainable with a single studio. Both are great ideas, but they don't sound like they should be two parts of the same policy. If you're working with independent studios, you should be embracing stylistic diversity rather than trying to establish a stylistic standard.

    It doesn't matter, though, as long as they're making more than just Lego sequels, and the movies are *good*.