Saturday, June 3, 2017

Double-Down: Fox Animation Adds 2 Pictures To Slate, Possible 'Anubis' Update

Once again, Fox Animation has added to their big pile of animated features. It makes sense, because with Captain Underpants now out, Fox and DreamWorks’ 4-year partnership is over.

The newest property the studio picked up is a to-be-published book called The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole. Matt Reeves, who has directed the two Rise of the Planet of the Apes sequels and Cloverfield (a favorite of mine), is attached to produce... Of all people! That definitely piques my interest, but what is it about?

From the same author who penned Confessions of an Imaginary Friend, a title Fox Animation picked up a while ago, Michelle Cuevas' Pet Black Hole involves the Golden Record that Carl Sagan launched into space in 1977. A young girl named Stella Rodriguez wants a recording of hers to be included on the disc, but a “black hole” follows her home. It becomes her pet, she names it Larry, and it eats everything... Then it eventually eats her dog and her brother, so she ventures into the pet black hole to get them back, all the while going on an emotional journey that all relates to the death of her father. Coincidentally, Fox/Blue Sky’s Epic had a similar strand, as its lead character dealt with the passing of her mother.

Now that’s quite the premise, and it certainly has a lot of potential. It’s everything you’d want out of a good family-friendly animated film: Wacky premise that takes advantage of the medium that also has a beating heart to it. Also, a drop of sci-fi is always good!

Their other pick-up is The Witch Boy, a graphic novel by Molly Ostertag, who is a designer on Disney TV Animation’s current smash Star vs. the Forces of Evil. The novel is the tale of a 13-year-boy named Aster, his family is all witches and shapeshifters. However, there’s a big rule. Only the sisters can be witches, and only the brothers can be shapeshifters. If they don’t stay in line, they’ll be exiled... Aster, inevitably, wants to try what his sisters practice. Then he has to do it, after an enigmatic danger threatens his brothers. With the help of a “non-conforming” friend, he must cross the line in order to save his family.

Interestingly enough, it seems like Fox Animation is leaning heavily towards young fantasy, works similar to Harry Potter, or the How to Train Your Dragon series. A few unique things are mixed in, such as The Dam Keeper and A Tale of Momentum & Inertia, but no goofy and lighthearted comedies in sight. Maybe they plan to leave those to Blue Sky? Either way, their entire slate is mostly fantastical stories about mythical lands and beasts, and I actually dig it. Now, whether they get around to making 3/4 of the movies on this new slate or not, I don’t know, but I like what they’re aiming for. I also, as always, hope that the looks of each of these films are fresh.

Considering how much of an impact Captain Underpants could make (Cartoon Brew ran a story yesterday on what potential it has to change the industry as we know it), it's possible a lot of their future productions could go the lower budget-more experimental route. Maybe, maybe not. Fox, in a way, sort of lead the charge towards computer-animated films with non-hyperreal styles: The Book of Life, The Peanuts Movie, now Captain Underpants. All from three different studios, no less. All of which individual cost under $100 million to make. The latter? Ended up costing $38 million, if you haven't heard already.

Fox's doubling-down on feature animation isn't dissimilar to how Paramount launched its own animation tree in early 2012, after DreamWorks announced that they were not going to renew their contract with them. Captain Underpants is the final DreamWorks film that Fox is releasing, so they’re doubling down.

Recently, I got some... Hints... On Blue Sky’s Anubis. Anubis, unlike most of Blue Sky’s crop, is more in line with the big fantasy stories that Fox Animation is giving to other animation studios. It’s kind of an outlier on their slate, but we can’t generalize, because as much as some of us may associate Blue Sky with the silly Ice Age antics, they’ve also made... Epic and The Peanuts Movie, and a pretty... Ermm... Melancholic Academy Award-winning short film almost 20 years ago. Ever see it? It’s called Bunny. Don’t let that title fool you, it’s a pretty haunting piece! Spin your Ice Age DVD, it might be on the bonus features. Oh, and the first Ice Age is legitimately emotional in parts.

That all being said, Anubis is supernatural fantasy and is perhaps on the spooky side of things. I consider it to be something of a departure.

West Fair Online recently chatted with Blue Sky Chief Operating Officer/Executive Vice President Brian Keane, who said the studio is beginning work on a feature that’s slated after the January 2019 release Pigeon Impossible. While not giving details, we animation fans know the status of the mysterious Anubis. That adaptation of Bruce Zick’s novel The Anubis Tapestry: Between Twilights that was announced way back in 2008. While it’s still scheduled for a March 23, 2018 release, the studio actually hasn’t greenlit it yet... So that thing’s not coming until 2020 at the earliest.

Zick himself told me that 20th Century Fox hasn’t let Blue Sky go through with it yet, because they got cold feet on movies involving the supernatural elements of ancient Egypt... All because of some mega-budget flop movie whose failure was something everyone saw coming from a mile away. Remember it? It was called Gods of Egypt, it came out back in February 2016. Now, Fox is waiting on the launch to Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe, The Mummy. If that movie does well, Anubis may get the go-head. West Fair mentions that Blue Sky themselves have held the ANUBIS rights since 2008, so I think this confirms that Anubis will be a Blue Sky picture if it ever moves forward, and not some other studio that Fox is partnered with. It’s been made pretty clear that a lot of the future Fox Animation pictures will not be Blue Sky films.

Anyways, long story short, Fox Animation is planning ahead in a big way. What say you?

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