Haunts, Lego bricks, and Vincent van Gogh...
So, the big news comes first... DreamWorks Animation will be collaborating with the horror movie hit-makers at Blumhouse Productions!
Of course, Jason Blum's production house needs little-to-no introduction, having scored profitable successes out of microbudget horror films like the Paranormal Activity films, the Purge series, Split, Get Out, and several others. The studio has also made plenty of non-horror films, too, such as the acclaimed Whiplash and the upcoming Birth of the Dragon.
They are set to go animated with DreamWorks, with a story that began life as a live-action project. Titled Spooky Jack, its an original idea by Night at the Museum screenwriter and Reno 911! co-creator Robert Ben Garant. The set-up? The monsters that kids are afraid of actually exist... Okay, we've heard that before many times. What's the spin? The monsters are afraid of humans as well...
Okay... Sounds pretty familiar.
Oh, and yes, I am aware of the properties that Monsters, Inc. was accused of "ripping off"...
All kidding aside, that's just the premise. Not that anyone owns it, others can experiment with it too and tell new stories with it... You know, how storytelling has worked since roughly the beginning of time? The story will center on three siblings who move into a new house and discover the monsters. DreamWorks chief Chris DeFaria says it'll be "touching" and "funny," a story that'll explore all kinds of spooky folklore from around the globe. That to me is pretty interesting, as it'll be neat to see a story like this tackle things that frighten other children around the globe.
Speaking of the Monsters, Inc. parallel, in an early early early version of that Pixar classic, an opening scene was set to show kids from around the world being scared by the various scarers who work at Monsters, Inc. These particular images always stuck out to me...
Anyways, I like that. I also wonder how DreamWorks and Blumhouse will go about all of this, what the monsters and ghouls and phantoms will look like, and all that good stuff. I'm particularly surprised to see DreamWorks not only team up with Blumhouse, but also invest in a family-friendly scary movie.
Spookier stories like these tend to be no-nos in this day and age. LAIKA specializes in that kind of film, their first two productions - Coraline and ParaNorman - fit the bill perfectly. Their Kubo and the Two Strings is, while not necessarily a horror film, loaded to the brim with intense and scary moments, making it a rare modern animated movie that actually deserves its PG rating. DreamWorks is no stranger to this, believe it or not. Look past the snarky talking babies, glittery trolls, and sarcastic ogres, you'll get things like Kung Fu Panda 2, both How To Train Your Dragon films, and the sadly unsuccessful Rise of the Guardians.
Kung Fu Panda 2 and Rise of the Guardians were in the works when a certain someone was part of the DreamWorks Animation team... Guillermo del Toro.
When he was on board, DreamWorks had plans to do all these big fantasy movies, and even intended to go for some pretty dark and maybe even adult-oriented source material. One of which was Rodrigo Blaas' creepy animated short film Alma, and the A. Lee Martinez book Gil's All Fright Diner. Similarly spooky things like Rumblewick and The Grimm Legacy were on the table... That was, until Rise of the Guardians went belly-up at the box office during the holiday season of 2012. For a little while, it seemed like the game plan was harmless comedy-adventures. Some of them have been rewarding at the box office, others? Not so much.
It only proves that a studio should not be so one-way. Rise of the Guardians failed because its marketing was terrible, a campaign that tried way too hard to attract preteens and teens. (Basically committing the same damn sin Titan A.E., Treasure Planet, and most of DreamWorks' 2D films made.) Then many months later, Turbo failed at the box office. Silly, fun comedy about a racing snail, made even less than Rise of the Guardians. So much for the "stick to family comedies" routine, eh?
I wasn't sure what direction Chris DeFaria was going to take DreamWorks in, given his past animation and VFX experience. Was he going to turn them into Illumination's identical twin sister? Was he going to strip them of all their creativity? After all, only two films were given concrete release dates under his watch: Trolls 2 and The Boss Baby 2. Under DeFaria, a wicked cool-sounding musical called Larrikins was killed (see some models from it and more on modeller Hyun Huh's vimeo channel), Shadows fell yet again into development hell, and several other projects withered as well. An adaptation of How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell's upcoming book series The Wizards of Once was announced as a future DreamWorks project, but anything can happen. Larrikins got cancelled at the very last minute, so I can't quite say something is happening unless they're halfway into animation production.
So Wizards of Once has been giving me a slight sliver of hope for DreamWorks' future, this new project gives me a little more hope. Reports say that DeFaria had been actively trying to jumpstart a family-friendly scary movie at DreamWorks for a while, because he worked on Tim Burton's Corpse Bride many years back. If both of these go through, we might be in for an interesting new era for the studio. I don't mind a few bland-as-vanilla-pudding comedies so long as we get plenty of striking, fresh films on the side... Let's just hope the ratio of fresh stuff to tired stuff is a big one. What I'm saying is, if stuff like Boss Baby funds these movies, I'm all in.
Given that Blumhouse makes tiny-budget movies, don't be surprised if this one gets outsourced. After Captain Underpants, I can see DreamWorks teaming up with Mikros again for future features. A sub-$40 million budget is perfect for a horror story anyways, it doesn't need to be some extravagant $125 million production. Like Captain Underpants, it should take full advantage of the low-budget and aim for a look that's unique and unlike most CG films in the big ol' American marketplace.
I like my DreamWorks peppered with variety. I think that's what makes them kind of unique, in that they don't have a recognizable house style, nor do they have a singular vision... Well, most of the time. They've gone through many phases where they've made certain kinds of movies, and it makes for quite a library. I mean, Shark Tale and something like Bee Movie share a body of work with the action-packed epic Kung Fu Panda 2, the big and serious The Prince of Egypt, the spooky fantasy of Rise of the Guardians, and something as batty-bonkers as Madagascar 3. Quite the line-up! A horror film is more than welcome.
Outside of DreamWorks, Warner Animation Group got itself a big gain as well...
Jorge Gutierrez, the director of The Book of Life, is now set to direct a picture for them. A Lego movie no less!
Which one? He's taking over The Billion Brick Race, which was being worked on by Iron Man Three writer Drew Pearce and Jason Segel. A sort of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World-type story, it appears that it'll be cooked into something different under Gutierrez's direction, if one report is to be believed. THR says it's going to be an all-new film, but Variety insists that Gutierrez is doing Billion Brick Race.
Announced back in 2015, we heard very little on The Billion Brick Race. I assumed it was one of the projects that might've been ready for WAG's newly-claimed 6/1/2018 slot, but the hush-hush on it meant something...
Whatever Gutierrez turns it into, I'm intrigued. I can imagine him making a Mexican-themed Lego film, not dissimilar to his The Book of Life and his upcoming original Reel FX film Kung Fu Space Punch. It's great that Gutierrez has made it up to these ranks, because animated stories from the perspective of other cultures are needed more than ever now.
One thing's for certain... His Lego movie will not be the 6/1/2018 film, because it's way too late in the game. Plus, Gutierrez is also hard at work on his original Reel FX film, Kung Fu Space Punch. Another wacky and very imaginative fantasy that doesn't seem dissimilar to the sheer creativity of The Lego Movie. Whenever that one gets a US distributor and a concrete release date, I don't know. I have a feeling it'll be ready, at least, by the end of next year. As for his Lego movie, I expect it to hit sometime in 2020 or afterward. It's possible that he'll do The Book of Life 2 first.
Anyways, the Lego movie series has been two-for-two. The Lego Movie is excellent, The Lego Batman Movie was surprisingly nearly as good. The Lego Ninjago Movie looks like a hilariously fun time at the theaters, its newest trailer caught me completely off guard. The Lego Movie Sequel sounds more and more awesome with each new announcement, so, yes... Keep 'em coming. They're low-budget, they're very creative, their success enables original stuff. Win-win situation.
Pretty soon, we'll have to find out what WAG is releasing next June, because Lego Ninjago is coming next month... WAG has a curious way of staying silent about original pictures, revealing that they're in development, then many moons later... They say it's actually a thing. This happened with both Storks and Smallfoot. (Opening 9/14/2018)
I keep thinking it's going to be the adaptation of Jeff Smith's Bone, which has a director and writing team.
Lastly... Proof that there is still innovation in animated features...
The world's first entirely oil-painted animated feature is seeing a limited release starting on September 22nd... Loving Vincent.
I was in awe throughout this trailer. Loving Vincent shows what you can do with such a limitless medium, and on top of being a technical breakthrough, it looks to be a sophisticated adult animated feature. I know, novel concept, right?
Just feast your eyes at those visuals... It manages to be so immersive and so eye-catching, yet so stylish and detailed. This is what needs to be done with both traditional animation and CGI in features. This is what adult animation needs to be, not just foul-mouthed, raunchy cartoon characters. This is everything we're not getting from the heavies: Truly adult stories, and styles we haven't seen in an animated feature before. Europe has us beat, and it continues to be frustrating that something like this won't be a wide theatrical release, while something that's clearly just a product-pusher that's barely memorable gets a 4,000-screen release but then heads straight to the $5 bin weeks after it hits disc.
In some sectors of the animation fandom, this kind of thing goes unnoticed. It shouldn't, for the umpteenth spiel about why the dreadfully mediocre The Emoji Movie is awful shouldn't be the conversation, it should be about how amazing this film looks. Even if it may not come to your area or mine, it's worth talking about. I can only hope it gets some kind of a release, not the typical 100 theaters-or-less routine.
The film's website states that September 22nd is the day it opens in New York, Los Angeles gets it the 29th. Afterwards, it'll open in "regional markets" in the states from October through November. Their newsletter will keep you posted...
This is animation that deserves to be projected on a big screen.