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Chris deFaria Named President of Dreamworks Animation, Leaves Warner Animation Group Floundering

Big changes afoot at Dreamworks. Chris deFaria has been named the new president of Dreamworks Feature Animation Group.

DeFaria, a former child actor who voiced Peppermint Patty in Peanuts specials and whose father, Walt deFaria, is a veteran animation producer, is leaving Warner Bros. to take on the Dreamworks job.

In his new position, deFaria “will oversee all aspects of the studio’s feature animation business, including slate strategy, development, production, innovation and technology, and business affairs.”

Bonnie Arnold, who just became the sole president of Dreamworks Animation after Mireille Soria stepped down, will now report to deFaria, while deFaria will report to Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley, and work closely with Universal Pictures president Jimmy Horowitz.

At Warner Bros., deFaria was the president of animation and technical innovation. DeFaria’s role at WB included co-management of the Warner Animation Group, whose films include The Lego Movie, Storks, and the upcoming Lego Batman Movie. He has also served as an executive producer on Max Max: Fury Road and and played key executive-side roles, usually related to vfx, on projects including Man of Steel, The Dark Knight trilogy, the Harry Potter franchise, and Where The Wild Things Are. He will wrap up on Steven Spielberg’s Warner Bros. project Ready Player One before moving over to Dreamworks.

“He has excellent creative instincts, a strong business sense, deep relationships and most importantly, a proven ability to harness technology to push the boundaries of animation and innovative, hybrid filmmaking,” said Langley of deFaria.

Chris Meledandri of Illumination Entertainment, also owned by Comcast-NBCUniversal, will now serve as a senior advisor to Dreamworks. According to a Universal insider who spoke to the Hollywood Reporter, Meledandri “who had been ambivalent about the extent of his involvement at DWA is now prepared to have meaningful input.”

DeFaria’s arrival at Dreamworks causes not just a major shake-up at the studio, but also puts the heat on Warner Animation Group (WAG), which has been unable to launch anything except The Lego Movie, a fluky success that the studio is now desperately milking for all its worth.

DeFaria had been overseeing WAG with two other people: Greg Silverman, who was ousted from the studio last month, and Courtenay Valenti (daughter of former MPAA chief Jack Valenti), a production executive with no background in creating animation. The random group of people running WAG—only Valenti remains now—might help explain how they ended up with last year’s Storks, an incoherent jumble with a half-baked concept (and even more inchoate script) that would have been canned at any number of more respectable animation studios.

Toby Emmerich, the newly appointed president and chief content officer at Warner Bros. Pictures Group, will most likely bring fresh blood into the executive ranks at WAG, according to a story in today’s Hollywood Reporter.

  • Meet the new boss….

    Wait…What? I thought Dreamworks finally had the good sense to trim down management, and get back to the business of creating movies. I thought Bonnie Arnold was recently announced to be the sole President? Now DeFaria is another President, over her?
    New Owners, same old Crap. People will get laid off, but things aren’t going to change when you hire redundant management, and ones that see themselves as “Creative Executives”. Reading that “He has excellent creative instincts” is the kiss of death. What a waste.

  • I’m optimistic yet cautious about DeFaria’s new role at DreamWorks. He does have a proven track record and is highly respected in the animation world. After all, he worked at the Warners animation department for 20 years. That’s one heck of an accomplishment for someone who has never worked for Disney.

    However, I have doubts he’ll be able to turn DreamWorks’ executive culture around. There’s a good chance the studio will continue spending lavishly on movies under his watch, especially when it comes to more visual effects, and he’ll do nothing to keep more veteran animators from losing their jobs whenever the higher ups at Universal decide to reduce costs of film-making. Only time will tell whether or not he’ll have the courage and charisma Katzenberg had to bring DreamWorks back to its former glory.

    As for WB’s current predicament, I can’t speculate a whole lot about what is next for them. Given their language of finding an “outsider” as a replacement for DeFaria, I fear they might go down the abysmal path of Sony Pictures Animation and greenlight atrocities like The Emoji Movie and Open Season. Because beyond that, their only hits will be LEGO movies.

    • Dave 52

      I hope that WB can find a good replacement and not go down Sony’s path. Their upcoming slate of films hold a lot of promise and potential to be really good amd really fun movies whether it be original or based on a property or franchise. It would be shame to see all that fade away simply because they chose the wrong person.

      • Ironically enough, SPA’s current head, Kristine Belson, used to work for DreamWorks as head of development for more than a decade before Sony got her on board a couple of years ago.

        If Belson was the one who thought The Emoji Movie was a good idea, perhaps DreamWorks is now glad she’s not with them anymore.

  • RCooke

    Isn’t defaria a visual effects guy? Why would anyone think he could run a feature animation division–visual effects and feature animation are so completely different. Strange.

    And, courtney valenti has had SOME animation experience–shepherding quest for camelot through WB during it’s development and production.

    PEPPERMENT PATTY???????

    • I wonder if DWA might be trying to go back to its pre-2015 structure, when they still had PDI. After all, they were (sort of) a visual effects company for most of their years prior to DreamWorks taking over. Could Uni be trying to bring that back?

      • RCooke

        No. They’d be fools to equate visual effects with feature animation. DWA brought more to PDI than PDI did to them…

        Looking at this guy’s IMDB resume, I’m surprised to see how very little feature animation experience he has…and virtually NO story or content creation experience of any kind.

  • Hey Now

    Minor quibble: To call The Lego Movie a ‘fluky success’ implies that it was undeservedly successful due to plain dumb luck. Considering that it was an incredibly strong movie on every level with huge commercial appeal, it might be better said that the film was an anomalous success for WB.

    • Dave 52

      Yeah, I had that same problem as well with using that word to describe it’s success. That movie deserves every dollar it got but Amid is making sound otherwise for no reason.

  • Fluffydips

    I have a feeling after Storks that the only good WAG movies will be the Lego ones. It’s pretty much just Chris McKay, Phil Lord, and Chris Miller keeping that going. WAG is going to have to find someone talented.

    • That’s what I fear, too. After all, WB’s preference of getting an “outsider” rather than someone who’s been in the business for a long time is worrying language. They should’ve lobbied hard to try to keep deFaria from defecting.

  • I’m cautiously optimistic about this. DWA needs help. But was getting a guy from Warner Bors. good?

  • Abdullah Zubair

    I would have to disagree with you on this one. Storks was one of the best Animated Comedies of last year and it was liked by a lot of people from all ages and groups.