imagine_animalogic imagine_animalogic
BusinessFeature Film

Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment Teams Up With Animal Logic for 6 Animated Features

Who needs live action when you’ve got animation? That’s what a lot of traditionally live-action producers are probably saying, as they turn their focus toward animation.

The latest entrant into the world of animated features: Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. The company joins other live-action production companies like Alcon Entertainment and Skydance, who have announced plans to produce animated features.

Imagine’s plans were revealed on Monday, and they are ambitious. The 31-year-old production company has teamed up with Australian animation studio Animal Logic, makers of films in The Lego Movie franchise and Happy Feet, to develop, produce, and finance six animated and hybrid family-oriented movies over the next five years.

Imagine plans to produce movies that cost around $75-85 million, which is roughly “mid-range” for Hollywood animation and similar to the cost of films from Illumination, Sony Pictures Animation, and Warner Bros. Animal Logic, which has a second production studio in Vancouver, Canada, uses production incentives and tax rebates from the Australian and Canadian governments to lower its production costs.

Why the sudden push into animation for Imagine? “The animation space consistently outperforms other genres and we wanted to enter into that space by partnering with a company that is at the forefront of creative and technical achievement,” said Grazer in a statement.

Animation is indeed profitable. A few days ago, Deadline concluded its most profitable films of 2016 series, and four of the ten most profitable films last year were animated (five if you count The Jungle Book). That’s a remarkable success rate considering the relatively few animated films that are released in comparison to live action.

While Imagine produced blockbusters like Apollo 13, Liar Liar, 8 Mile, and A Beautiful Mind during its heyday, it has struggled in recent years to replicate those earlier successes. The company has always wanted to enter animation, but the high cost of production limited it to just a couple of 2D Curious George animated features and accompanying tv series. “We’ve always had an interest in animation,” Grazer told the LA Times. “It was, at that time, prohibitively expensive… but when this [opportunity] came about, it was a perfect chemistry.”

Imagine plans to have its first animated feature ready for theatrical release by late 2019. It has not revealed what it is developing, though Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) is expected to direct at least one of the movies.

Imagine and Animal Logic will raise outside equity financing to fund 50% of the production and development for the films.

Many live-action producers underestimate the amount of work required to craft solid animated films, and Imagine’s timeline is alarmingly ambitious. A new production outfit can take anywhere from three to five years to deliver its first production. Clearly, Imagine has an advantage in that Animal Logic is already set up for production, but Imagine must still ramp up pre-production staff to develop these six productions, while delivering its first film just two years from now.

“We could not have hoped for a more perfect collaboration than with Ron, Brian, and the Imagine team to bring a slate of engaging and inventive stories to family audiences around the world,” said Animal Logic CEO Zareh Nalbandian. “We are inspired by the potential of our combined slate of projects and the strong relationships and material we will bring to our partnership. We have a tremendous opportunity to inspire the next generation of family audiences with groundbreaking and captivating content driven by our common passion for great storytelling.”

  • top_cat_james

    First up: Untitled Talking Pie Project.

  • Dante Panora

    While it’s nice to see hollywood place more focus on developing animation branches, some of the premises for these movies by Alcon and Skydance make me a bit less excited. I’m not expecting any studio to make a big budget animated Apocalypse Now anytime soon, but they may just add to the homogenized pile of American CG star-studded rainbow colored pop culture referencing family movies we have now.

    It’s not that it’s bad if those kinds of movies are the most popular, it’s just that they rule Hollywood with an iron fist. I just hope that if these movies due turn out to just add to that pile, maybe audiences will kind of get tired of the abundance and studios can be a bit more experimental, like in the late 90’s early 2000’s when the Disney musical formula proved to not be as safe of a bet as other studios thought and we got films like Titan A.E. and The Iron Giant.

    • AmidAmidi

      You are absolutely correct in that assessment. A lot of these entrants, both from the US and China, are looking more at the numbers than at the creative potential of animation as a storytelling medium. The four most profitable US animated features last year were The Secret Life of Pets, Finding Dory, Zootopia, and Sing. For the most part, those are the formulas that these companies are aiming to recreate, and not surprisingly, every one is the same type of film: safe, all-ages, family-friendly fare that never pretends to challenge the viewer’s intelligence or understanding of the world. These companies will aim to recreate those formulas, or other recent successful formulas, like the How to Train Your Dragon franchise. Some will perhaps succeed, most will fail. That’s how it goes.

      Here’s the upside: there is more feature animation being created than ever before and there are a lot of original and unconventional films being produced right now, many of them out of Europe and Japan. We’ll be publishing a piece in the next day or so that talks a bit more about what happened at the Cartoon Movie feature conference in France last month. The other positive: Sausage Party, whatever people may think of it, was a hugely important film for the American industry, proving that an R-rated piece of raunch can be successful in the current marketplace. The film was a significant financial success, though on a much smaller scale than the aforementioned films. Perhaps there’ll be a producer or two who will pay attention to that success and aim for a mature film as the goal. It won’t happen this year or next, but look for a lot more adult films in the American marketplace over the next 5-10 years.

      • Andres Molina

        I agree with you on SLOP and Sing being safe and kid friendly, but if you really go deep into it, both Finding Dory and Zootopia have dark subtle undertones that don’t necessarily show, but are there.

        • Disagree

          Now, I actually liked Zootopia. However, it’s subject matter was about as subtle as a brick to the face. Just because the film dealt with a serious theme, doesn’t mean it’s subtle or dark.

      • Mateus Lima

        I wouldn’t like to see “Sausage Party” as the movie for big companies to take as reference of how they can make money with a R-rated animated movie. They will look at how cheap it was to make this movie and will want to make movies at the same price to make profit, but the reason why it was cheap to produce that movie was because of crazy work hours for underpayed animators, as we read here months ago.

  • RCooke

    Their explicit goal is to make money. Why would they limit their audience, which will be families for the most part? Now, if you’re talking Hitchcock like thriller (most of which would be a mild PG today, I’m game. That would be better than 99% of animation produced anywhere in the world right now. But very unlikely. No more of his dark, boring, ugly animation that pretends to be more adult–nor cheap laughs with potty and penile humor.

    I’d include Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” as an animated film, and a damn good one. Best version of Jungle Book yet produced (although the Korda version has it’s charms, and the Disney cartoon has some fun animation, even if it’s weak in the story department).

    • ea

      The Dark Tower could’ve been a nice animation for grown-ups, probably better than the live-action version we’re getting.

      And I think the movies based on Dan Brown’s novels could also have made millions if they were animated.

  • Elsi Pote

    Yay, 24 the animated movie: Jack Returns (and he doesn’t look happy)

  • Cameron Ward

    As long as they make films with their own identity and not try to copy Illumination, I’m down. I want animation studios to start being their own thing instead of just being pretty fast-paced comedies.