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Feature Film

Warner Bros. New Theatrical Animation “Think Tank”

Warner Bros. is bringing back its feature animation division, starting with The Lego Movie, which comes out next year; Storks, which comes out in 2015; and Smallfoot, which comes out in 2016.

They announced yesterday the formation of a new in-house “consortium” of various writers and directors who will form a brain trust to lead the creative direction of future theatrical animated features. After the distribution mishandling of The Iron Giant, the creative debacle of Yogi Bear and the disaster of Happy Feet 2 – call me optimistic, at least the studio is making an attempt to understand the modern day animation marketplace.

Here is the complete press release:

Warner Bros. Pictures has formed a feature animation creative consortium, marking a new and innovative approach to the establishment of a diverse and far-reaching animation slate. The announcement was made today by Jeff Robinov, President, Warner Bros. Pictures Group.

The mission of the new think tank is to help develop and produce high-end animated motion pictures, with the goal of releasing one feature per year under the Warner Bros. Pictures banner. The select team of accomplished filmmakers will collaborate with the Studio to frame and guide a variety of projects from start to finish.

The artists who will be involved in Warner Bros.’ new feature animation venture are: John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, (“Crazy, Stupid, Love.,” “Cats & Dogs”); Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets”); Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”); and Jared Stern (“Mr. Popper’s Penguins”).

The filmmakers will work both individually and collectively, supporting one another artistically in the making of the films. They will not be exclusive to the Studio’s animated film productions; rather they will also continue to write and direct live-action movies. This new endeavor reflects Warner Bros.’ ongoing commitment to being a filmmaker friendly studio, which invites and fosters original projects, continually expanding the entertainment scope of its slate.

In making the announcement, Robinov stated, “Warner Bros. has an extraordinary legacy in the world of animation, including some of the most enduring characters in cinema history. Looking to the future, we have now gathered some of the best and brightest talents in the industry to help us grow and broaden that legacy. Drawing upon their imaginations and inspiration, the Studio will produce a slate of new and original animated films that are sure to delight audiences of all ages.”

The first feature in the pipeline is the upcoming 3D animated adventure “The LEGO Movie,” being directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller from their own screenplay. Bringing the globally popular LEGO construction toys to the big screen for the first time, the film is being produced by Dan Lin and Roy Lee and stars the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, and Morgan Freeman. The animation is largely being accomplished at Australia’s Animal Logic. A presentation of Warner Bros. Pictures, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, “The LEGO Movie” is slated for release on February 7, 2014.

Among the other projects being developed are: “Storks,” conceived and being written by Nicholas Stoller and to be directed by Oscar(R) nominee Doug Sweetland (PIXAR short “Presto”); and “Smallfoot,” to be written by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, from an original idea by Sergio Pablos (“Despicable Me”), who is also set to direct. The films are being targeted for release in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The development of animated features will be overseen at Warner Bros. by Courtenay Valenti, Chris deFaria and Greg Silverman. Overall look, character design and the story reel process will be housed in Burbank; however the Studio will look to partner with established animation studios for production of the films.

What say you? Will this help Warner Bros. compete in a field dominated by artist-driven films from Disney-Pxar, Fox-Blue Sky-Dreamworks, Universal-Illumination, Sony, et al?

(Thanks, Liam Scanlan)

  • Kyle Maloney

    Doug Sweetland? (apologies in advance)
    Sweeeet. I was bummed to hear he left Pixar, because his shots, along with Presto were some of the best produced at the studio. So I really look forward to seeing what he can accomplish on his own. I just hope his animators can carry on with his sensibilities since he himself wont be animating presumably.

    Aside from that, what I want to see is more looney tunes done in the style of the those theatrical shorts. I’d love to get a series of shorts to bring them back to their original outlet in a new age.

    • Hank

      Doug Sweetland left Pixar just over 4 years ago.

      • wever

        “I just produced my first animated Pixar short that received tons of praise! ….I’ll LEAVE now!”

        • Bud

          He was directing Monsters, Inc. 2 for a while before he war replaced.

    • His shots? You can identify Doug’s specific shots in Pixar films?

  • I’ve been very wary of Warner since THE IRON GIANT, and that’s not the only case: THE POWERPUFF GIRLS MOVIE was another.

    On the other hand, considering the creative talent brought on board, I’m willing to give Warner the benefit of the doubt. Although I’m definitely not expecting a return to the “Golden Age.” In other words, no new Bugs Bunny shorts trying so hard to recreate the 40s-50s with a “contemporary” twist. More like Warner’s own Pixar, for better or for worse.

  • One of the main reasons I am not overly excited about a sequel to “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” is because it is not being directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The fact that Warners has them working on feature animation is extremely good news. Doug Sweetland is making a feature too, welcome back Warners!

    Oh and if you could make a habit of sticking brand new Looney Tunes shorts (or even old ones) at the start of your features that would be awesome. Thanks!

    • Andrew Hager

      I agree with you on the Looney Tunes shorts idea. We need more Looney Tunes than we ever needed them, before! Anything’s better than that pretentious garbage they DARE call “The Looney Tunes Show”!

  • wever

    ….. didn’t the CEO or someone on Warner Brothers specifically announce no new original properties from the company for the foreseeable future because it was too much of a financial risk?! Wasn’t that even covered here? Maybe he was talking about shows on Cartoon Network instead, which would be understandable.

  • Charlie

    Why not an Adventure Time movie? But please, no ‘real world’ crap. I want to see the Land of Ooo in all it’s glory on the silver screen.

  • CGAnimator

    I’m excited about the Sweetland project. He’s one of my favorite animators.

  • I can’t seem to find the video at the moment, but didn’t a Warner Brothers executive explain that they are only interested in using their existing properties? It makes me skeptical how “new and original” these animated films will be, regardless of who’s working on them.

  • Marvin O

    As long as WB steers clear of any more toilet/urinal cookie gags, they have a fighting chance.

  • BkRoberts

    Does it strike anyone else that there’s no, you know, ANIMATORS in this “Animation Think Tank”? Clearly they’re looking for something akin to Pixar’s “Brain Trust”, but the Pixar folks all have one thing in common that none of Warner’s “Thinkers” have.

    • Billy

      Anyone who thinks that Phil Lord and Chris Miller aren’t animators clearly haven’t worked with them. They created the most cartoony big-studio movie yet (Cloudy) and one of the best underrated cartoon tv shows (Clone High). They’re pushing the boundaries of commercial animation like nobody else. The Lego Movie is going to surprise!

      • Agreed. And oh, yea, they directed that little movie called 21 Jump Street.

    • wever

      No, because these are PRODUCERS. Animators haven’t produced a Hollywood feature-length animated film in years.

      • Larry

        Creative producers, not producers in the studio-executive sense. Lord/Miller are producers, but also writers, directors, storyboard artists, character designers etc etc. They do it all on their movies.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Warner Bros. has to realize they can’t make any more good cartoons today because they’d all be politically incorrect.

    • Shazbot

      You said it. Nowadays, the gallant, hopelessly-romantic Pepe Le Pew is considered a stalker. What a sad, humorless, politically-correct world we live in. Which is why I no longer vote Democrat. :D

      • Geoff

        If they could pull it off, I’d be interested in seeing them bring back the polically incorrect characters into modern world even more so. They could make it a social commentary both about how times have changed and how everyone now has a stick up their butt.

        • wever

          There’s already one like that. Its called The Muppets!

      • R. Araya

        Now THAT explains the cynical and quirky drivel Bugs and Daffy got as a show. I was actually quite enthusiastic about it, but they did one too many mistakes along the way (I’m not surprised by the “snobby conservative idiot” personality Daffy received, but I still find that converting Witch Hazel/Lezah and Gossamer into their “new” personas was, forced at least).

  • Hank

    It’s about storytelling. Animation is just a technique.

  • I can say that Smallfoot, directed by Sergio Pablos is going to be an amazing movie :)

    • Shazbot

      Is it about a baby Bigfoot?

      • Sorry, I can’t tell it. I just can say that the entire design of the movie it’s goning to be awesome, with the main characters designed by Sergio.

        • Bud

          Design isn’t storytelling. It’s nice, but it’s less important.

  • Why not buy a slot in those stupid preview shows before the trailers, and fill it with a classic Warner cartoon (a different selection every week)? Hell, mix it up– start a shorts division and have a new Looney Tune come out every month in that slot as well. Lord knows any sane moviegoer would prefer Bugs and Daffy to averting his or her gaze from the endless commercials and puff pieces for the latest one-season P.O.S. on TNT.

    • David

      Precisely. Warner Bros. would save a ton of money and probably earn a lot of goodwill if they’d stop attempting to make old properties ‘new’ and just give us the originals, already bought and paid for.

    • I would love to see that, too. But, you know movie theater chains these days. If what’s shown before the movie doesn’t last for more than 2 minutes and 30 seconds, it’s not worth showing in theaters at all.

  • I would love for Warner Bros to be a successful voice in animation. But history has shown over and over again that they are either clueless or just have no desire to successed. I mean, “Lego the Movie”- seriously? Why not just make “Happy Meal the Movie”?

    Remember this is also the company that told Joss Whedon that they didn’t want him to do Wonder Woman movie- so he made the Avengers.

    • If Lord and Miller were directing I’d watch ‘Happy Meal the Movie”. If somebody can pull Lego Movie off they are Lord and Miller.

  • dbenson

    Mental picture of whichever creatives they can corral for a meeting trying to reduce concepts to managerspeak before the guy at the end of the table sums up:
    “So what we want is something like ‘The Avengers’ meet ‘Harry Potter’, but more creative. A little bit of that ‘Metal Giant’ thing, maybe . . . Magical robots! We get that kid from the sitcom and some Brit as a wizard . . . The kid’s all modern and hip hop, to make it relevant . . . Can we get the Potter characters for this one?”

  • I’m pumped about the Lego Movie.

    Clone High/ CWACOM / 21 Jump Street

    Awesomeness awaits!

  • Jay

    Why no Bruce Timm?

    • Toonio

      Hey Bruce! nice you want to connect with your fans and all in the “comic-con-clones” circuit but we want you to put your awesomeness on the big screen!

  • Mac

    For commercial animation why not cut out the animation from the process, kind of like that sony dualism? Get a “perfected board” by writers and board artists, thats only a handful of salaries. Studios waste millions to tread water in development anyways, my as well be producing reels of watchable footage instead of the multitude of scripts no one gives a shit about. These visual reel scripts, will be much more malleable for dynamic deployment to any of the constantly shifting media platforms. Cut it and budget it for wherever your audience is. Your creative jerks on staff will still have to appeal to making money in some market, but it would pivot better. You could do your Hollywood logic after the fact, seeing that this finely crafted story reel would do better being cut up into a 500 dollar an episode web series that will show up in google searches for valium.

  • Guys, we have yet to see anything regarding on the information about these projects. So, why not play the waiting game on all of these before we judge them? That’s only thing we can do at this point is play the waiting game. Now about WB opening a new animation division.

    I will say that I am a bit excited for this, but I’m mostly mixed about this. Since Warner Bros didn’t know what to do with most of the animated movies they did in the 90’s. whoever was in charge of the marketing back then didn’t make any bright moves for marketing the release dates of the animated films. The only two good movies that came out of Warner Bros were Cats Don’t Dance(being a guilty pleasure to some people, since I know a few people who call it as a guilty pleasure) and The Iron Giant. Hopefully, these upcoming projects might be good. The smallfoot movie sounds like it’s going to be focusing on a little Bigfoot. I hope that can lead to Doug Tennapel’s graphic novel about Bigfoot getting greenlighted as an animated feature.

    The Lego movie and storks I don’t think I’m going to see. Then again, I might be proven wrong if Storks is any good(provided if it is good that is. might as well wait until we hear more about this project). I just hope for future reference, that Warner Bros doesn’t do anything to “copy/follow routes” on Disney or even Pixar for this new animation division. The last thing we all need is another Quest for Camelot (a perfect example on why you shouldn’t copy someone else’s style for the sake of profit).

  • optimist

    “…the story reel process”.

    Is this what story in animation has come to? Something about this choice of terms bothers. Really, there’s a reason that Pixar had the sucess that they did, and it wasn’t about reels but about an actual story process with story artists. Any chance that that will happen?

    • Hank

      Actually, after screenplays are written ,Pixar’s films have always been “made” in via story reels. According to them, the most important part of the storytelling “process” is getting it on the screen via story reel and watching it.

  • Steven Marino

    Does this mean they’ll hopefully do some 2D movies now?

    • Bud


  • William

    “…call me optimistic, at least the studio is making an attempt to understand the modern day animation marketplace.”

    If Warner Home Video would attempt to understand the modern day home video marketplace and issue the remaining Looney Tunes on DVD, we’ll be in business! :)

  • James Fox

    Why a LEGO Movie?
    How could you do a film based on building blocks?

    • wever

      There already are. There are 4 Bionicle movies, one Clutch Powers movie that stars the classic yellow LEGO people, and at least several others. These are all home video however. LEGO Group is now a huge corporation rivaling MARVEL, so they have the power to step into the theaters now.

      • Nate W

        I hope to god that the upcoming movie is better than LEGO’s previous “movies”.

  • Eric Graf

    Can’t wait for The Tinkertoy Movie and The Lincoln Log Movie.

    Somebody call Eisner. I think Bazooka Joe may have a shot at the big screen after all.

  • Frank Ziegler

    It would be nice if they were more receptive to ideas from outside the Hollywood bubble they live and work in. Until they let some new faces/ideas in I’m afraid they’ll just continue to recycle/reboot/remake what has already been done.

  • Otaku-sempai

    I would add the following names to the roster: Sam Register and/or Bruce Timm from Warner Bros. Animation.

    • Manny

      …and Steve Macintyre of “Coyoteville” fame.

  • Mike Frandy

    I think I’m the only one who actually saw “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” projected in a movie theatre. WB has been really bad at handling proper marketing and pr to get audiences excited to see their animated features.

    There are four great episodes of Kevin Smith’s “Fatman on Batman” podcast where he and Paul Dini do B:TAS commentary tracks + riff/shoot the bull about the state of things. They have a nice chat midway through the 4th episode about WB’s epic mishandling of features. Worth a listen.

    • Bud

      Problem is, that cartoon just isn’t feature quality either in story, directing, or artwork. Fine for the kids on tv, but not much more.

      • TJR

        Batman isn’t good for features? Really?
        Mask of the Phantasm was an excellent feature (And one of the best Batman movies ever made). If it hadn’t been so poorly promoted it might have done better and paved the way for more adult action adventure oriented animated features. A market that no studio in America has a foothold on.

  •  This would be a great opportunity for Warner Bros. to join the ranks and to prove itself as a major studio to tell stories that can compete with the other BIG Animation Studios. Its about time.

    I would love to see Brad Bird return to the studio, I have been waiting for a Sequel to “Iron Giant”.

  • Royal Tenenbaum

    As long as they steer clear of the “Group of lovable side kicks” that Universal wheels out every time, Minions, Chicks (in Hop), Bears in The Lorax. I’d swear they just tweak and reskin the same models for each movie