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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.

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