dreamworks_beekle

DreamWorks is attempting a counterintuitive strategy to turn around its listless feature film division: hire someone with zero animation experience to direct an animated film.

The studio has announced that Jason Reitman will write and direct Beekle, based on this year’s Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, written and illustrated by Dan Santat. Reitman, the son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, is best known for his Oscar-nominated comedies Juno and Up in the Air.

Beekle is the first project to be put into development by DreamWorks’s new animation co-presidents Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria. Studio development executive Damon Ross brought the book to DreamWorks, and he’ll oversee the project along with DreamWorks’s head of development Gregg Taylor.

“Welcoming Jason onto this project is a true coup, as his incredible ability to tell heartfelt character-driven stories with a signature comedic tone makes him the perfect choice to bring this beloved book to the big screen,” said Arnold and Soria in a joint statement. “We immediately fell in love with the concept of Beekle and know that Jason will create something truly special from this fantastic source material.”

Over the past decade, the majority of live-action directors who have attempted animation, with the notable exception of Robert Zemeckis, have experienced success, both critically and financially. In fact, the only times that the animated feature Oscar has not been won by the Walt Disney Company over the last 9 years was for films made by live-action helmers: Gore Verbinski’s Rango and George Miller’s Happy Feet. And while Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox didn’t earn an Oscar, it was acclaimed by both critics and moviegoers.

Beekle, which is about an overlooked imaginary friend who is tired of waiting to be imagined by a real child and decides to take matters into his own hand, skews younger than the average DreamWorks Animation project. The original book is aimed at children ages 3-6; compare that to the 8-12 age range of The True Meaning of Smekday, upon which DreamWorks’s latest effort Home was based.

Reitman, for his part, isn’t disguising the fact that he’s making a children’s film. He alluded to his young daughter with two separate anecdotes in today’s press release: “I was book shopping with my daughter, when a little tooth-shaped character in a paper crown stole our heart. His name was Beekle and I’m honored to now be adapting Santat’s charming story into a feature film. I’m particularly proud to be working with DreamWorks Animation, makers of Kung Fu Panda, the first film my daughter ever saw on the big screen.”

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