Sony Pictures Animation (SPA), which has struggled to make animated films that connect with audiences thinks it has finally found the answer: Emoji. You know, those darn newfangled graphic symbols that all the young’uns use to communicate nowadays. Clearly, if the kids are using them, they’ll pay $15 to see a 3-D film about them…or so goes the thinking at Sony.

SPA’s new president Kristine Belson fast-tracked the idea, according to Mike Fleming’s exclusive report on Deadline. The project appears to be as much about personal redemption for Belson as it is about anything else. That’s because Belson has brought aboard Anthony Leondis to direct the film.

Leondis was the director of B.O.O.: Bureau Of Otherworldly Operations, the DreamWorks feature that Belson was executive producing before Jeffrey Katzenberg shelved its theatrical release, when it was deep into production (and by some accounts, already completed). Leondis will now have a second chance to prove himself under Belson’s oversight, and if the film is a success, then Katzenberg will have been wrong to can their earlier project…or so goes Belson’s internal monologue.

Leondis will also co-write the Emoji film with Eric Siegel (a producer on TV shows like Men at Work and Traffic Light). Leondis himself originated the project and pitched it around to different studios. A “bidding war” ensued, Deadline reported, with two other studios making bids — Warner Bros. and Paramount — though “none more aggressively than Sony” (which Deadline said without ever identifying the prior relationship between Leondis and Belson). Sony offered Leondis a nearly seven-figure deal for the project.

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