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)