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NetfIix’s New Animation Slate Includes Craig McCracken, Nora Twomey, and Jorge Gutierrez (Analysis)

Here’s a basic truth about Netflix: they have commissioned, produced, and distributed a lot of animation. Here’s another truth that became extra-clear this morning: they’re only getting started.

The streaming service has announced what is quite possibly the largest-ever production slate for an animation producer, comprised of seven feature films and six original series (listed below). Some of the projects have been previously announced, but seeing them put together like this begins to make clear the company’s animation strategy.

The slate is remarkable for a variety of reasons, not the least its breadth and diversity. Netflix isn’t bound by any of the rigid rules that define corporate animation studios, and it’s taking full advantage of its unique situation, almost taunting competitors with its freedom to produce whatever it pleases. The most outward evidence of this freedom is reflected in the techniques that the studio is using to produce its films. Its announced features include cg (The Willoughbys, Over the Moon), 2d (Klaus, My Father’s Dragon), and stop motion (Pinocchio, Wendell & Wild). Techniques alone don’t equate to lesser or greater quality of filmmaking, but a company that is willing to embrace animation in all its many forms is sending a clear message that it’s not playing by conventional rules.

Equally notable is that many of its announced projects are original ideas. There are no sequels, spin-offs, reboots, and such. It’s a true creator-driven line-up with artists leading the way creatively. That stems in large part from Netflix’s philosophy about animation, which Melissa Cobb, vice president of kids and family at Netflix, laid out today in a Variety interview: “We’re trying to take the Netflix philosophy of empowering creators and bring that into the animation space. We’re not focused on creating a singular brand identity. We want to produce a broad range of content that appeals to kids and families all over the world.”

And then there’s its stable of creators, which reads like a who’s who of the industry: Craig McCracken, Nora Twomey, Henry Selick, Glen Keane, Chris Williams, Sergio Pablos, and for good measure, Guillermo del Toro. It’s hard to think of another upstart animation division that has attracted this many A-list creators almost overnight. Not only does it require deep pockets, it also requires a different playbook than the rest of Hollywood.

Industry creators have been trained to suffer through interminable hurdles and hoops before a studio commits to their idea, and there’s nothing attractive about another big competitor offering that same deal. But most creators would readily jump ship to a studio that believed in their idea and let them create, no strings attached. Netflix, at least for the moment, is exactly that place.

The Variety piece explains that there is no greenlight committee at Netflix through which projects must pass – a handful of executives led by Cobb makes decisions on what shows and films to produce. In Variety, Craig McCracken talks about getting a 10-episode commitment for his newly-announced series Kid Cosmic in less than a week, a speed that is unheard of at other studios. Per Variety:

“I’m so used to having to fight for permission to be creative,” says McCracken. He notes that a show such as Kid Cosmic, which follows a grade-schooler who is struggling, and frequently failing, to harness his superhuman abilities, would have faced a lot of second-guessing at traditional networks. “They would have asked to have the kid be more aspirational and cooler,” says McCracken. “That may be more commercial, but that’s not the way kids are. They get confused by things, they get frustrated and they have emotional outbursts.”

Netflix airs its fair share of animation aimed at older audiences (Big Mouth, Bojack Horseman), but all of the titles announced today are being produced under its Kids and Family banner. The service, which surpassed 137 million global subscribers in October, reports that 60% of its subscribers – around 82 million people – watch kids and family content monthly, so the demand for animation content is real.

Besides sheer numbers, there’s another factor driving the push for new animation content on Netflix as well. Disney will remove its animation from the service in 2019, in advance of launching its own streaming service. Rather than making up for the Disney content loss by licensing as much animation as possible from third-party producers, Netflix is taking an offensive position and bringing animation production under its own control. That’s already a gutsy move, but the even gutsier move is not being swayed by industry trends or replicating what every other studio is currently producing. Looking at their overall animation line-up, there’s no clear content strategy other than producing innovative and original projects from amazing creators, which actually might be the smartest strategy of all when going up against the entrenched Hollywood establishment.

Explaining the line-up, Melissa Cobb, vice president of kids and family at Netflix, said in a statement, “We know that there is no one type of family. We embrace all kinds of creators so we can tell unique and diverse stories that resonate with each and every Netflix family. With our slate of global original animated feature films and series, we want to give families more moments to share the laughter, wonder and connection that comes from being immersed in a great story.”

Here are the new titles that Netflix announced today:

MAYA AND THE THREE (2021)

An animated limited series created, written, and directed by Jorge Gutierrez (The Book of Life, El Tigre). Set in a mythical Mesoamerican inspired world, a warrior princess embarks on a quest to recruit three legendary fighters to help save the world of men and gods. Silvia Olivas (Elena of Avalor) is co-writer and co-executive producer, and Jeff Ranjo (Moana) is head of story. A piece of development art from the project is pictured at the top of this story.

MY FATHER’S DRAGON (2021)

A 2D animated family feature film from director Nora Twomey (The Secret of Kells, The Breadwinner) and written by Meg LeFauve (Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur), with story by Meg LeFauve and John Morgan, who are also executive producers. Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn of Mockingbird Pictures are producing together with Paul Young of Cartoon Saloon (The Secret of Kells, The Breadwinner) and Tomm Moore. Based on the Newbery Honored children’s novels by Ruth Stiles Gannett, My Father’s Dragon tells the story of young run-away Elmer Elevator, who searches for a captive Dragon on Wild Island and finds much more than he could ever have anticipated. Alan Moloney and Ruth Coady of Parallel Films will also serve as executive producers alongside Gerry Shirren.

GO! GO! CORY CARSON (2019)

An animated preschool series from Kuku Studios in Berkeley, CA executive produced by Alex Woo (Wall-e, Ratatouille), Stanley Moore (Finding Dory, Monster’s University) and Tone Thyne (Wonder Pets!, The Adventures of Napkin Man!). Based on the hit toy line Go! Go! Smart Wheels from VTech Electronics, Go! Go! Cory Carson follows the adventures of kid car Cory Carson as he navigates the winding roads of childhood in Bumperton Hills.

KID COSMIC (2020)

An animated series in production from Craig McCracken (The Powerpuff Girls, Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends). This is a show about a young boy who dreams of becoming a hero, and when he stumbles across some cosmic stones of power his dreams appear to have come true! Unfortunately the reality of being a hero vs. the fantasy of being a hero are completely different and this challenge becomes the biggest battle he has to face. The Kid may be the good guy, but he’s really bad at it!

TRASH TRUCK (2020)

An animated series in production from Max Keane (Dear Basketball). Hank is a free-range, dirt-covered 6 year old boy with a big imagination and an even bigger best pal… a giant honking, snorting trash truck. From learning to fly to going to the dentist, there is no adventure too big or too small for these two best friends. Glen Keane (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast) and Gennie Rim (Dear Basketball) serve as executive producers alongside Max Keane.

"The Willoughbys."
“The Willoughbys.”
THE WILLOUGHBYS (2020)

A highly stylized cg animated feature film currently in production with Bron Animation in Vancouver from writer/director Kris Pearn (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2). When the four Willoughby children are abandoned by their selfish parents, they must learn how to adapt their old-fashioned values to the contemporary world in order to create a new and modern family. Based on the book by Newbery Award-winning author, Lois Lowry. Starring Ricky Gervais, Maya Rudolph, Will Forte, Martin Short, Alessia Cara and Jane Krakowski.

Other Netflix family animated titles that have been previously announced include the following:

JACOB AND THE SEA BEAST (2022)

A cg animated feature film written and directed by Academy Award winning filmmaker Chris Williams (Moana, Big Hero 6, Bolt). Jacob and the Sea Beast tells the epic story of a charming seafarer who sails into uncharted waters and discovers an unlikely ally in a sea monster.

KLAUS (Holiday 2019)

A 2d animated family feature film from writer/director Sergio Pablos, co-creator of Despicable Me. When a selfish young postman is assigned to a remote Scandinavian town, his unlikely friendship with a reclusive toymaker leads to the origin story of Santa Claus. This timeless story is visualized through a unique combination of classical hand drawn animation and cutting edge digital technology. The world features volumetric lighting and texturing typically seen in cg animated films. Voice actors include Jason Schwartzman, Rashida Jones, JK Simmons and Joan Cusack. Written by Pablos, Zach Lewis and Jim Mahoney, the screenplay is based on an original story by Pablos. Matthew Teevan, Gustavo Ferrada and Marisa Roman are producers, and Jinko Gotoh (The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, The Little Prince) is executive producer. Sergio Pablos’ SPA Studios is producing the film in Madrid, Spain, with Atresmedia Cine, with Toon Boom as a technological partner.

MIGHTY LITTLE BHEEM (2019)

An animated preschool series in production in India from Director Rajiv Chilaka (Chhota Bheem). Mighty Little Bheem will be the first preschool series of the popular Bheem franchise. It is a non-verbal slapstick adventure comedy in which its ultra strong, brave and intelligent hero, Mighty Little Bheem travels through his hometown on crazy adventures, often in search of ladoos (his favorite treat).

MOTOWN MAGIC (Nov. 20, 2018)

A family-friendly animated series from Josh Wakely (Beat Bugs) that brings together 52 newly recorded versions of classic Motown hits from such musicians as The Jackson 5, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Smokey Robinson, who serves as executive music producer. The series follows Ben, a wide-eyed 8-year-old with a big heart and an amazing imagination, who uses a magic paintbrush to bring the street art in Motown to life.

"Over the Moon."
“Over the Moon.”
OVER THE MOON (2020)

A cg musical adventure about a girl who builds a rocket ship to travel to the moon in order to prove to her father that a legendary Moon Goddess really exists. When she gets to the “other side” she unexpectedly discovers a whimsical world filled with fantastical creatures – some of whom threaten her and others who ultimately help her find her way home. Directed by Glen Keane (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast), written by Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun, George of the Jungle), produced by Gennie Rim (Dear Basketball), and executive produced by Janet Yang (Joy Luck Club). Songs written by Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield, and Helen Park. Co-production with Pearl Studio.

PINOCCHIO (2021)

The animated feature film directorial debut of Academy Award winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water). Pinocchio is his lifelong passion project, which he will also write and produce as a stop motion musical. Del Toro has set his retelling of the classic tale of Pinocchio in Italy during the 1930s. Pinocchio is a production of Guillermo del Toro, The Jim Henson Company (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance), and Shadowmachine (Bojack Horseman), which will house the stop-motion animation production. Alongside del Toro, Lisa Henson, Shadowmachine’s Alex Bulkley, Corey Campodonico, and Gary Ungar of Exile Entertainment will produce. Blanca Lista will co-produce. Also alongside del Toro, Patrick McHale (Over The Garden Wall) will co-write the script, Mark Gustafson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) will co-direct, and Guy Davis will serve as co-production designer, taking inspiration from Gris Grimly’s original design for the Pinocchio character. The film’s puppets will be built by Mackinnon and Saunders (Corpse Bride).

WENDELL & WILD (2021)

An animated feature film from writer/director Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline) and writer Jordan Peele (Key & Peele, Get Out) with Monkeypaw Productions. Two demon brothers (voiced by Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele) escape the Underworld and find themselves in a town where they must evade a demon-duster teenager, Kat, who is trying to destroy them. Peele is also producing through his Monkeypaw company along with Selick and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein from the Gotham Group. Sarah Serata will co-produce. Executive producers are Win Rosenfeld for Monkeypaw, Peter Principato and Joel Zadak for Principato-Young, Lindsay Williams and Eddie Gamarra for The Gotham Group. Argentinian artist Pablo Lobato will design the characters.

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