Sony Pictures Animation has always been seen as (to some degree) a second-tier animation studio when compared to the behemoths of Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar. While the studio resources and production values on par with other big major animation companies and is perfectly capable of drawing in big names under its tent, its record has been rather spotty, to say the least. Outside of its collaborations with Aardman, only Surf’s Up and the Cloudy films have garnered critical acclaim, and its franchises (outside of The Smurfs) have never really made a cultural impact the way properties from Pixar, Dreamworks, and Disney have.
But recently, the company (that’s barely in its teenage years) has been making a series of intriguing decisions that may serve to position Sony Pictures Animation as a first-class animation studio worthy of a place among the big three. So, what exactly is Sony doing to elevate itself to major-league status?
First off, they are really taking advantage of social media. Now of course, what animation company isn’t using social media nowadays? But what makes Sony Animation’s usage of it notable are its occasional ‘artist profile’ videos that highlight the men and women behind the creative process (its latest video features My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic creator Lauren Faust).
Kelly Asbury, director of the upcoming Smurfs reboot, also has a tumblr blog that gives followers an inside look at the filmmaking process, in addition to effectively allowing fans to track the film’s progress from start to finish. It’s an ingenious and effective strategy, the most significant reason being that it gives a firm impression that Sony is a studio driven by the work of its creators. The fact that it also, perhaps more than most companies, continuously gives us an look at the inner-workings of the company doesn’t really hurt either.
Another tactic the studio seems to be using a lot as of late is putting together an extensive and diverse slate of upcoming projects. This in itself is nothing new, as Sony arguably has one of the most diverse outputs of any animation studio (with DreamWorks closely rivaling Sony in that distinction). I won’t list all of the upcoming projects in this article, but to show you just how varied its lineup is, I will list all of its immediate projects it has in the works (bare with me!).
As discussed, there is the upcoming all-animated reboot of The Smurfs, as well as the Lauren Faust-directed Medusa and a small pool of projects from Genndy Tartakovsky as part of his deal with Sony (Hotel Transylvania 2, Popeye, and Genndy Tartakovsky’s Can You Imagine?). It also has Manimal with Will Farrell and Adam McKay, a fantasy film titled Kazorn and the Unicorn with Sam Raimi attached as executive producer, a live-action/CG Sonic the Hedgehog film, a movie adaptation of Angry Birds, an animated Nativity-based feature titled The Lamb, an adaptation of a series of children’s fantasy novels titled The Familiars, and the live-action/stop-motion film Superbago, which is the brain child of Robot Chicken animators and executive producers John Harvantine and Eric Towner, centering around two superhero wannabes and set to skew older than their other features.
As you could tell from the lineup, you have just about something for everyone (and that’s just the films I have listed!). As Michelle Raimo Kouyate, president of production at Sony Pictures Animation, told Variety: “I love that our studio has the luxury of not being tied down to one specific type of movie.”
All in all, you can absolutely tell how much Sony Pictures Animation wants in on the heavy-hitter club. In fact, 2016 looks to be a big year for Sony, with the release of not one, not two, not even three, but four films (The Smurfs reboot, Popeye, Angry Birds, and an untitled film set for September that could be any of the projects mentioned above). Of course, time will tell if its two-fold strategy will result in critical and commercial successes. But in any case, Sony is rapidly becoming one of the most exciting studios to watch.