It was roughly two years ago that we initially declared Sony Pictures Animation a promising up-and-coming studio with a stockpile of diverse projects and a considerable amount of talent driving the projects. Today, Sony Pictures Animation still has a stockpile of diverse projects and some big talents behind the wheel, but recent events have knocked the studio off a once-promising path. In the aftermath of a company-wide hacking scandal and revelations about the gaping flaws in Sony Animation’s production process, Sony took steps to re-jig and strengthen their animation department. This meant installing new management (complete with a new President), putting a couple films on the back-burner (Popeye and Medusa), and shifting the focus towards building new franchises.
Now, what does the end result of nearly a year and a half of company course-correcting look like? According to a press release, it’s taken the form of a new production slate of both movies and TV shows, now in development for release dates spread throughout 2017 and 2018.
The announcement formally signifies a new era for Sony Pictures Animation, as the studio evolves from a simple filmmaking arm to a fully-fledged production house, with an expanded output and increased year-round production across multiple mediums.
Kristine Belson, President of Sony Pictures Animation, had this to say about the studio’s makeover and the promise of an ‘artist-driven’ company: “We are meaningfully stepping up our level of production, while creating an environment that fosters the best talent. Our goal is to enlarge our presence in the animation landscape with a uniquely diverse slate, and our strategy to get there is to let artists drive the movies creatively.”
Tom Rothman, Chairman of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group, chimed in with praise for Belson: “I could not be more proud of the way Kristine Belson has rebuilt Sony Pictures Animation into the boldest home for animation in the industry.
The production slate, which includes five films and three television shows, are a diverse mix of original features and franchise films/starters. Senior Vice Presidents of Development Michael Lachance, Jenny Marchick, and Mike Moon are leading the creative direction of SPA’s production slate.
Let’s go through them one by one, shall we?
Smurfs: The Lost Village is a fully-animated reboot of Sony’s Smurfs film franchise and the first film to roll out from Sony Pictures Animation’s new direction. Directed by Kelly Ashbury (Shrek 2, Gnomeo and Juliet) from a screenplay by Stacey Harman (ABC’s The Goldbergs) and Pamela Ribon (ABC’s Samantha Who?, Moana) and produced by Jordan Kerner (The Smurfs 1 and 2, Charlotte’s’ Web), the film will serve as an origin story for the titular characters, in addition hewing closing to the tone and style of Peyo’s original comics. The film carries a new release date of April 7, 2017.
Emojimovie: Express Yourself (originally The Emoji Movie) is a LEGO Movie-style exploration into “a surprising and comic take on the secret world of our phones and the beloved characters that have become daily necessities in global interpersonal communication.” Directed by Anthony Leondis (Igor, Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters) , from a screenplay by Leondis and Eric Siegel (TBS’s Men at Work). The film does not have a solid date, but it is targeting an August 2017 release date.
The Star is the new title for Oscar-nominated director Timothy Reckart’s faith-based animated feature. Originally set to be a retelling of the story of Noah’s Ark (from the perspective of the animals), The Star will instead be a retelling of the Nativity story (from the perspective of the animals). Specifically, the plot revolves around “a small but brave donkey and his animal friends who become the unsung heroes of the greatest story ever told, the first Christmas.” Reckart directs the film from a screenplay by Carlos Kotkin and Simon Moore, while DeVon Franklin, Lisa Henson, and Brian Henson serve as executive producers. The Jim Henson Company is producing in association with Sony Pictures Animation. The film bows on December 8, 2017.
Hotel Transylvania 3 is officially confirmed for a September 21, 2018 release date. What’s more surprising is the reveal that Genndy Tartakovsky will return to direct the third film in the franchise! As for his reasoning behind returning to the franchise: “I thought I was done exploring the world of HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA after the first two films, but while I was away from the franchise finishing my TV show SAMURAI JACK, an idea sparked that I got really excited about and made it irresistible to return and helm myself this third adventure.” He will direct from a screenplay by Michael McCullers (Austin Powers, Boss Baby), with Adam Sandler serving as executive producer. Sandler, Selena Gomez, and Adam Sandberg are expected to reprise their roles as Dracula, his daughter Mavis, and her human husband Johnny.
Animated Spider-Man will mark the Marvel superhero’s first theatrically-released animated feature. Bob Persichetti (head of story on Puss in Boots and The Little Prince) will make his directorial debut with this film, from a screenplay by Phil Lord (one half of the powerhouse duo behind The LEGO Movie). Phil Lord and Chris Miller will serve as executive producers along with Avi Arad and Amy Pascal. The film swings into theaters on December 21, 2018.
Ghostbusters: Ecto Force is a new animated TV series that “further expands” the Ghostbusters cinematic universe that kicks off with the upcoming live-action reboot. Set in the year 2050, the film focuses on a new generation of Ghostbusters who capture ghosts with the help of their futuristic gear and local teams. The project is a co-production between Sony Pictures Animation, producer Ivan Reitman, and his production company Ghost Corps. The series is currently aiming for a early 2018 debut.
Hotel Transylvania: The Television Series is a co-production between Sony Pictures Animation and Nelvana, focusing on the exploits of a teenage Mavis and her friends. That series will have a worldwide premiere on Disney Channel in 2017.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs will premiere its own TV series in 2017. The 2D-animated series, produced in partnership with DHX Media and Teletoon, will expand on the world of the feature films. It will air on Cartoon Network in the US.
Well, that’s all of what we can expect from the new and improved Sony Pictures Animation for the next two years. Will it be enough to make them a studio to watch like Warner Animation Group? We’ll see, but for now it has my curiosity.
What do you think? Are you looking forward to anything on Sony Pictures Animation’s new production slate?