What was once a universally-acclaimed short film from two rising stars in the animation industry, about the beginnings of a friendship between a pig and a fox, has now transformed into one of the most unexpected of all things: a multi-media franchise.
This month, animators Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi and their production company Tonko House have made clear their plans to expand the story of The Dam Keeper in multiple mediums. First, in film.
The Dam Keeper (Movie)
The last that anybody heard of Tonko House’s feature-length film adaptation of The Dam Keeper was that a presentation was being sent around to executives at major Hollywood studios. Now, it appears that they’ve finally locked down a studio partner.
News broke this week that 20th Century Fox Animation will team up with Tonko House to develop the feature film. Kondo and Tsutsumi will direct from a screenplay by up-and-comer John Henry Hinkel. Unlike the short film, the feature film will have dialogue and will be animated primarily in CG (as seen in images taken from an early test reel). Further animation tests are already underway and, as previously reported, the film will pick up several years after the events of the 2D-animated short.
Fox Animation executive Darlene Caamaño Loquet shepherded the project and is overseeing for the studios. Kane Lee, who came up through the ranks as producer’s assistant on Robots, production scheduler on Ice Age: The Meltdown, and associate production manager on Horton Hears a Who, will produce the film.
“We are thrilled to be in business with Tonko House and honored to help develop their groundbreaking short into a feature,” said Fox Animation president Vanessa Morrison in a press release statement.
“We are thrilled to return to making CG-animated feature films, having worked for over a decade at studios like Pixar and Blue Sky,” said Kondo and Tsutsumi. “We’re hungry to stand out in the crowded CG animation market and believe we can achieve something new. With Tonko House’s cultural roots being in Japan, it’s possible that we may be able to bridge both East and West to bring out the best of both animation traditions.”
The Dam Keeper (TV Series)
They’re not stopping there. Broken exclusively by Cartoon Brew, Tonko House is also partnering with Hulu Japan to produce a TV series based on the short film. Comprised of 10 five-minute episodes, the series will premiere on the streaming service in Summer of 2017. It is not known at this time if the episodes will air overseas on Hulu’s US service.
Erick Oh, who served as animation supervisor on the original short, will direct all 10 episodes of the series (with Kondo and Tsutsumi as executive producers). Even though the show will air in Japan, production will commence in-house at Tonko’s Berkeley, California headquarters.
According to the report, an executive at Hulu Japan approached Tonko House with the idea of doing an original project set in the Dam Keeper world. “I have to tip my hat to Hulu Japan for really trusting and wanting to work with us [instead of] going with a well established franchise,” Dice Tsutsumi told Cartoon Brew.
When early discussions shifted from a half-hour special to a short-form series, Kondo and Tsutsumi personally handpicked Erick Oh for directing duties. “We felt like Erick would protect this franchise, and yet he would bring a different kind of a flavor to it,” Tsutsumi said. “There’s nobody else that we trust more than Erick, and we would not have done this project if he hadn’t signed up for it.”
Tsutsumi revealed the the series would be a self-contained story, following the same core theme as other Dam Keeper projects: balancing light and dark aspects within one’s self. The show will also be a hand-drawn project, animated in a way that will highlight Oh’s line work and watercolor aesthetics.
(Image courtesy of Cartoon Brew)
“I’m very grateful for this opportunity to introduce The Dam Keeper world and characters to a different storytelling platform,” Oh said. “This 10-episode TV series focuses on Pig’s emotional journey to overcome his fear and emptiness through his friendship with Fox and their friends. My hope is that it will be heartfelt, humorous, and sincere enough to bring laughter and tears to the audience.”
The Dam Keeper (Graphic Novels)
If that wasn’t enough, remember back when news broke that Tonko House was teaming up with publishing house First Second Books for a trilogy of Dam Keeper graphic novels? Originally reported to drop this year, book one will now land in bookstores sometime in 2017. Like the movie, those books will take place several years after the events of the short film, sending the main characters on a quest to discover the world outside the village.
Tonko House: A Promising New Face?
Once again, we are witnessing something rare for the animation industry: a multi-media franchise being built upon by a small animation company, with a strong creative vision driving all aspects of the property. This, along with other original projects in development (like the short film Moom) appear poised to position Tonko House as a new rising star in an increasingly crowded and competitive industry. Depending on the success of these projects, they might become a studio to watch in the near future.
What do you think? Are you excited for more Dam Keeper, or are you looking forward to their original projects more?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes