Warner Bros. doesn't want rivals like Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox to have a stranglehold on the lucrative animation market.
But the studio is trying a different approach in an effort to bolster its animated efforts. Instead of unveiling a new division, it's announcing an animation creative consortium, featuring the likes of John Requa and Glenn Ficarra ("Crazy, Stupid, Love.," "Cats & Dogs") and Nicholas Stoller ("The Muppets") that will help it develop its family offerings. Also on the team will be Phil Lord and Chris Miller ("Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs") and Jared Stern ("Mr. Popper's Penguins"). The approach is to bet on filmmakers who have a track record in family entertainment.
The consortium will not have any overhead costs associated with it, an individual with knowledge of its workings told TheWrap, but it has been given a mandate to develop and produce family-oriented works with broad appeal. The studio wants to release at least one animated film a year under the Warner Bros. Pictures banner.
"Warner Bros. has an extraordinary legacy in the world of animation, including some of the most enduring characters in cinema history," Jeff Robinov, president of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, said in a statement. "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."
In addition, Warner Bros. gave an indication of what its animated future might look like, announcing that the first feature in the pipeline is "The LEGO Movie." Lord and Miller wrote the screenplay inspired by the popular children's toy and will direct. The film will feature the voices of Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett and Morgan Freeman and is slated for release on February 7, 2014.
Warner Bros. said that other projects include "Storks" directed by Doug Sweetland, who helmed the Pixar short "Presto"; and "Smallfoot," which will be written by Requa and Ficarra, from an original idea by "Despicable Me"s' Sergio Pablos. Pablos will direct "Smallfoot." Warner Bros. said that "Storks" and "Smallfoot" are being targeted for release in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
It's not that Warner Bros. has been devoid of animated hits. "Happy Feet" grossed nearly $385 million globally for the studio in 2006. However, other films like 2010's "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" ($180 million worldwide) and "Happy Feet Two" ($150 million worldwide) did not earn enough to justify their sizable production budgets.
Moreover, Walt Disney has continued to hold sway over children's entertainment thanks to its acquisition of Pixar and Fox's Blue Sky Studios has become real player with its "Ice Age" films. Moreover, the recent distribution pact between Fox and DreamWorks Animation threatens to turn that studio into an animation powerhouse. At the same time, Paramount has announced that it has its eye on the toon game and has launched its own in-house animation division.
The competition in the genre is pitched, but the allure is undeniable. Animated films tend to travel across cultural boundaries and are easily dubbed into other languages, making them essential to studios who recognize that any substantial growth in their overall box office take must come from aboard.
The development of animated features will be overseen at Warner Bros. by production executives Courtenay Valenti, Chris deFaria and Greg Silverman. Overall look, character design and the story reel process will be housed in Warner Bros.' Burbank offices, but the studio said it will look to partner with established animation studios for production of the films.