Tuesday, April 12, 2016

WAGging the Cartoon Tail

The WB, after a fumbling, aborted lift-of in the 1990s, is getting serious about theatrical cartoons.

... [Warner Bros.] believes in animation. This year at CinemaCon, Warners showed off an aggressive production slate from Warner Animation Group (or WAG), the creative think tank whose first-and-thus-far-only release was 2014’s acclaimed LEGO Movie.

The think tank includes LEGO Movie’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Neighbors director Nicholas Stoller, Focus filmmakers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, and other talented male human beings. First up is September’s Storks, a movie about the storks who deliver babies, followed by LEGO Batman next year, and then Smallfoot, a film about a Yeti who thinks (twist!) that humans are real. And there are more LEGO movies. ...

Most intriguing of all is S.C.O.O.B., a Scooby-Doo reboot slated for 2018 directed by Tony Cervone. In an announcement video, S.C.O.O.B. was described as “our first shot at unlocking the whole Hanna-Barbera Universe.” ...

Warners had high hopes in the nineties. It launched Warner Bros. Feature Animation, it was going strong with its TV division Warner Bros. Animation and a raft of shows in partnership with one S. Spielberg (Tiny Toons, Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, etc.)

The feature side of SB's business didn't exactly blow up on the launch pad, but it didn't get very far out of the lower atmosphere. Quest of Camelot was a disaster, and though Space Jam was a medium-sized hit, the well-reviewed pictures that came after it didn't make much money. WBFA's close cousin Turner Feature Animation made one long-form cartoon and closed up shop, and the Warner feature division followed suit a few years later.

Which is too bad, since both divisions did some quality work. They just weren't profitable.

But here we are fifteen years further on, and Warner Bros. is back in the theatrical feature business. Warner Animation Group is a cross between Disney Feature Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, and Illumination Entertainment. The conglomerate employs considerable pre-production staff on its Burbank lot and a production building in Hollywood, but sub-contracts production work overseas. So far, most production has been done at Animal Logic in Australia.

The conglomerate seems to have firmer footing with long-form animation now than it did in the nineties and early oughts. Whether or not it can turn out a string of hits a la Pixar, DreamWorks Animation or Blue Sky Animation remains a question waiting to be answered.


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