Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dreamworks Drops Aardman





Well, at long last, perhaps the end of quality "Stop Motion Animation" comes not with a thud or a boom, but with the unnoticed headline "Aardman, DWA end partnership. "Dreamworks Animation," the only part of the Katzenberg, Geffen and Spielberg company "Dreamworks SKG" to survive, thrive and realize the independent, artistically directed dream created by its three visionaries, has dropped all dealings with the finest and one of the last true stop motion factories, "Aardman Animations." Since the promise of the feature film "Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and the competition's "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," was burst by less than lackluster ticket sales, the last best chances for the original, non computer driven artform was living on borrowed time, (at least in the main stream.) Aardman's follow up CG project "Flushed Away" also had less than stellar revenues, so it's of little surprise that we come to Today's announcement.

Little surprise, but also little faith on the side of "visionaries" like Geffen and Katzenburg, who now run DWA. Aardman is the "Pixar" of stop motion animation and deserves better. Variety has the story (here).

Aardman, DWA end partnership
Move comes after failures of 'Rabbit,' 'Flushed'
By BEN FRITZ

'Flushed Away' cost more than than $100 million to make, but grossed only $63.4 million.
After a critically lauded but commercially troubled six-year partnership with DreamWorks Animation, Aardman is back on its own. The British claymation giant, best known for its signature Wallace and Gromit characters and 2000 hit "Chicken Run," officially terminated its five-picture deal with DreamWorks on Tuesday.

Move was widely expected after the financial failures of "Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Flushed Away" (Daily Variety, Nov. 13). The former was a claymation pic made by Aardman and distributed by DWA, the latter a CGI collaboration between the two companies.

Aardman is back in development on several films inhouse. Having long established its claymation prowess, company's in the midst of building up CGI capabilities, meaning it could potentially produce pics in both formats.

How it will finance those movies, and how they will reach the market, is now an open question. A rep would say only that Aardman execs are looking at several different options.

Only project Aardman has in production is CBS claymation series "Creature Comforts." Eye net ordered seven episodes last year and hasn't yet skedded the show, though it was announced as a midseason replacement for 2006-07. It could still air in the spring or get pushed back to the summer or fall.

"Chicken Run" grossed a solid $106.8 million in 2000, but 2005's "Wallace & Gromit" made only $56.1 million Stateside, while last fall's "Flushed Away," which cost well over $100 million to make, grossed only $63.4 million. ("Gromit" did better overseas, but "Flushed" was a worldwide disappointment.)

Likelihood that the companies would sever relations became clear in recent months. There was the "Flushed" flop -- and DreamWorks announced its slate through 2009 without any pics from its British partner. All its upcoming movies are in the hip, sarcastic vein of toon studio's franchises "Madagascar" and "Shrek," sequels of which are in the works.

Companies had one pic in development, "Crood Awakening," which was announced at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival and penned by John Cleese. Rights to the project revert to DreamWorks, though it's unlikely to see the light of day.

Aardman was founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton in 1976. They were later joined by Nick Park, who won Oscars for three of his animated shorts and the "Wallace & Gromit" feature.

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