‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Ghostbusters’ loom large in the plans of Sony Pictures Animation

Sony Pictures Animation has always been the red-headed stepchild of studio animation arms. They”ve had a few big hits, a few mid-sized hits, and they”ve done a very good job of squeezing every possible penny out of the direct-to-video market with sequels to some of their titles.

In the press release they sent out today, Sony made it clear that they”re doubling down on animation. Kristine Belson is the president of Sony Animation, answering directly to Tom Rothman, and she talked about letting artists drive the films they”re planning to make. It”s a pretty safe list overall, with an emphasis on pre-existing properties, and I have a hard time getting my head around how anyone is even remotely artistically moved by the idea of an Emoji movie.

Some of the titles had already been announced, but there are new details on those, and some of the announcements were brand-new. By far, this was the most exciting description for me:

From Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, the geniuses behind THE LEGO MOVIE, comes an animated SPIDER-MAN feature slated for theatrical release December 21, 2018. The film is being written by Phil Lord. Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller are producing; Craig Sost is co-producing. Bob Persichetti (head of story on PUSS IN BOOTS and THE LITTLE PRINCE) is directing.

Word is that Miles Morales may be the focus of this film instead of Peter Parker, which would be a great way of using the animated and live-action versions to do totally different things.

On the TV side of things, the biggest announcement was this one:

A brand new animated television series, GHOSTBUSTERS: ECTO FORCE, will further expand the Ghostbusters cinematic universe and focus on a new generation of Ghostbusters in the year 2050 who capture ghosts around the world with help from local teams-and some very cool gear! The younger-skewing Sony Pictures Animation project is being creatively spearheaded by Ivan Reitman and his production company Ghost Corps. GHOSTBUSTERS: ECTO FORCE is eyeing an early 2018 debut.

No matter what happens with this summer”s Ghostbusters film, Sony has long-range plans for the property that involve several different ideas about the franchise, and just like with Spider-Man, it looks like they”re being smart about keeping the animated and live-action versions separate.

One of the biggest homegrown titles for Sony Animation is getting both feature film and TV follow-ups as well:

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3-the follow-up to Sony Pictures Animation”s highest grossing film in the U.S. and the biggest opening ever for a domestic September release -is scheduled to hit theaters September 21, 2018. Director Genndy Tartakovsky (DEXTER”S LABORATORY, STAR WARS: CLONE WARS), who returns to helm this brand new adventure, says, “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.” Michelle Murdocca is back producing, with Adam Sandler executive producing, and Michael McCullers (AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, BOSS BABY) writing the screenplay. Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez and Andy Samberg will be returning as the voices of Dracula, his vampire daughter Mavis, and her human husband Johnny.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA: THE TELEVISION SERIES is targeted for a 2017 airdate. The animated television series, produced in partnership with Corus Entertainment”s Nelvana, will focus on the teenage years of Mavis, Dracula”s daughter, and her friends. It will be airing on the Disney Channel worldwide.

And then they”ve got the rest of their theatrical slate…

SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE-a fully-animated comedy that delivers a fresh new take on the famous blue creatures and marks a return to the tone and style of the beloved comic book creations of Peyo-hits theaters April 7, 2017. The feature is directed by Kelly Asbury (SHREK 2, GNOMEO & JULIET), produced by Jordan Kerner (THE SMURFS 1 & 2, CHARLOTTE”S WEB), co-produced by Mary Ellen Bauder Andrews (HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA) and written by Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon, based on the characters and works of Peyo. The voice cast includes Demi Lovato as Smurfette, Jack McBrayer as Clumsy, Joe Manganiello as Hefty, Danny Pudi as Brainy, and Rainn Wilson as Gargamel, with Mandy Patinkin as Papa.
EMOJIMOVIE: EXPRESS YOURSELF will offer 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. The feature, targeting an August 2017 theatrical release, is directed by Anthony Leondis, produced by Michelle Raimo Kouyate, and written by Anthony Leondis & Eric Siegel.
THE STAR (working title) is scheduled for a December 8,
2017 theatrical release. The computer-animated feature is directed by Oscar nominee Timothy Reckart (HEAD OVER HEELS); executive produced by DeVon Franklin, Lisa Henson, and Brian Henson; co-produced by Jenni Magee Cook; and written by Carlos Kotkin and Simon Moore. In The Star, a small but brave donkey and his animal friends become the unsung heroes of the greatest story ever told, the first Christmas. Sony Pictures Animation produces in association with The Jim Henson Company.

… one more TV show…

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS is slated for its television series incarnation airdate in 2017. The 2D animated small-screen series, produced in partnership with DHX Media and commissioned by TELETOON in Canada, will expand on the adventures of the computer-animated feature films and will air on Cartoon Network in the U.S. and Turner channels across EMEA, APAC and Latin American markets.

… and even a direct-to-video sequel to an older title:
SURF”S UP 2: WAVEMANIA will debut on home entertainment in the Spring of 2017. Directed by Henry Yu and produced by Michelle Wong, the follow-up to the 2007 Oscar nominee will hit the shores in time for the 10-year anniversary of the franchise. The project is in partnership with WWE Studios (NYSE:WWE) and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The voice cast includes WWE Superstars John Cena®, The Undertaker®, Triple H®, Diva Paige™ and Mr. McMahon® as an an infamous big wave riding crew of penguins known as The Hang 5 which Cody Maverick convinces to let him join on their journey to a mysterious surf spot where legend has it they”ll find the biggest waves in the world.

All of that adds up to a very busy couple of years for Sony Pictures Animation. I”m not sure I see any of these projects making a huge difference to the overall perception of SPA, but I am all for anything that sees the studios making more animated projects.