Warner Bros. puts ‘brain trust’ together to oversee new feature animation division

So why haven’t they done this for their DC films yet?

I’ve read the same reports you have today about how Warner Bros. is hoping to jumpstart their animation division by putting together a “brain trust” of people to help make decisions and steer development, and that’s a great idea.  I’m a firm believer that the development process does not have to stink, but it does most of the time because you have people who are exceptional at the money side of the business insisting on giving creative notes.  This baffles me because it seems so plainly contradictory as a business model.  We need both disciplines in the film business, obviously.  When you’re dealing with an art form that costs millions and millions of dollars, you need people who know how to keep that money coming in, but most of those people have no idea how to actually write a great movie, so getting notes from them on the process can be an exercise in frustration and madness.

No, I like the idea of the creative round-table.  TV shows use that model, and some of the best shows are the result of all those minds focused on one creative task.  Pixar’s story department is one of the very best in the business because they take full advantage of having all those voices in the mix.  Marvel Studios has done a good job following the same basic game plan.  Comedy filmmakers often bring in groups of writers to take one last group pass at a script before they go into production.

So if Warner Bros. wants to play in the feature animation world again, something they’ve tried before to less-than-stellar results, it makes sense that they would try to do this the right way.  “The Iron Giant” may be a stone-cold classic, but that was in spite of Warner’s best efforts, not because of them.  That same regime also turned out “The Quest For Camelot” and “Osmosis Jones,” and that wildly different quality level in the films is because they were each approached as totally discrete projects.

Warner has a long and amazing history of animation, of course.  I love the Looney Tunes shorts, and I consider them among the finest examples of film comedy ever produced, live-action or animation.  These days, Warner does turn out some very interesting animated films, but they all head direct-to-video, and I wish the live-action DC Films were approached with the same love and reverence that the animated features are.  Now that they’re serious about getting back into the theatrical feature game, they’re looking to be smart about it.

Right now, they are deep in production on “Lego: The Piece Of Resistance,” with voices including Chris Pratt, Liam Neeson, and Will Ferrell, and Phil Lord and Chris Miller, fresh off their hit film “21 Jump Street” are not only directing that film but also joining the brain trust.  Anyone who knows their animated show “Clone High” probably just got really excited by that news.  It will also include John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, the filmmakers behind “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “I Love You, Phillp Morris.”  Nicholas Stoller, director of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Five-Year Engagement,” will be part of the group as well, and Jared Stern rounds out the group.

Stoller is currently developing “Storks” for the studio, which will be directed by Doug Sweetland, whose Pixar short “Presto” won an Oscar.  It’s one of my favorite modern short cartoons, and I’m excited to see what Stoller and Sweetland do together.  Meanwhile, Requa and Ficarra are working on a film called “Smallfoot,” which will be directed by Sergio Pablos, who created “Despicable Me.”  It looks like the animation will all be handled by outside studios, with the scripts coming from inside Warner Bros.  That’s an interesting idea, and I certainly look forward to seeing what the outstanding animation house Animal Logic does with “Lego.”

Overall, this is exciting news for parents because it can often feel like you have very few options for what you can take your kids to see, and it’s annoying when Pixar and Disney and Dreamworks are the only games in town, so to speak.  Adding a strong voice to the mix can only be a good thing for the industry. 

We’ll see how it all pays off when “Lego” arrives in theaters on February 7, 2014.