Well this is kind of a shock – Deadline is reporting that Disney has shut down production on “Nightmare Before Christmas“/”Coraline” director Henry Selick‘s new stop-motion animated feature. This would have been his first for his newly created studio, called Cinderbiter, that was, initially at least, conceived of as Pixar’s stop-motion division. (Pixar luminaries like artist Lou Romano found themselves in high-ranking positions at the studio and Cinderbiter reports directly to the vaunted Pixar Brain Trust.) According to the Deadline report, Disney has given Selick the option to shop the project to other studios.
What makes this news even more bizarre is the fact that as recently as late April, Selick was making the press rounds, talking about the new studio and project, seeming invigorated and energized by the boundless possibilities of Cinderbiter (which had about 150 animators on staff). The tentative release date for the project was Halloween 2013 but according to Deadline, “it just wasn’t coming together in a manner that pleased the studio.”
But when you think about it for a bit, this is less of a shock, given Selick’s reputation as a temperamental auteur who is prone to drastic last-minute alterations – consider the fact that “Coraline” was originally a musical, with a number of new They Might Be Giants songs written and recorded, before all but one was scrapped. There may have been issues in terms of Selick taking the advice and guidance from the Brain Trust, too. Not everyone is comfortable with the studio’s story-first mentality and the way that they break movies down before building them back up, which can often give way to creative changing-of-the-guards, like what happened when “Ratatouille” was transferred to Brad Bird 18 months before its release (and a similar fate befell this past summer’s “Brave“).
The other thing you have to wonder about is the high-profile acquisition of Neil Gaiman‘s beloved children’s book “The Graveyard Book,” his ghouls-and-ghosts take on “The Jungle Book,” that Selick was attached to direct. It seemed like perfect Selick material, a darkly hued tale for families and adults that could be accomplished through stop motion, live action, or an uncanny melding of the two (something he attempted, with varying degrees of success, on “James and the Giant Peach” and “Monkeybone“). While it’s not unusual for studios to allow directors to take projects elsewhere, we wonder what this latest move means for Selick’s future involvement at Disney, and if he’ll still take on “The Graveyard Book.”
At one point the Pixar brand was supposed to spiral outward – into stop-motion animation with the Selick project and into live action with “John Carter” (still pretty much a Pixar movie) and Brad Bird’s long-delayed earthquake film “1906.” But each attempt has been foiled, to some degree. With “John Carter,” it was Pixar honcho John Lasseter‘s skittishness about the Pixar brand being associated with a film that was less than critically celebrated that caused the movie to ultimately be labeled a “Disney” film. With “1906,” it was a complicated three-way production/distribution deal between Disney, Pixar, and Warner Bros., combined with an unwieldy, hugely expensive script that caused that film to fold. The only outside-the-Pixar-umbrella project to succeed (sort-of) was the short-lived “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command” series, which was traditionally animated and ran for 65 episodes on ABC Saturday Morning and the Disney Channel.
In any event, it’ll be interesting to see where Selick and his mystery film land next, and if it will ever see the light of day in some form or another.