Netflix has picked up U.S., Canadian, and Latin American rights to Aardman’s latest stop-motion feature, “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” the sci-fi/comedy sequel to the Oscar-nominated “Shaun the Sheep Movie.” Co-directed by Aardman animators Richard Phelan and Will Becher, and revolving around a martian toddler, “Farmageddon” (from StudioCanal) will stream in early 2020; Netflix will support an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run next season.
This bolsters Netflix’s ambitious slate of nearly a dozen animated features, coming on the heels of this month’s initial two, Oscar buzzy, releases: “Klaus,” the charming Santa origin story with innovative 2D, and “I Lost My Body,” the acclaimed French existential mystery about a severed hand that’s the most original animated feature of the season. After only two years, Netflix has quickly established itself as a viable alternative to the Hollywood studios and a direct competitor to indies GKids and Sony Pictures Classics.
Led by Melissa Cobb, vice president of original animation (including both features and series), Netflix functions as a front end studio with an eclectic mix of passion projects aimed at a diverse audience, but which outsources the actual animation. Several productions, though, are partner-managed, which makes it an unconventional, global pipeline. “Klaus,” directed by “Despicable Me” creator Sergio Pablos, was made at his animation studio in Madrid, Spain. Netflix’s next feature in 2020, “The Willoughbys,” a CG comedy (from director Kris Pearn, formerly with Sony) about siblings getting revenge on their ruthless parents, was produced at Bron Studios in Vancouver. “My Father’s Dragon” (2021 or 2022), a 2D fairy tale from director Nora Twomey (“The Breadwinner”), is being made with Cartoon Saloon in Ireland. And “Escape From Hat” (2022), a CG fairy tale about inclusion from director Mark Osborne (“The Little Prince”), is in production in New York.
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“When I first got here, there were two big ‘what ifs?’ about making our own animated features,” Cobb said. “What if we took the Netflix model of supporting the creator and allowing them to do great work, but not micromanaging them, and giving that to animation filmmakers? And then what if we built a slate like a live-action studio with different budgets, styles, tones? Now that we’ve been doing this for a couple of years, we’re able to do earlier development and really look at stories in their more germination stage, as well as moving forward on projects that came with a script and some art.”
Other upcoming releases include: “Over the Moon” (2020), the CG musical adventure about a girl who journeys to the meet the Moon Goddess (directed by Disney legend Glen Keane, produced by China-based Pearl Studio of “Abominable” fame, and animated at Sony Pictures Imageworks); “Wendell and Wild” (2021), the stop-motion feature from director Henry Selick (“Coraline”) about two demon brothers (voiced by Jordan Peele and Michael Key and animated in Portland, Oregon); Guillermo del Toro’s adult-themed, stop-motion “Pinocchio” (2021), set against the backdrop of Mussolini’s fascist Italy in the ’30s (animated at Portland-based ShadowMachine of “Bojack Horseman” fame and at a studio set up by del Toro in his home of Guadalajara, Mexico); and “Jacob and the Sea” (2022), the CG tale of an unlikely alliance between a seafarer and a sea monster, from former Disney director Chris Williams (co-director of the Oscar-winning “Big Hero Six”).
Additionally, there’s the untitled CG musical about the life of Fugees founding member and Haitian-born Wyclef Jean, produced by Greg Silverman and Jean, and scripted by Justin Marks (“The Jungle Book”); “Thelma the Unicorn,” the CG musical about a pony that becomes a pop-star Unicorn (from “Napoleon Dynamite’s” Jared and Jarusha Hess, with Jared directing); “Pashmina,” the graphic novel-turned CG musical about a first generation American of Indian descent who explores her family heritage, directed by Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”); “America: The Motion Picture,” an R-rated, revisionist comedy (with Channing Tatum voicing George Washington), produced and animated by the Floyd County “Archer” team in Atlanta, in collaboration with Phil Lord & Chris Miller (Oscar-winner “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”); and “Tunga,” the CG musical about a young African girl who enters the spirit world to save her village from drought, from first-time Zimbabwean screenwriter Godwin Jabangwe, a participant in Imagine Entertainment’s inclusive Impact 1 program.
For Cobb, inclusion and diversity are crucial at Netflix, both in terms of content and its creators. And that includes empowering female directors such as Twomey and Chadha, as well as signing directing deals with editor Clare Knight (the “Kung Fu Panda” sequels), VFX supervisor Wendy Rogers (“Puss in Boots”), and animation supervisor Trisha Gum (“The LEGO Movie 2”).
“It’s incredibly important in terms of diversity of storytellers,” Cobb said. “Some have different experiences and different backgrounds, not only demographically but also coming from different parts of the business. I also just feel that we have the opportunity to work with newer creators, and that it gives us the chance to hopefully see more female voices and diverse voices in the animated feature space. It’s time for that to happen.”