Smith to oversee lineup
LONDON — Two months after announcing a three-year, first-look deal with Sony Pictures, Aardman Features has unveiled a diverse slate of projects, including a pic described as “family-friendly Tarantino.”Lineup will be supervised by creative director Sarah Smith, who has been upped from head of development. After stints as executive producer at the BBC and a string of comedy hits as a freelancer, Smith joined Aardman last year. Her impact on the claymation specialist has been immediate — she has signed up a fleet of highly rated scribes for the Bristol-based animation powerhouse. Smith has signed writers Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah (“Life on Mars”) to work with director Steve Box on comedy heist “The Cat Burglars.” The film about milk-thieving stray cats will be in Aardman’s trademark stop-frame claymation and combine the comedy action of Nick Park and Box’s “Wallace & Gromit” feature with the cool styling of “Ocean’s Eleven,” Aardman says. Box promises auds something altogether new — “family-friendly Tarantino.” Aardman co-founder Peter Lord returns to the director’s chair for the first time since “Chicken Run” in 2000 with a comedy adventure based on the “Pirates” series of books penned by Gideon Defoe. Lord, Defoe and writers Andy Riley and Kevin Cecil, whose credits include the sitcom “Hyperdrive” and animation series “Slacker Cats,” are working on the screenplay. Also signed to Aardman by Smith is Peter Baynham, one of the writers on “Borat,” who is developing “Operation Rudolph,” an actioner set on Christmas night. The Christmas movie shows the North Pole operation as an exhilarating ultra-high-tech military procedure on a massive scale, revealing how Santa and his huge army of combat elves get around the whole world in one night. Additionally, Nick Park is developing another project — details are not yet released, but it is not another “Wallace & Gromit,” according to an Aardman rep. “This is an interesting time in the animation industry,” Smith said. “While there is clearly still a big appetite among cinemagoers for great animated films, there is a feeling of sameness about much of the product coming out of the industry at present, in terms of their stories. I think there’s a great opportunity to excite audiences by raising the stakes in terms of the quality, intelligence and variety of the stories our animated films tell and the genres they inhabit.” Aardman teamed with Sony just two months after ending its deal with DreamWorks Animation.