Disney animator to direct 'Crood'

DreamWorks Animation has hired “Lilo & Stitch” director Chris Sanders, a longtime Disney vet, to helm its cavemen comedy “Crood Awakenings.” The talent coup is reminiscent of the competition for animators in the mid-’90s.

DreamWorks had been developing “Crood” with Aardman, but took it inhouse after its partnership with the British claymation house recently ended.

After a nearly 20-year stint, Sanders left Disney early this year due to creative differences with studio leadership, including John Lasseter, over his movie “American Dog.” Mouse is continuing the pic with a new director (Daily Variety, Feb. 9).

Helmer, whose 2002 toon “Lilo & Stitch” was the most critically and commercially successful film for Disney Animation since the ’90s, talked to several studios before making a deal with DreamWorks.

“I’ve been so anxious to start working on things, and so I talked to a lot of people,” he told Daily Variety. “I like the way DreamWorks looks at animation. Animation still has a lot of different places to go, and I don’t want to miss out on a chance to try some new things with it.”

Sanders is the second Disney vet to sign onto a DreamWorks project in the past few months. “The Lion King” helmer Rob Minkoff is directing a bigscreen version of ’60s TV toon “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” for the studio.

DreamWorks Animation topper Jeffrey Katzenberg knows both helmers from his time at Disney.

“Crood Awakenings,” which is about a culture clash between cavemen, has a script by Brit comedy icon John Cleese and Kirk De Micco (“Racing Stripes”). Sanders is rethinking the project, however, and will likely end up doing a significant rewrite.

“We have always loved the premise, and when we finished our relationship with Aardman, we were very interested in keeping it inhouse,” said Bill Damaschke, DWA’s head of creative production. “We would have been excited to work with Chris on any project. But ‘Crood Awakenings’ is a high priority for us, and he responded to it.”

“The idea of having all the modern conveniences and social structures that we’re familiar with gone and being left with just a pure form of people was really fun to imagine working with,” said Sanders, who started work at DreamWorks Animation on Monday.

Studio doesn’t have a release date for “Crood” yet. Its slate is full through the first half of 2010, when a fourth “Shrek” is slated to bow. Should development go well, “Crood” would likely come out in late 2010 or 2011.

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