Originals to pump toon titan’s lineup
“Kung Fu Panda” sequels and “Shrek” spinoffs will be joined by original pics on DreamWorks Animation’s sked as the toon studio ups its output to five features every two years.CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose contract was recently extended to 2013, will unveil DWA’s slate through late 2012 for the investment community in Gotham Thursday, revealing five original projects and a handful of franchise follow-ups. Per Katzenberg’s mandate, all pics will be produced in 3-D. Among the highlights of today’s presentation is the casting of Robert Downey Jr. and Tina Fey in “Oobermind.” Downey will voice a supervillain who finds life a little dull after vanquishing good-guy rival Metro Man. The superhero-themed pic, based on a spec script (previously called “Master Mind”) from Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Films, will open Nov. 5, 2010. Pic is produced by Lara Breay and Denise Nolan Cascino and exec produced by Stiller and Stuart Cornfeld. With impressive first-quarter gains — but only “Monsters vs. Aliens” on the calendar for 2009 (down from DWA’s usual two-toon-a-year model) — studio brass stressed that their pipeline can now support an additional pic every other year. “We now have three very successful franchises, but we also want to tell new stories. Now, in addition to one or two sequels a year, we’ll have a new original as well,” DWA co-prexy of production Bill Damaschke told Daily Variety. “Some people wonder if the market can sustain three animated movies from DreamWorks, and I feel there seems to be room in the marketplace for big event movies the entire family can go to,” Damaschke said. “Now that people have grown up on animation, there’s an adult audience for animation.” He pointed to a crowded 2010, which will bring a fourth installment in the “Shrek” series (now titled “Shrek Forever After”) flanked by two new properties, “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Oobermind.” “Shrek Forever After” is directed by Mike Mitchell, produced by Teresa Cheng and Gina Shay and exec produced by Aron Warner and Andrew Adamson. “Dragon” will be written and directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois and produced by Bonnie Arnold. It stars Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera and Jonah Hill. Set in the world of Vikings and dragons, it centers on an awkward teen who befriends an injured dragon. The following year brings two projects. For the first, the company confirmed signing Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman for “Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom,” due out June 3, 2011. Longtime story exec Jennifer Yuh Nelson makes her feature directorial debut. Melissa Cobb produces. In its Nov. 4 slot, DWA has “The Guardians,” turning to a not-yet-published book series from kidlit-to-toon titan William Joyce, whose work has previously inspired Disney’s “Meet the Robinsons” and “Rolie Polie Olie.” With animation and vfx vet Jeff Lynch attached to direct, “The Guardians” unites characters every child knows — Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost and the Sandman — to defend the world from a Bogeyman-like villain. According to Damaschke, the figures have been “somewhat renamed and massively reimagined” by Joyce, who has supplied each of the figures with a fresh backstory and is collaborating closely on the film. The first of the books should be released around Christmas 2010. Christina Steinberg and Nancy Bernstein produce. The following year gets crowded once again, as DWA returns to the well for a prequel of sorts. “Puss in Boots” imagines events before the popular character’s appearance in “Shrek 2,” while introducing all-new characters. Antonio Banderas returns, and Salma Hayek will lend her voice to love interest Kitty. “Shrek the Third” helmer Chris Miller is onboard to direct, with the film slated for March 30, 2012. Joe Aguilar and Michelle Raimo produce. Adamson exec produces. Just two months later, “Madagascar” helmer Eric Darnell offers up a third installment in the zoo-break series, which would relocate the critters from Africa to Europe via a traveling circus. Mireille Soria and Mark Swift produce. Katzenberg has staked out a third date that fall, Nov. 12, for an original feature, to be chosen from a trio of projects currently in development. The first option, caveman comedy “The Croods,” from directors Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco, was once intended to be an Aardman collaboration. It’s produced by Kristine Belson and Jane Hartwell. Another, “Truckers,” is derived from Terry Pratchett’s “The Bromeliad Trilogy,” with Simon Beaufoy adapting a story of miniature creatures stuck living in a department store. Damaschke also cited a third option, tentatively titled “Super Secret Ghost Project,” that asks what ghosts think about humans. All three projects are currently under way in some form, with the decision on which one lands the late-2012 slot to be determined down the road. “These projects are such a huge time commitment, so we develop every film as if we’re going to make it,” said Damaschke, who also serves as president of DWA’s theatrical division. Slate news follows Katzenberg’s announcement last week of plans to adapt two of the company’s pics, “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” into traveling, Cirque du Soleil-style arena shows.