'Coraline' animators sign two-picture deal

Focus Features has struck a two-picture deal with Laika, the animation studio behind the Oscar-nominated feature “Coraline.”

The first project under the pact will be “ParaNorman,” a 3D stop-motion animated feature that’s set for release on Aug. 17, 2012. The second, yet-to-be-named picture is due in 2014.

Focus will hold worldwide distribution rights to both pics, which will be released overseas by Universal Pictures Intl.

Sam Fell and Chris Butler are directing “ParaNorman” from an original script by Butler. The comedic thriller concerns a small town that comes under siege by zombies as a result of a centuries-old curse. They turn to a misunderstood local boy, Norman, who can speak with the dead and is not only willing to take on zombies, but ghosts, witches and moronic grown-ups as well.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (“Let Me In”) voices the lead character; voice cast also includes Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, John Goodman, Jeff Garlin, Tempestt Bledsoe, Elaine Stritch and Bernard Hill.

Arianne Sutner (“The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”) is producing “Paranorman” with Laika prexy-CEO Travis Knight.

“Everyone at Focus is proud to be partnered with Laika again on their newest wondrous creations,” said Focus CEO James Schamus. “Travis Knight is both an extraordinary businessman and a visionary artist who we know will shepherd these projects with imagination and originality. We’re thrilled to have ‘ParaNorman’ as our next movie together, one which marries the stunning visuals of 3D stop-motion with a compelling, heartfelt, and funny story anchored by a terrifically relatable underdog hero.”

“ParaNorman is a story of intense beauty and emotional truth,” added Knight. “It’s audacious, has genuine heart, and is funny as hell. We’re incredibly excited to share this wonderful story with the world. And we’re privileged to work again with Focus Features, with whom we share a commitment to bold, distinctive, and enduring films. Laika and Focus are truly kindred spirits. James Schamus and his extraordinary team have built their reputation on original thinking, old-fashioned muscle, and an unerring fidelity to creatively rich and thematically challenging cinema. We’re thrilled to extend the relationship that began with Coraline and look forward to being a part of the Focus/Universal family for years to come.”

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