'Coraline' animation studio sets lit adaptation

Laika is looking to its own backyard for its most ambitious project yet. The Portland, Ore.-based animation studio behind “Coraline” has optioned “Wildwood,” a young-adult fantasy novel set in an alternate version of the Oregon city, written by the Decemberists lead singer Colin Meloy and illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis.

“Wildwood,” published last week by HarperCollins’ Balzer and Bray imprint, marks the first book in a proposed trilogy centering around Prue McKneel, a young lady who must confront a world filled with magic and danger after her younger brother is kidnapped, forcing her to enter the Impassable Wilderness.

“It’s a story in the grand tradition of Tolkien, as big as ‘Lord of the Rings’ with a wonderful contemporary quality as well,” Laika prexy-CEO Travis Knight told Variety. “Nothing of its kind has been attempted in our medium. You have these epic scenes alongside very nuanced character moments, which are the two hardest things to do in stop-motion. It’s exciting to imagine how this might all come together.”

Though Laika has previously resisted the idea of doing sequels, Knight said the company is approaching “Wildwood” with the hope of adapting all three parts of the trilogy.

Laika will add “Wildwood” to a development slate that contains a mix of adaptations and original projects. The toon studio is deep in production on its next 3D stop-motion feature, “ParaNorman,” which Focus will release on Aug. 17, 2012. Laika has yet to announce its 2014 release.

According to Knight, Meloy and Ellis were so protective of the property that they originally told their agent they would allow the book to be optioned only if the adaptation could be done in the style of either “Watership Down” or stop-motion. “I think it was literally the next day that we called them up and said, ‘We’d love to do this project with you,’” he said.

“Hands down, there is no other movie studio in the world besides Laika that I would entrust ‘Wildwood’ to,” Meloy said.

When it came time to commission a toon trailer for the book’s release, based on Ellis’ illustrations, HarperCollins and the authors approached the same studio that will ultimately adapt the novel.

“When we visited the studio and saw all the brilliant creative work happening there — someone building a waist-high New England village, someone else sewing pinhead-sized rivets on tiny blue jeans — we were won over completely,” Ellis said.

Meloy and Ellis were repped in the deal by Steven Malk of Writers House.

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