Eye on the Oscars: Animation

Helen of Troy’s face might have launched a thousand ships, but Rango’s bug-eyed mug triggered the creation of a whole studio division.

Thanks to the success of the Oscar-nominated animated hit that bowed in March, Paramount created a toon division four months later that is finally staffed up and ready to take on the town’s other studio-housed outfits at Fox, Sony, Disney and Universal. In fact, Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment at U proved with its debut sensation, “Despicable Me,” that a young phenom can play on the same field as the veterans.

“The goal is to be a real competitor to the best of the best in terms of quality animated movies,” says Paramount Film Group prexy Adam Goodman, who tapped Disney alum David Stainton to run the division in October. “Family entertainment is near and dear to what we do here.”

The Melrose studio enjoys a long, storied history in the animation sphere, from the kiddie-classic Terrytoon shorts to the more recent adult-skewing features “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” and “Team America: World Police.” Launching an inhouse toon division with a mandate for at least one pic a year with budgets of up to $100 million gave Paramount the opportunity to fill some potential holes left when the studio’s distribution pact with DreamWorks Animation expires at the end of this year (negotiations to renew that deal remain stagnant).

Though Goodman and Stainton say the homegrown division is right on target to bring a frosh offering to the multiplex in 2014, the pair was tight-lipped about any projects in its development coffers beyond a “Tintin” sequel, which is being eyed as a Peter Jackson-helmed vehicle (though it has yet to be greenlit). Stainton says he and his newly assembled creative team, which includes exec VP Bob Bacon and production VPs Jill Gilbert and Annie Laks, are meeting daily with filmmakers in the vein of “Rango” helmer Gore Verbinski who possess bold visions for potential franchises.

“There aren’t many places to go in Hollywood for people who have great animation ideas,” explains Stainton, who also aims to leverage Paramount’s sibling status with smallscreen toon factory Nickelodeon. “The animation community is very excited to have us as an option.”

Still, for all of the critical and commercial love enjoyed by “Rango,” which has earned $245 million worldwide, the division has no intention of bringing the Johnny Depp-voiced protag back to the bigscreen for what would seem a no-brainer sequel.

“At the moment, we have no plans for that,” Goodman says. “We haven’t had any conversations with Gore about doing another ‘Rango.’ Plus, I think he’s pretty busy right now with ‘The Lone Ranger.'”

EYE ON THE OSCARS: ANIMATION 2012
Rescue efforts get big reward
The Nominees:
“A Cat in Paris” | “Chico & Rita” | “Kung Fu Panda 2″ | “Puss in Boots” | “Rango”
Animated Shorts

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