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'Jimmy Neutron'-director John A. Davis to helm U.S.-Chinese co-production.

HONG KONG – “Jimmy Neutron” director John A. Davis is to helm “Smart,” a major U.S.-Chinese co-produced animation.

The film is to be a screwball, animated comedy about an emotional robot that forms an unlikely alliance with two abandoned pets to stop the plans of an evil toy manufacturer. Script is by S.D. Katz and David Freeman.

The project is structured as a co-production between Los Angeles-based Pelagius Entertainment and China’s Xing Xing Digital, with a production budget of $22 million. Pre-production begins this month in L.A., with the majority of animation production to take place in Xing Xing’s studios in China. The finished film is to be released in 2016.

The two companies say that the Chinese theatrical market has now grown to the point where big-budget indie animated movies make economic sense.

“Chinese audiences have selectively enjoyed Hollywood animated movies. We have learned from the failures and successes at the local box office and even without a North American release, the local box office can support appropriately priced animated movies that meet the high standards of international productions,” said Wang Lifeng, CEO of Xing Xing in a statement.

“Xing Xing was committed to doing original feature animated movies back in 2008. But it really did not make economic sense before 2012 because the audience in China needed to reach a threshold of consistent $40 million box office successes,” said Pelagius’ head of development Katz. “The revenue contribution from China really changes the formula for independent production,” said Pelagius co-founder, Joe Fries.

Xing Xing has produced TV content including “Wild Animal Baby Explorers” and “The Secret Millionaires Club With Warren Buffet,” and is now aiming to deliver a slate of international family- friendly features.

Pelagius has produced the Focus Features release “Talk to Me,” starring Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor; and the PBS documentary “Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene.”
“Smart” is Davis’ first feature since the 2006 release of “The Ant Bully” after which he took time off to explore other interests including photography and astronomy.

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