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Warner toons into ‘Osmosis’

Studio still in toon with features

Proving that it is still committed to feature-length animation, Warner Bros. has greenlit “Osmosis Jones,” a comedy-adventure set in the human body.

“Jones,” which was written by Marc Hyman, was developed at Warner Bros. Feature Animation from Hyman’s original pitch.

The studio does not have a release date set for the pic, which is about to go into pre-production, but has ambitious hopes that it will be ready within two years. “Jones,” which has been in development for a year at Warners, is being positioned as a major animated release suitable for tie-ins and merchandising.

Zak Penn and Warner VP of production Dennis Edwards will produce the film, which Tom Sito and Piet Kroon will direct.

While Warners has had some positive early buzz for its animated adaptation “Iron Giant” coming up for release in August, the studio has nothing else in the pipeline aside from “Jones.”

Speculation has persisted that inconsistent box office returns on animated pics would force Warners to close down the division, but the studio has opted to maintain a limited presence in the market for the time being. Studio chiefs Terry Semel and Bob Daly, together with prexy of worldwide theatrical production Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, considered going forward on a number of projects, and eventually opted for “Jones.”

WB’s earlier feature animation releases were the live action/animated “Space Jam,” which took $90 million in the U.S. and got the division off to a flying start, and “The Quest for Camelot,” which took in only $23 million.

Insiders said that with “Jones,” Warners is attempting to build a “Looney Toons”-style animated brand that will clearly distinguish it from Disney. Rather than singing and talking animals, Warners is pitching “Jones” as a “hip, arresting buddy picture” set in “the city of Frank” — the body of construction worker Frank Detomello.

In the pic, a streetwise blood cell, Osmosis Jones, teams up with a rookie cold tablet to thwart an evil virus that is out to destroy Frank.

The studio said that voice casting is under way. At one point, Will Smith was to voice the Jones character but it was unclear Monday whether he was still attached.

In addition, Kids WB! said that it has ordered 13 episodes of an animated “Osmosis Jones” TV series, to be produced by Warner Bros. Television Animation. The series will air following the pic’s theatrical release.