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Sony tooning new animation unit

'Open Season,' 'Astro Boy,' 'Cloudy' on division's slate

Sony Pictures Animation has added Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer to its roster of creatives and hired a raft of directors and writers for its slate of CG features in development.

Those now in the SPA stable include the director and producer of “The Lion King,” two directors of “Fantasia 2000” and graphic novelist and fantasy author Neil Gaiman.

Exec VPs Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox, who launched the division a year ago, head SPA. The first project from Sony’s nascent animation division has yet to be determined.

“The most important thing is that the movies are great, not that we hit a release date,” said Yair Landau, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and prexy of Sony Pictures Digital.

Feiffer is writing “This Enchanted Forest,” a comedy featuring his sardonic sensibility. His previous Hollywood credits include penning Mike Nichols’ “Carnal Knowledge” and “Munro,” a cartoon about a 4-year-old drafted into the Army that won the animated short Oscar in 1961.

Jill Culton will direct and Anthony Stacchi will co-direct the comedy adventure “Open Season.” Based on the work of cartoonist Steve Moore, “Open Season” tells the story of what happens when wild animals try to turn the tables on hunters. Nat Mauldin (“Doctor Dolittle”) is writing the script.

Chris Jenkins (“The Lion King”) will produce “Open Season.” John Carls (“Where the Wild Things Are”) and Moore, who brought the project to SPA, serve as executive producers.

Culton and Stacchi came from ILM, where they developed “Curious George” for U. Culton also received an original story credit for “Monsters, Inc.,” on which she served as head of story development and conceptual artist.

“The Lion King” director Roger Allers and Brenda Chapman, who served as that film’s story supervisor, will direct “Tam Lin.”

Created by husband-and-wife artists Brian and Wendy Froud and loosely based on the Celtic folk ballad of the same name, the script will be written by Gaiman (“Princess Mononoke”). Robert Gould will produce, with Lois Sarkisian as executive producer.

Finally, twin brothers Paul and Gaetan Brizzi (“Fantasia 2000”) will direct “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” based on the children’s book of the same name by Judi and Ron Barrett. Wayne Rice (“Dude, Where’s My Car?”) will adapt the screenplay for “Cloudy,” the story of a land where food falls from the sky.

The Brizzi brothers will also direct and supervise development of “Surf’s Up!” a Romeo and Juliet story set against the high-energy world of surfing. Christian Darren (“Six Bullets From Now”) is writing the screenplay.

Other projects in development at SPA include a feature-length version of Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Oscar-winning film “The ChubbChubbs,” as well as “Astro Boy,” which will be directed by Eric Leighton and produced by Don Murphy.

VP of development Nate Hopper collaborates with Rabins and Finkelman Cox on the projects.

” ‘Open Season’ is slightly farther along, ‘Astro Boy’ is in development, and we’re very excited about ‘Cloudy,’ ” Finkelman Cox told Daily Variety. “Those are the top three projects. ‘Open Season’ has been in development the longest, but we’re still a long way from getting them into theaters.”

The SPA heads allowed that while it seemed to take a long time to get the animation operation up and running, they felt the operation was on pace.

“The production cycle on an animated project is longer than live action,” Rabins said. “It’s 18 months, layout through delivery. Development is the same as live action — it can take anywhere from nine months to years. We’re trying to set a slate of movies that keep the pipeline moving.”

Added Landau: “The bar has been set incredibly high. We want to create animation on par with ‘Shrek,’ ‘Ice Age’ or ‘Toy Story.’ “

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