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‘Hotel’ key to Sony toons

'Transylvania' time at studio

Sony has greenlit its third animated feature, monster comedy “Hotel Transylvania,” giving a vote of confidence to Sony Pictures Animation one month ahead of its first release.

Anthony Stacchi and David Feiss, co-director and head of story, respectively, on “Open Season,” the unit’s debut feature, will helm the pic. “Open Season” producer Michelle Murdocca is producing. “Big Momma’s House” scribe Don Rhymer, who worked on “Surf’s Up,” is penning the screenplay.

SPA, the studio’s 4-year-old CGI unit connected to its Imageworks f/x house, releases “Open Season” next month and is in production on “Surf’s Up” for next summer.

“Hotel Transylvania” is about a group of classic monsters including Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula and the Werewolf who are hiding out in a hotel on the outskirts of Transylvania now that 21st century technology has seemingly made them irrelevant.

“We were able to take some of the amazing talent from ‘Open Season’ and shift them over,” said SPA exec veep Sandra Rabins, who runs the unit with partner Penney Finkelman Cox. “It was perfect timing for them and really perfect for the tone of this new movie.”

Pic is tentatively set for release in 2009. That means SPA may not have a release in 2008, though Cox hinted there’s a project in advanced development that could possibly bow that year.

Greenlight comes as the animation space has become increasingly crowded with releases from every major studio and numerous indies this year and next. As a result, the formerly flop-free CGI toon genre has seen its share of misses, such as Warner Bros.’ “Ant Bully.”

While some projects have been made on relatively cheap sub-$50 million budgets, such as “Ant Bully” and Paramount’s upcoming “Barnyard,” Sony is competing at the high-end, $100 million-plus end of the market against Pixar and DreamWorks Animation.

“Open Season,” which bows Sept. 29, will be Sony’s first opportunity to prove that its product can stand out from the crowd.