Fox’s big toon-up

Studio boosts execs in prod'n revamp

Fox launched a series of major executive moves Monday that will see 20th Century Fox prexy Hutch Parker overseeing both 20th Century Fox and Fox Animation.

Parker has been upped to vice chairman of 20th Century Fox Film Group, just two weeks after Fox Animation prexy Chris Meledandri startled Fox by jumping to Universal.

Vanessa Morrison will take over Meledandri’s duties, moving from her post as a senior VP of production at 20th Century Fox, where she’s overseen CGI-intensive and family-oriented pics such as the “Garfield” pics, “Dr. Dolittle” and the “Cheaper by the Dozen” franchise. A 12-year veteran of Fox, she’ll report to Parker.

Also being promoted are Emma Watts and Alex Young, who will serve as co-prexies of production at 20th Century Fox, having until now served as exec VPs of production at the company.

And Debbie Liebling is moving over from her post as exec VP of production at 20th Century Fox to Fox Atomic, where she’ll be prexy of production, a newly created position at the teen label. She will report to Atomic and Searchlight topper Peter Rice and be responsible for hiring a replacement for Lawrence Grey, the former Atomic VP who recently ankled and went to Universal in a similar capacity.

Liebling’s move signals a beefing up at the young label that has yet to hit its stride.

Fox is also making changes at Blue Sky Studios, the company’s CGI facilities. Brian Keane, general manager and chief financial officer, has been elevated to chief operating officer and CFO.

And Bruce Anderson, an associate producer on Fox Animation’s “Horton Hears a Who,” will retain his duties on that film and also become general manager of Blue Sky.

The promotions confirm the belief at Fox, as practiced by chairs Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, that the best leadership comes from within.

“A central management tenet at Fox is that talented people get the chance to move up,” said Gianopulos and Rothman, themselves Fox veterans. “We ourselves, and the majority of our senior staff, have benefited from this philosophy. We are gratified that these gifted executives now continue that tradition.”

The changes come on the heels of a stellar 2006 for Fox, which cashed in on blockbusters such as “Night at the Museum,” “Borat,” “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” which has grossed $650 million worldwide.

In the case of Fox Animation, a new appointment was necessary to fill the shoes of Meledandri, who unexpectedly ankled Fox earlier this month to start up a new family entertainment unit for U that will include animated and live-action films.

He has overseen the modern incarnation of Fox Animation since its beginnings, helping to transform former f/x house Blue Sky into the studio’s successful producers of CG-animated pics including “Ice Age,” “Robots” and “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”

Morrison takes over a slate that includes this summer’s “The Simpsons: The Movie,” along with “Horton Hears a Who,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and another “Ice Age” sequel.

During Parker’s tenure as prexy at 20th Century Fox, he’s overseen pics such as the “X-Men” franchise, “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Dodgeball,” “Master and Commander” and “Fantastic Four.”

Parker joined Fox in 1995 as senior VP of production. He was named prexy of production in 1999 and prexy in 2005.

As production execs, Watts and Young guided “Night at the Museum” and “X-Men: The Last Stand,” respectively, to more than $400 million in worldwide B.O. each.

Watts also oversaw production on the upcoming “Reno: 911,” “I, Robot,” “Behind Enemy Lines” and “Shallow Hal.” Young oversaw production on the first two “X-Men” pics, “Fantastic Four” and the upcoming “Live Free or Die Hard.”

At 20th Century Fox, Liebling shepherded “Borat” to nearly $250 million in worldwide B.O. She also oversaw “Dodgeball.” She joined Fox in 2002, prior to which she was chief programming exec for Comedy Central’s original shows and was a co-producer on the feature film “South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut.” She also worked as an exec at MTV and Nickelodeon.

(Ben Fritz contributed to this report.)