×

Selick puts stop motion in Focus

'Coraline' director teams for creepy kids's tale

Neil Gaiman’s creepy children’s story “Coraline” has had many forms (including an upcoming Off-Broadway musical with songs by Magnetic Fields mastermind Stephin Merritt), but the new stop-motion animated film has been in production longer than the original book has been on shelves.

The pic has an impressive pedigree — both the Newbery-winning Gaiman and helmer Henry Selick have sizable followings and critical cachet — but cashing in on stop-motion films can be a longterm prospect.

Gaiman took his work to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” director Henry Selick in 2000, two years before HarperCollins released the book. Selick read it and immediately called former Fox Film CEO Bill Mechanic.

Mechanic and Selick have a history of sticking together: When the exec headed Fox Film during the ’90s, he shepherded Selick’s “Monkeybone” — one of the many features that included animation which the exec was boosting in an effort to gain a foothold in Disney territory. (At the time, the Mouse House looked vulnerable with underperformers like “Hercules.”) But when Mechanic left Fox a week after the disappointing preem of “Titan A.E.” in 2000, “Monkeybone” — all $75 million of it — was left without a champion and got lost in the release schedule. The dark film, which starred Brendan Fraser as an animator beset by nightmares, ended up with $5.4 million in the U.S.

“Coraline” is Mechanic’s first high-profile venture since 2005’s “The New World” (on which, like “Coraline,” he served as exec producer) but he’s stuck to it with the same attention he gave his other animated projects. “Bill couldn’t do an animated film because his output deal was with Disney,” Selick recalls, “so we went through this charade of pretending that it was going to be live action.”

As years went by, Selick polished the screenplay with Gaiman’s blessing, and eventually found a home at Portland animation house Laika, where he is now supervising director.

For Focus, the film represents a significant risk, although Laika is sharing marketing and distribution costs. It’s the studio’s first kidpic, as well as the first solo venture from Laika, which teamed with Tim Burton Animation for the helmer’s “The Corpse Bride.”

While there’s a good possibility the new movie could catch on with the same goth/geek crowd that loves “Nightmare,” Focus is hoping the pic, which is being released in 3-D as well in an otherwise kidpic free window, will break out beyond the fanboys and girls.

Studios have found that the painstakingly made stop-motion pics sometimes pay off in surprising ways. Selick has said that nobody was more surprised than Disney at the success of “Nightmare.” Disney was unsure of the pic’s prospects at first, but now re-releases the film annually, put out a commemorative DVD set last year, and has rebranded its “Haunted Mansion” rides with the film’s characters.

Then there’s DreamWorks’ “Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” which pulled in only $50 million in the U.S., even with a huge marketing push and good reviews, but then made another $57 million in the U.K., making it one of the most successful British films ever — a totally different success story from the distrib’s other Aardman Studios stop-motion comedy, “Chicken Run.” That pic broke $100 million Stateside.

At the end of the day, Selick says that he thinks the “Nightmare” model is the most viable one for his brand of animated film. “They do have an incredibly long life,” he says of the genre.

“You just have to have the patience.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • (from left) Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)

    Korea Box Office: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Topples ‘Exit,’ ‘Roar to Victory’  

    Opening on Wednesday, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” debuted on top of the South Korean box office. Showing on some 1,311 screens nationwide, the UPI release earned $15.1 million from 2.03 million admissions over five days. That included the four-day National Liberation Day weekend. “The Battle: Roar to Victory” remained in second. The [...]

  • Tracy Morgan Netflix stand-up special

    Film News Roundup: Tracy Morgan Joins Eddie Murphy's 'Coming 2 America'

    In today’s film news roundup, Tracy Morgan and Michael Rooker book roles in major movies, and Gravitas buys “Christmas Break-In.” CASTINGS Tracy Morgan has signed on to appear in Eddie Murphy’s “Coming 2 America” sequel as the brother of Lesley Jones’ character. “Hustle & Flow” helmer Craig Brewer is directing the project with Murphy, Kevin [...]

  • Spider-Man Far From Home

    'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Gets Re-Release With New Scene

    Sony Pictures is re-releasing “Spider-Man: Far From Home” with a new action scene. Starting Aug. 29, a new extended cut, featuring four minutes of a never-before-seen action sequence, will be released in theaters in the United States and Canada. The film will also be available in IMAX and large formats in select locations. “Spider-Man: Far [...]

  • Matthew Modine

    Supporters Back Matthew Modine After Clumsy Joke at SAG-AFTRA Meeting

    More than 100 women, including Ellen Barkin and Allison Janney, have voiced support for Matthew Modine’s campaign for SAG-AFTRA presidency, following a joke at a SAG-AFTRA meeting that some decried as misogynist. With voting set to conclude on Aug. 28, the campaigns have featured vitriolic attacks between supporters of Modine, secretary-treasurer Jane Austin and incumbent [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

  • WGA Agents Packaging Fight Placeholder

    Writers Guild Withdraws State Suit Against Agencies, Refiles in Federal Court

    The Writers Guild of America has withdrawn its state court suit against WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners alleging packaging fees are illegal and re-filed suit in federal court. The WGA also responded to antitrust claims brought against the guild by the three agencies. Those agency suits alleged that the WGA abused its power in [...]

  • Tim Roth to Receive Honorary Heart

    Tim Roth to Receive Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award

    British actor Tim Roth is to receive the Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award in recognition of his “exceptional contribution to the art of film.” The ceremony at the Sarajevo Film Festival will be held on Tuesday. He will hold a masterclass on the same day. His first screen role was the lead in the controversial [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content