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Warner Bros. revs up animation development

'Creative consortium' formed to shepherd pics starting with 'Lego'

Once again, Warner Bros. is looney for more toons.

Looking to catch up to competitors in the animated game, the studio is forming a think tank-style creative consortium aimed at delivering one “high-end” pic per year, the latest attempt by the studio that has dabbled in kid fare but still lacks a major presence or partnership there.

Six filmmakers will work both individually and collectively without being exclusive, so they will also continue to write and direct live-action movies.

They are John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, (“Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “Cats & Dogs”); Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets”); Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”); and Jared Stern (“Mr. Popper’s Penguins”).

“Warner Bros. has an extraordinary legacy in the world of animation, including some of the most enduring characters in cinema history,” said Warner Bros. pictures group prexy Jeff Robinov in his Monday announcement. “Looking to the future, we have now gathered some of the best and brightest talents in the industry to help us grow and broaden that legacy.”

Despite being home to the Looney Tunes characters, Warner Bros. has been relatively light on animated fare when compared with rivals over the past decade. After some success with Michael Jordan in “Space Jam” in 1996, its “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” hybrid flopped in 2003 while its best performer was 2006’s “Happy Feet” with $384 million in worldwide grosses.

Its two most recent animated films — 2010’s “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” and the “Happy Feet” sequel — turned in middling results with $140 million and $150 million respectively in worldwide grosses.

The consortium has been operating informally for several months and “The Lego Movie,” directed by Lord and Miller from their own screenplay, is the first feature to emerge from it. “Lego” is produced by Dan Lin and Roy Lee and stars the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie and Morgan Freeman. Warner is releasing “Lego” on Feb. 7, 2014. Most of the animation is being produced by Australia-based Animal Logic.

Its 2015 film will be “Storks,” conceived of and being written by Stoller and to be directed by Doug Sweetland, who helmed Pixar short “Presto.” The 2016 title is set to be “Smallfoot,” to be written by Requa and Ficarra, from an original idea by Sergio Pablos (“Despicable Me”), who is also set to direct.

Warner execs Courtenay Valenti, Chris deFaria and Greg Silverman are overseeing the consortium.

With the exception of Lionsgate, all the major studios have established animated divisions or partners, or have recently put something in the works.

Fox Animation recently pacted to distribute the DreamWorks Animation slate and has partnered with Blue Sky Animation on the money-cranking “Ice Age” franchise; Paramount created Paramount Animation on the heels of “Rango’s” success; Universal, mostly known for direct-to-homevid stuff, distributes Illumination films; Sony Animation has had hits with “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” “Smurfs” and “Hotel Transylviania”; and Disney is Disney.

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