In a prolific career that has yielded numerous iconic movies, Ron Howard is set to direct his first animated film.
The project is one of four ambitious, original animated and live-action hybrid films he and Brian Grazer have set up through their company Imagine Entertainment, in a joint venture with Australian production engine Animal Logic (“The Lego Movie” franchise, “Happy Feet”).
Howard is attached to direct “The Shrinking of Treehorn,” a children’s book by Florence Parry Heide with illustrations from Edward Gorey, originally published in 1971. Paramount Pictures will release the film.
“I’ve long had this passionate point of view that Ron Howard should make a tentpole animated movie. That’s how this started,” said Zareh Nalbandian, Animal Logic’s entertainment CEO.
“It was serendipitous that Imagine was sort of evolving and growing, and Animal Logic was more and more committed to the development and production of our own intellectual property. We have a shared vision of what that space can be,” he said.
“Treehorn” follows a young man who begins shrinking in size after playing a strange board game, which goes largely unnoticed by his parents. The visual language of the film will closely follow Gorey’s aesthetic. Rob Lieber (“Peter Rabbit,” “Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day”) is writing the script.
Also set up at Paramount is an original conceit deeply rooted in Australian aboriginal culture, a creation story called “Rainbow Serpent” from writer Stuart Beattie (“Pirates of the Caribbean”, “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra”).
“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Imagine and Animal Logic on these two very exciting projects and hope this marks the beginning of a long and wonderful collaborative relationship,” Mireille Soria, president of Paramount Animation, told Variety.
Also on deck is “Zero,” a buddy comedy from director Carlos Stevens and writers Jonathon Stewart and Eyal Podell (“The Angry Birds Movie 2”, “Cars 3”), to be distributed by Warner Bros. The film explores the connection between family and technology, in the vein of the Pixar original “Inside Out.”
“This is a company that’s known, as are Brian and Ron, for having original storytelling at the highest level, be it features, television or documentaries,” said Karen Lunder, president of Imagine Features. “These divisions have been evolving. To work with Animal Logic so closely, where they have such ingenuity and expertise, has been really exciting.”
Imagine has recently and quietly built a deep bench of creative executives, and with Animal Logic are generating original content for a global movie audience. The space has been undeniably impacted by consolidation like Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, which throws independent animation labels like Fox’s Blue Sky into an uncertain future as the corporate monolith owns Pixar and operates its own iconic animation brand.
The fourth title in the joint venture, “Muttnik,” is a live-action hybrid about a dog launched into space by the Russians, who crosses the space-time continuum and returns home to his family an evolved creature. A distributor has yet to be announced.
Animal Logic prides itself on introducing mainstream narrative filmmakers into the animation genre, to great success. Their recruitment of “Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller for the penguin tale “Happy Feet” grossed over $380 million worldwide in 2006. Phil Lord and Chris Miller cemented themselves as major creative players with “The Lego Movie,” which earned over $460 million worldwide in 2014.
Grazer and Howard are both chairman at Imagine Entertainment. Lunder is running point with Jonathan Hludzinski, executive vice president of Animal Logic Entertainment. Stephanie Sperber was recently named president of the Imagine Kids+Family, and runs point on all development.
Howard became a double Oscar winner in 2002, as director and producer of “A Beautiful Mind.”