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Sony Pictures Animation Links to Tencent, Sets New ‘Boondocks,’ Tartakovsky Duo

ANNECY  —  In an expansive mode after the huge critical, commercial and Academy Award validation for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Sony Pictures Animation announced at Annecy on Wednesday that China’s Tencent has boarded Jackie Chan’s “Wish Dragon,” plus a reimagining of “The Boondocks,”  horror series “Hungry Ghosts,” comedy series “Superbago” and two new Genndy Tartakovsky movies.

There was a sense at Annecy that this is a studio with wind in its sails and an empowering confidence.

All the moves are encompassed in the creation of two new bold production lines unveiled by Kristine Belson, SPA president, at an Annecy SPA presentation on Wednesday which proved one of the hottest tickets in town: An international initiative, headed by producer Aron Warner, and a slate of alternative animation taking in not only “The Boondocks” with Sony Pictures Television and original creator Aaron McGruder, but the horror anthology “Hungry Ghosts,” “Superbago” and adult-skewing animated features “Black Knight” and “Fixed” from revered animation director Tartakovsky.

The new international and alternative production lines will expand Sony Pictures Animation’s output and allow it to reach audiences of all ages in all places across the globe.

Having introduced herself and Sony Pictures Animation and its drive to make movies which are “different, which will stand out from the pack,” Belson also unveiled unseen scenes from the “The Angry Birds Movie 2” directed by Thurop Van Orman, opening later this year, and SPA’s 2020 releases “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and “Vivo,” Sony Animation’s first-ever musical featuring original songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda, with Belson announcing in Annecy that “Zootopia” director Rich Moore has joined the filmmaking team as a producer.

Belson shared an exclusive sequence from “Angry Birds Movie 2” in which the birds and the pigs use an eight-foot tall eagle costume to penetrate a top-secret fort, with a memorable scene in a men’s restroom. “We love that we’re following up a moody ultra sophisticated “Spider-Verse” with “Angry Birds” because we’re never going to make one type of film,” Belson said.

Produced by Phil Lords and Chris Miller, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” scheduled for release on Sept. 2020, and “Vivo” are SPA family-skewed movies. In style and substance, if scenes, shown at Annecy were anything to go by, they still push the envelope, however, creating unique visual styles, using some of the learnings and techniques from “Spider-Verse,” but in a completely different way.

”The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” about a family and their grotesque – for some – pug dog caught in a tech uprising, pictures two universes. There’s the human, portraying a chaotic mundane family world which the film celebrates in a painterly handmade way not so far from French 2D animated movies. Then there’s a hugely stylized robot world, filled with fabricated tones of a high-tech universe. These two worlds will collide in visual and dramatic terms.

“As in the ‘Spider-Verse,’ we’re trying to find new ways to break the CG mould,” Belson said.

A faux trailer of “The Mitchells” shown at Annecy showed an emergency broadcast from a cinema theater in which two robots announce there has been no robot apocalypse. That scene drew huge applause at Annecy.

Teased via development artwork shown by Belson,”Vivo,” set in Havana and modern Miami, channels “really unique and distinct styles,” said Belson, These include ‘50s glamor and hip-hop,. Every one of the 10 songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda  are different. Roger Deakins will serve as cinematographer on “Vivo,” Belson announced.

Received with whoops of applause the first time that Belson mentioned the title, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” received a behind-the-scenes analysis from SPA head of production Pam Marsden who drilled down to a hushed audience on production methods invented in partnership with Sony Pictures’ Imageworks on the film.

These included the movie’s panelling, bold graphic design, strong dynamic character poses and level of detail, including the simplification and stylization of objects in greater depth of field making for a more efficient render and a unique comic-book look.

Marsden spent some time analyzing the creators’ innovation in attempting to give the movie its original comic-book look by shooting character animation every second frame (“on the twos”) as in traditional 2D but sliding the character over every other frame to avoid a spectator’s sense of choppiness pf movement.

“‘Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse’ is our most visionary and innovative film to date,” Marsden said at Annecy.

The announcements, strategic and new titles, bore out what Belson, in an introduction, called a commitment to “making big, bold movies, where the hand of the artist, the hand of the filmmaker, is strongly felt,.” Not having a house style was a bonus: “We intend to continue down the path that we’re on – bringing all audiences stories from around the world, stories no one else is telling – and do so in a way that pushes the boundaries of animated storytelling.”

“SPA is committed to making big movies, bold movies,” said Belson.

That boldness was to be seen in SPA’s new logo, which Belson unveiled on stage in a work in progress version, with Sony Pictures Animation now in big uppercase, “animation” blocked out, rather than the cute, child-friendly  white lettering of before on aquamarine background. We decided to send a message that we don’t have a housestyle, the dominant word “animation” will work like a blank screen,” Belson said. .

Signaling the beginnings of a potentially valuable strategic partnership, Chinese multinational Tencent is now on board “Wish Dragon” as a producer. It will also release the animated feature in China in 2020.

Now set up as a co-production between Sony Pictures Animation, Jackie Chan’s label Beijing Sparkle Roll Media, Tencent and Base Media, which originated the project, “Wish Dragon” was first unveiled by director Chris Appelhans (“Coraline”) at Annecy as a work in progress in 2017.

Warner, an Academy Award winning producer (“Shrek,” “The Book of Life”), sneak peeked art and scenes at Annecy of what SPA bill as an “imaginative and touching tale about the power of friendship set in modern-day Shanghai.”

Focusing on “the hopes and dreams of contemporary China,” Base principal Chris Bremble commented last year to Variety, dramatic comedy “Wish Dragon” turns on the moral challenges that emerge from the encounter between a boy, Din, and an invisible dragon (for everybody else) who is able to make wishes come true. What Din wants, more than anything else, is to be reunited with his childhood friend Li Na, who was taken away from their humble Shanghai hood by her nouveau rich father, and now models luxury goods, Rodex watches, for example, her image spread-eagled over billboards in Shanghai.

The film celebrates “hard work, honesty, family and friendship,” Warner said.

With its international initiative, Sony Animation will collaborate with storytellers around the world to develop and produce a broad gamut of animated features for both local and global markets, Warner said, adding that there are “countless great stories” out there that most of the world has never heard.

“Every day there’s a new director, writer or artist with a vision stepping up to the plate to lead a team and create something new. I truly believe this is the next big leap in the art form of animation.”

“SPA is now working developing works with talent around the world including in China, Korea, India, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Spain, France, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, Warner said.

Presented at Annecy by Sony Pictures Animation vice presidents Katie Baron and Kevin Noel, who will head up SPA’s alternative animation drive, TV series “Hungry Ghosts” is based on a Dark Horse Graphic Novel by the late Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose. The series will showcase an anthology of frightening, hilarious, twisted, and culinary-inspired ghost stories, said Noel. It has a circle of chefs trying to think up eerie encounters and unnatural events, set in different cultures across the world, to scare each other.

Once aired on Adult Swim, “The Boondocks” chronicles the battles of the Freeman family against the evil local government tyrant Uncle Ruckus, who rules fictional Woodcrest County Maryland, with an iron fist, said Baron. She and Noel showed comic strips which are both topical and radical,” Noel said.

Made in collaboration with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, “Superbago” is a quirky half-hour comedy that blends claymation and live-action. It turns on two dimwitted animated heroes traveling in a very real Winnebago around the actual U. S. of America, hoping to become real super heroes. The title was previously developed as a feature film at Sony Animation, but was more appropriate as a series, said Noel.

Tartakovsky made a surprise personal appearance bursting into the room to introduce personally “Black Knight,” “If you take any action movie you’ve ever loved and you add ninjas,” you get ‘Black Knight,’” he said. To be directed by Tartakovsky (“Hotel Transylvania,” “Samurai Jack,” “Primal”) it is an action-adventure epic about a highly skilled and loyal knight who, after failing to protect his king, must transform himself into the Black Knight to save the kingdom.

SPA’s first R-rated comedy, with Tartakovsky once once more on board to direct, dark comedy “Fixed” is the story of an average dog who learns that he is going to get neutered the next morning.It’s really funny and heartwarming, it’s not all about balls, we’re trying to make it a character comedy,” Tartakovsky said.

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