January of ’07 was a bummer of a month in a stream of bummers for Aardman Animation: their once-promising relationship with Dreamworks was summarily executed thanks to the wimpy BO performance of Flushed Away (CHUD coverage here). In the months since, however, things have begun to look up, as the house that Gromit built easily negotiated a first-look deal with Sony Pictures (whose animation house isn’t doing so hot itself thanks to an underperforming Surf’s Up).
Now, two months later, Aardman has announced their post-Dreamworks lineup, which has received a nice shot in the arm thanks to a host of quality British writers being brought on board to pen the upcoming projects The Cat Burglars, The Pirates! and Operation Rudolph.
First up are well-regarded TV writers Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars, which, being decidedly un-British, I haven’t seen) who will be penning The Cat Burglars, a stop-motion work being pitched as a barnyard Ocean’s 11 in much the same way Chicken Run was pitched as a barnyard The Great Escape.
Chicken Run director, and Aardman co-founder, Peter Lord will team with writers Andy Riley and Kevin Cecilwill to adapt a series of books called The Pirates! in an adventure with__________. Based on a series of books by Gideon Defoe, The Pirates! follows a swashbuckling band of charming seagoing thieves and murderers, the ham they treasure and the Darwins, Ahabs and communists they encounter along the way.
Lastly, Borat co-writer Peter Baynham is writing up Operation Rudolph, a take on the whole Santa Claus theme which reveals Christmas delivery isn’t so much a result of charming elven magic and cheer, but more along the lines of combat operations and real-time strategem.
Interestingly, with Wallace and Grommit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit having done respectably in the states and very well overseas, there’s no mention of the Aardman staple in this latest lineup of projects. Creative Director Sara Smith’s recent comments explaineth: "This is an interesting time in the animation industry — while there is clearly still a big appetite among cinemagoers for great animated films, there is a feeling of sameness about much of the product coming out of the industry at present, in terms of their stories." With most animation stories these days bowing to the altar of The Lion King’s "Discover Yourself" storytelling, amen to that.
Aardman’s stuff has been thematically original and unrelentingly charming (this coming from the guy who threw a few barbs toward grown-ups facilitating consumption of kid-things) when stacked up against most of its peers. Now that a distribution channel is available, the coming years will allow Aardman the opportunity to deliver on Smith’s lofty promise of these projects to come: "I think there’s a great opportunity to excite audiences by raising the stakes in terms of the quality, intelligence and variety of the stories our animated films tell and the genres they inhabit."