The poster for Flushed Away pretty much says it all: The last chance desperation of the Shrek and Madagascar references, the threatening tag line and prophetic title. Now word is out that the partnership between Aardman (the home studio of Academy Award winners Wallace and Grommit) and Dreamworks is over. See, Dreamworks likes to make money and the last two films out of Aardman (Wallace & Grommit and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Flushed Away) haven’t exactly done that. Now Dreamworks can get back to making those animated shows about the latest Paris Hilton joke.
Aardman spokesman Arthur Sheriff put it in executive terms, "The business model of DreamWorks no longer suits Aardman and vice versa, but the split couldn’t have been more amicable." Which comes across to me as the bullshit corporate put-on-a-happy-face-for-public-consumption retool of a conversation that probably went something like:
Dreamworks: "Your recent movies have been kind of sucking it up at the Box Office. American audiences aren’t hip to your dry British wit and unique animation style. How about a little Chicken Run meets Shark Tale?"
Aardman: "We don’t feel comfortable using that type of disposable humor with our brand."
Dreamworks: "It’d be great! We’d have a hip-hop hero, a shop-a-holic cell phone using party girl and a jokey, narcissistic schlub. We’ll put them together in a reference to Pirates of the Caribbean…"
Aardman: "Yeah, I don’t think so. How about this new concept Crood Awakening we’ve been working on with John Cleese…"
Dreamworks: "But he’s not funny."
Aardman: "We really think…"
Dreamworks: "Go f*** yourselves."
Aardman; "Oh yeah? Go f*** YOURselves."
The termination of the relationship is hardly an end of days for Aardman- they existed before the Dreamworks partnership and will certainly exist thereafter. The wide distribution platform they’ve been enjoying over the last six years, however, is in question. Regardless, if Aardman’s future project quality is "up to snuff" as I’d argue it always has been, there are sure to be other outfits willing to pick up the distribution gap and at the very worst, they can probably seek out enough dough for self-financing.
Still, it feels like a blow to anything but the cheap and increasingly inferior quality of the 3D animation douche of the last few years. Aardman’s style was both refreshing and charming and it was nice, for a time, to have a studio give it a shot at wider recognition. In the end, however, it’s all about the golden Sacagaweas.
Currently, there’s not much publicly on the horizon for Aardman, although I’ve seen a few ads for an uninspiring Aardmann piece on CBS called Creature Comforts. As of now, however, it’s received no firm air date.
UPDATED: No sooner does the news of Dreamworks seperation hit than Aardman hits back. Reuters is reporting Nick Park is up to his elbows on a sequel to Wallace & Grommit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which makes sense. Internationally, it pulled in 3x the box office it did in the US (about $140 million). There’s no word as to whether it’s a feature film or for TV, those developments will come when the project is finished. Touche, Aardman. Touche indeed.