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Sony Pictures Animation Details Upcoming Slate, Including Julia Roberts’ ‘Smurfs’ Role

Deadline logo Deadline 1/18/2017 Matt Grobar
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This morning on the Sony lot, Sony Pictures Animation previewed their upcoming slate of films, including The Emoji Movie, Smurfs: The Lost Village, and The Star, all of which will bow in 2017.

Among the future releases discussed moving beyond 2017 were Hotel Transylvania 3, with Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez and director Genndy Tartakovsky set to return; Untitled Animated Super-Man, a standalone Spider-Man film featuring the character Miles Morales, a mixed-race teenager who picked up the mantle of Spider-Man in Marvel’s Ultimates line of comics; and Vivo, an original musical with songs by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Taking the stage, Sony Animation President Kristine Belson commented on what she finds to be an artist-driven slate. “These movies really reflect the unique taste and vision of the filmmakers, and as you’ll see, this leads to a slate that has tremendous variety,” Belson said, noting that while Sony has historically put out one animated film every 18 months, the studio has 5 pictures slated to hit theaters over the next few years.

Introducing the “creative genius” behind Sony Animation’s The Emoji Movie — slated for an August 4 release — Belson feigned surprise as the film’s star, T.J. Miller, leaped on stage. “It’s so rare as an actor, especially as a voice actor, to be called the creative force who brings the characters to life and makes the film so relatable,” Miller joked before introducing the film’s director, Tony Leondis.

Introducing the world of Textopolis through a few-months-old sizzle reel, Leondis commented on the tongue-in-cheek modern concept inherent to the film’s design. “Emojis the movie — I know what you’re thinking: What the f*ck? How are they going to do that?” Leondis said. “As a filmmaker, I’m always trying to tell stories that really connect with people, and emojis have become an important way the world connects emotionally in a very technological time. So for me, it seemed like a perfect arena for a movie.”

“What struck me is that emojis are expected to be one thing their whole lives,” he continued. “The Christmas tree is always festive, the thumbs up is always positive. So I thought, what if one of these emojis was born different — born with not one, but lots of expressions? How would he be treated? How would the world feel about him? And would that threaten the status quo?”

Newly announced voice cast joining T.J. Miller’s emoji Gene in his quest for self-actualization are: Jennifer Coolidge, Maya Rudolph, Jake T. Austin, and, in the role of the Poop emoji, Sir Patrick Stewart.

Next up for discussion was Academy Award-nominated director Timothy Reckhart’s November release The Star, which tells the story of the first Christmas, but from the perspective of the animals involved — what producer DeVon Franklin called “the greatest story never told.” The pic stars The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun, along with Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez (playing Mary, in an apropos bit of casting), Zachary Levi, Aidy Bryant, Keegan Michael-Key, Kelly Clarkson, Anthony Anderson, Kristin Chenoweth, Ving Rhames, Kris Kristofferson, Oprah Winfrey, Christopher Plummer­ — as the villainous King Herod — and more. Read more about it here.

Up for release on September 21, 2018 is Hotel Transylvania 3. With inspiration from director Genndy Tartakovsky’s miserable family vacation, the third installment will take place aboard a cruise ship. “It’s a hotel, but on the water!” the director joked. Tartakovsky also announced a new short film, Puppy, which will screen in front of The Emoji Movie in August, featuring Grandpa Dracula and a familiar cast of characters.

Bowing in December 2018 is an Untitled Animated Spider-Man Feature from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie), making a return to the studio where they made their feature directorial debut with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Appearing in a video shot at 4 AM last night in London, where they are currently filming the Untitled Han Solo Star Wars Anthology Film, Lord and Miller introduced a “slice of early visual development” — exploratory artwork tests for a film that is still in its early stages. The animated Spidey film will feature the breakout comics character Miles Morales rather than original Spider-Man Peter Parker. (Parker is of course the center of Marvel Studio’s upcoming, unrelated live action Spider-Man: Homecoming.)

While it was too early to discuss Sony animated films slated for 2019 and beyond, Belson did mention Vivo—an original animated feature directed by Kirk De Micco, with original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, taking the viewer from Havana to Miami—before segueing into Sony’s next film to hit theaters, Smurfs: The Lost Village.

Led by a cast including Demi Lovato, Mandy Patinkin, Joe Manganiello, and Jack McBrayer, new casting announcements of the day included Julia Roberts (as new female character SmurfWillow), Michelle Rodriguez (SmurfStorm), Ellie Kemper (SmurfBlossom), Ariel Winter (SmurfLily), with cameos by Gordon Ramsay, Jeff Dunham, Tituss Burgess and more.

Directed by Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2), The Lost Village will have an entirely different aesthetic from prior Smurf films, fully computer-animated, while getting back to the original look mined by Belgian cartoonist and Smurfs originator Peyo, way back in 1958. “In the live-action films, there was an attempt to make [the Smurfs] look very realistic because they were in a live-action world,” Asbury said. “We pulled it back to Peyo, and you’ll see we ended up with something that’s much closer to the original look and appeal of these characters.”

Smurfs: The Lost Village hits theaters on April 7.

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