This is one motion picture deal that has literally gone down the toilet.
DreamWorks Animation SKG and its partner in claymation, U.K.-based Aardman Animation, announced Tuesday they have dissolved their exclusive partnership.
The move comes a week after the critically well-received yet underwhelming box-office performer Flushed Away failed to secure an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Film. DreamWorks said last year it would be writing off the loss it sustained from the family film, which featured the A-list vocal talents of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen and Jean Reno.
Per Box Office Mojo, Flushed Away had a production budget of $149 million, but it only grossed $63.4 million domestically. Analysts have stated that DreamWorks' fourth-quarter write-down could top $100 million.
"Today, DreamWorks Animation is focused on producing two computer-animated movies per year, with a full film slate laid out into 2010," studio cofounder Jeffrey Katzenberg said in a statement. "While I will always be a fan and an admirer of Aardman's work, our different business goals no longer support each other."
"Both companies are aware that our ambitions have moved apart, and it feels like the right time to move on," Aardman co-owners Peter Lord and David Sproxton said in a statement. "Aardman has an ambitious slate of feature film projects in development, and we will announce our future production and distribution plans shortly."
DreamWorks and Aardman inked a five-picture deal in 1999, around the time Toy Story-style computer-generated animation was beginning to outpace traditional hand-drawn 'toons, and together put out the signature stop-motion animation flicks Chicken Run (2000) and Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (which won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2005) and then Flushed Away in November.
Despite the rave reviews and the Oscar hardware, however, DreamWorks also took a loss on Wallace & Gromit.
The studio said Tuesday that, since there were no new Aardman collaborations in the works and because its own animated feature slate was in place for the next few years, it was exercising its option to pass on another joint effort.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Wallace & Gromit creator and Aardman's chief creative force Nick Park told the Hollywood Reporter it was Aardman that was "severing ties with DreamWorks."
Despite the winter chill in the air, things are looking sunny over at DreamWorks' Los Angeles headquarters in anticipation of Shrek the Third, which hits theaters May 18. The studio's second CG feature of 2007 will be Jerry Seinfeld's star-studded Bee Movie, slated for a Nov. 2 release.
Of course, all future CG animated films will face the same conundrum Flushed Away faced, and that is the sheer glut of what was once a rarer treat.
In 2006, the sewer-centric family adventure hit theaters that had already played host to, among others, the Pixar blockbuster Cars, DreamWorks' own Over the Hedge, Sony's Monster House and Open Season, Nickelodeon-Paramount's Barnyard and Warner Bros.' Happy Feet.