[UPDATE: Laika won't be backing ShadeMaker. Scroll down for details.]
Henry Selick directed such imaginative stop-motion films as The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and Giant Peach for Disney, but that didn't stop the Mouse House from withdrawing from his latest venture, a new stop-motion animated work titled ShadeMaker. Disney has stopped production on that Selick project, but is still backing the filmmaker's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's award-winning novel The Graveyard Book.
All hope is not lost yet for ShadeMaker, now that Laika has entered discussions to finance the project. The studio is doing well thanks to ParaNorman earning good reviews (read ours) and $82 million worldwide, which is enough to ensure a profit. Moreover, Laika has an established working relationship with Selick, seeing how the studio collaborated with the director on his first Gaiman adaptation, Coraline.
ShadeMaker is described as (via Indiewire) "the story of two brothers [that] takes Selick's special brand of surrealism into a new direction." The project's dark tone and slow progress down the production pipeline were responsible for newly-appointed Disney chairman Alan Horn - who took over after Rich Ross resigned, following the box office disappointment of John Carter - deciding to take a $50 million write-off on ShadeMaker, rather than continue development.
Selick and Laika owner/head animator Travis Knight still have to work out the finer details, but there's good reason to suspect an official deal will be struck soon. It's a smart move for both sides, as Selick will have more freedom to pursue his original artistic vision than he would've while attempting to cater to Disney's demands for a 'safer' film; at the same time, Laika stands to gain a new project from a trusted collaborator (one that's already well into pre-production, no less).
Stop-motion movies in general have a history of being good, no doubt in part due to the sheer amount of time and manpower necessary to make one. It's for that reason that many people are anticipating that Tim Burton's Frankenweenie stop-motion feature (which arrives next month) could be a return-to-form for the off-kilter storyteller, following on the heels of lukewarm critical responses to his last two live-action offerings, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows.
Selick, like Burton, has yet to fail when it comes to winning over the majority of moviegoers with his 3D animated projects, and there's little reason to think he would break that streak with ShadeMaker. Color us hopeful that he and Laika work out a deal in the near future, so Selick can get back to work on the film as soon as possible.
UPDATE: Sadly, Oregon Live has been informed by "a person close to [Laika]" that the talks with Selick went nowhere, so it will be up to another studio to come aboard as the financier for ShadeMaker.
More on ShadeMaker as the story develops.