Aardman, Sony in motion on two pics

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Sony Pictures and Aardman Animations are moving forward on two features, "Arthur Christmas" and "Pirates!"

"Pirates!" sees Aardman co-founder Peter Lord back behind the camera for a movie done in hand-crafted stop-motion animation, the company's signature style seen in such films as "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Chicken Run." "Christmas" will be produced wholly in CGI.

Aardman signed a three-year, first-look deal with Sony in 2007, though no projects had been announced. The company, which had parted ways with DreamWorks Animation in the wake of the disappointing performance of 2006's "Flushed Away," has spent the past two years hunkered down in development, honing several scripts. "Pirates!" and "Christmas" are the first two to land on the production runway.

"Pirates!" is based on "The Pirates! (In an Adventure With Scientists)," the best-selling series of books by Gideon Defoe and intended to be a swashbuckling adventure with a rich vein of surreal and broad comedy. The story follows a group of pirates who journey to London and meet Charles Darwin, a talking chimp named Mister Bobo and an enemy looking to wipe them out.

Lord is co-directing the movie, his first since 2000's "Chicken Run," with Jeff Newitt. Defoe is writing the screenplay; Julie Lockhart is producing.

"Christmas," on which Aardman is working with Sony Pictures Imageworks, will tackle the question of how Santa delivers all his presents in one night. Sarah Smith and Barry Cook are directing from a script by Peter Baynham ("Borat"). Cheryl Abood is producing.

"It's incredibly exciting to be moving forward on these two movies," Lord said. "The most important elements of any animated film are story and character, and we believe that in these films, we have characters to charm and stories to delight and engage." (partialdiff)
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