5:15am PT by Carolyn Giardina
'Spice Girls' Movie in the Works as Paramount Unveils Animation Slate (Exclusive)
Paramount Animation president Mireille Soria is bringing girl power to the unit — literally. The studio, which boasts a mostly female senior staff, is in early development on a Spice Girls movie among a slate eyeing two releases a year, starting in 2020.
All five members of the iconic '90s group — Melanie Brown (Scary), Emma Bunton (Baby), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty), Geri Halliwell (Ginger) and Victoria Beckham (Posh) are on board, with Simon Fuller producing and Karen McCullah and Kiwi Smith writing the screenplay. The animated feature will include Spice Girls classics as well as new songs. The Spice Girls "had an idea that we've been developing," Soria tells The Hollywood Reporter. "They are very involved."
Meanwhile, May 2020 release The SpongeBob Movie: It's a Wonderful Sponge has added Awkwafina and Reggie Watts to its voice cast, with Cyndi Lauper (and her co-writer Rob Hyman) working on original songs for the film. Described as a “love letter to SpongeBob’s beloved creator Stephen Hillenburg (who died last November), the fans, and the residents of Bikini Bottom,” the project is being directed by Tim Hill and produced by Ryan Harris, with choreography by Mia Michaels. The first 3D computer animated SpongeBob movie, it will also feature a score by Hans Zimmer and original song by Ali Dee. That will be followed in July 2020 by graphic novel adaptation Rumble, formerly titled Monster on a Hill, a Hamish Grieve-helmed partnership with ReelFX and Walden Media.
Soria also reveals that Paramount Animation has inked a first-look deal with the joint venture between Imagine Entertainment and Sydney-based animation studio Animal Logic (Happy Feet), which already has two movies in development, one of which Imagine's Ron Howard plans to direct.
In 2022, the previously announced Chinese American fantasy adaptation The Tiger's Apprentice, due Feb. 11, will be joined in the summer by Jersey Crabs, a Grease-like musical set on the Jersey Shore where sea crab tourists clash with land crab townies. Lorene Scafaria is writing, with David Dobkin producing and Megan Wolpert Dobkin exec producing. The Tiger’s Apprentice is based on the best-selling book series by Lawrence Yep, with David Magee (Life of Pi) and Harry Cripps on board to write the screenplay; it follows a teenage Chinese American boy who learns that he is the guardian of the Chinese zodiac. The team includes director Carlos Baena (a Pixar alum), producer Jane Startz and executive producers Raman Hui (Monster Hunt) and Kane Lee.
The studio is also in early development on a Mighty Mouse project planned as a hybrid live-action/animation movie based on the Paramount IP. Jon & Erich Hoeber are on board as writers, and Karen Rosenfelt and Bob Cort as producers.
Soria credits Jim Gianopulos — who came over from Fox to serve as Paramount’s chairman and CEO in March 2017 — for the vision to build an animation studio at Paramount, whose animation history ranges from Betty Boop to Rango.
Since she joined Paramount Animation in mid-2017, she's assembled a senior team made up primarily of women with a long history in animation, including exec vp Sandra Rabins; senior vp Katherine MacDonald; vp production and development Emily Nordwind; and creative exec Maya Kambe. Nate Hopper (previously senior vp production at Fox) joined Paramount Animation as senior vp in March.
"We are all about a diverse slate of movies, but the common denominator being quality, story, heart," says Soria. Perhaps not counted among that group: Skydance's Luck, for which she had been providing creative notes (the two studios have a first-look marketing and distribution pact). After Skydance hired ousted Disney/Pixar chief John Lasseter in January, Soria told her team that Paramount Animation would no longer work creatively with that division.
A previous version of this story misspelled the first names of Stephen Hillenburg and Nate Hopper and left out part of Megan Wolpert Dobkin's name.
This story first appears in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.