DreamWorks Animation and filmmaker Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) appear set to collaborate in bringing Dan Santat’s award-winning children’s book The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend to the big screen. Reitman will write and direct the animated adaptation, his first foray outside of live-action filmmaking. DreamWorks Animation executive Dalton Ross brought Beekle to the studio and will oversee production alongside Gregg Taylor, the studio’s Head of Development.
Beekle centers on a quirky imaginary friend who is so odd that no kid can possibly dream of imagining him. With that, he takes matters into his own hands and sets off on a magical journey in search of a best friend. Santat, who wrote and illustrated the book, won the 2015 Caldecott Medal, an annual award for the most distinguished illustrated children’s book in America. “I was book shopping with my daughter, when a little tooth-shaped character in a paper crown stole our hearts,” Reitman said in a statement. “His name was Beekle and I’m honored to now be adapting Santat’s charming story into a feature film.”
The development of Beekle arrives at a crossroads not only for Reitman, but also for DreamWorks Animation. Since breaking through with the 2006 hit Thank You for Smoking, Reitman established himself as a formidable filmmaker in his own right (he’s the son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman). He followed that success with Juno and Up in the Air, a pair of critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies, both of which earned Reitman Oscar nominations for Best Director. While his 2011 dark comedy Young Adult was well-received by critics (and earned star Charlize Theron a Golden Globe nomination), it wasn’t nearly as commercially successful as his prior films and his two most recent projects—Labor Day and Men, Women and Children—both tanked with critics and audiences.
DreamWorks Animation has seen better days itself. Their Shrek-filled heyday has turned a bit sour with recent misses like Turbo, Rise of the Guardians, and Penguins of Madagascar. The studio recently failed to be successfully sold to SoftBank and Hasbro and has endured tremendous reconstructing and layoffs as of late. The last release from DreamWorks Animation was the surprise spring hit Home (which featured the voice talents of Rihanna and The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons), yet the studio’s next animated feature, Kung Fu Panda 3, won’t be arriving in theaters until next January.
But changes in scenery may be what it takes to get a director out of his rut and find a studio a saving grace. We often hear of animation directors turning to live-action (Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton are recent examples), yet several have gone the alternate route. Wes Anderson, for instance, was in a bit of a creative funk before unveiling his praised 2009 stop-motion work Fantastic Mr. Fox and Tim Burton had two critically respected offerings in the last decade with the animated Corpse Bride (2005) and Frankenweenie (2012). Other live-action directors who have dabbled in animation in recent years with varying degrees of success include Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean), who directed the Oscar-winning Rango, Zack Snyder (Man of Steel), who directed Legends of the Guardians, and Richard Linklater (Boyhood) who directed the rotoscoped Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006).