DreamWorks Animation has added two more feature toons to its 2021 slate, the Untitled Spirit Riding Free movie based on its Netflix series on May 14, and The Bad Guys on September 17 based on Aaron Blabey’s bestselling Scholastic book series. This raises the Glendale studio’s release count for that year to three titles, the other being The Boss Baby 2 on March 26, 2021. Spooky Jack, previously dated for September 17, 2021, is now unset. The global distribution of DWA titles is overseen by Universal.
Spirit Riding Free‘s origins go back to the 2002 Oscar-nominated movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron ($122.5M global box office). In 2017, that feature was reimagined by DreamWorks Animation Television as a Netflix original series, Spirit Riding Free, thus igniting interest in the IP among a new generation of young girls.
The new pic will follow headstrong Lucky Prescott, who is forced to move from her big-city home to a small frontier town, where she’s a complete fish out of water. But her life is changed forever when she makes new friends and forms an inseparable bond with a wild mustang named Spirit. When Spirit’s herd is captured by rustlers, the girls and their horses must undertake the adventure of a lifetime to save them.
Elaine Bogan will direct (director, Tales of Arcadia: Trollhunters and 3 Below, Dragons: Race to the Edge) and Karen Foster (co-producer, How To Train Your Dragon) will produce. Ennio Torresan (head of story, Abominable and The Boss Baby) will serve as co-director. Aury Wallington, the creator of the Netflix series, is also writing the new feature.
Spirit Riding Free will be made with a lower-cost production model, similar to what DWA used for the production of 2017’s Captain Underpants ($38M production cost, $125.5M worldwide box office), thus working creatively with a partner studio.
The original Spirit movie starred Matt Damon as narrator and followed the adventures of a wild and rambunctious mustang stallion as he journeys through the untamed American frontier. Spirit encounters man for the first time, and defies being broken, even as he develops a friendship with a young Lakota brave.
Netflix’s Emmy-winning Spirit Riding Free currently counts 52 episodes with more to come in fall 2020. In August, a six-part series of short webisodes and music videos called Pony Tales debuted.
When Universal acquired DreamWorks Animation in 2016, Universal Brand Development made a strategic investment to create a multi-platform ecosystem with the animation studio’s brands. Spirit Riding Free was one of the first exploited when the DWA consumer products program was launched stateside in 2017, tapping into young girls’ love for horses. The licensing program expanded beyond the toy and publishing aisles into home goods, apparel, accessories, party goods and consumables with partners such as Target, Walmart, and Amazon. Spirit became one of the first original IP TV series from a streaming platform to generate considerable consumer product revenue in the U.S. and overseas.
The Bad Guys follows five notorious villains–Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha, Mr. Shark and Ms. Tarantula–who’ve spent a lifetime together pulling off big heists. The animated project is said to have a similar twist on the heist genre that Shrek did on fairy tales, and what Kung Fu Panda did for the kung fu genre. Pic marks the feature directorial debut of Pierre Pierfel, a DWA vet who came up through the ranks as the director of the award-winning short Bilby, and as an animator on the Kung Fu Panda franchise.
Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Get Hard) and Hilary Winston (NBC’s Community and My Name is Earl) wrote the script. Damon Ross (co-producer, Nacho Libre) and Rebecca Huntley (co-producer, Abominable; associate producer, The Boss Baby) will produce. EPs are Blabey, Cohen, Patrick Hughes and Jeff Berg. The Bad Guys spent 50 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and counts 8 million copies sold worldwide.