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Henry Selick is a ronin, a masterless samurai in a particularly difficult part of the filmmaking landscape, and any time he finds someone willing to pay for him to make one of his movies, I'm thrilled.
Being a career animator is not an easy life to choose, and I can't imagine anyone doing it for any reason other than a deep abiding love for the medium. Selick has conjured up some real magic in the films he's made and he certainly does great work with the various collaborators who have been part of his movies so far. Not every filmmaker can lay claim to one great movie, and I'd argue that Selick has made two so far. "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is just gorgeous, as beautiful an example of stop motion animation as I've ever seen. "Coraline" is an eerie, sublime accomplishment, both technically and creatively, and is easily the finest example yet of Neil Gaiman's work brought to life.
Selick is one of those filmmakers who never quite seems to land anywhere. I thought after "Nightmare" that Disney was going to happily absorb him on a permanent basis, but "James and The Giant Peach" ended the relationship between him and the studio. I would have thought after "Coraline" that he would make a home at Laika and that they would happily make him a cornerstone of their ongoing efforts in stop-motion animation. Because there are so few places to go to try to get an animated project made, Selick actually ended up back at Disney, where "The Shadow King" began life and where Selick did a fair amount of pre-production work on the film. Last fall, Disney pulled the plug, and Selick started shopping the movie around, hoping to find someone who would pick up the costs to rescue the movie from Disney.
K5 International has come onboard and will shop the film at the Berlin International market, with Josh Penn (one of the producers of "Beasts Of The Southern Wild") attached to produce. This isn't a greenlight to make the film, though. Not yet. This is an announcement that they're looking for someone to make it happen, and I hope they find the right partner or partners at Berlin. I want to see whatever Selick wants to make. It's that easy. Even his missteps strike me as ambitious or understandable missteps, choices that make perfect sense for Selick's attempts to make the types of films he makes.
The synopsis that went out when the project was announced included a one-paragraph synopsis of the project, and I can already imagine how much Selick's style was allowed to run free with this premise: "'The Shadow King' is a deliciously magical tale about nine-year-old New York orphan Hap who hides his fantastically weird hands with long fingers from a cruel world. But when a living shadow girl teaches him to make amazing hand shadows that come to life, his hands become incredible weapons in a shadow war against a ravenous monster bent on killing Hap’s brother Richard and ultimately destroying New York."
See what I mean? I want to see that movie. I'll bet that movie is gorgeous. If they find their partners in Berlin, I hope there is another announcement forthcoming, and I'll cross my fingers we see it in theaters two or three years down the road.
"The Shadow King" is written and directed by Selick, as reported by Deadline, and I'm just as excited to see Lou Romano attached as production designer. He's another guy whose work I admire enormously, and him working with Selick is a great combination of talents. We'll be tracking this one, as we have been, with fingers crossed.