UPDATED: Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman tells a Deutsche Bank investor conference that the film "will serve to start off or be one of our films that starts off our new animation effort."
Paramount announced the formation of its new animation unit last July with a target of one release starting in 2014. It has previously not mentioned a specific project. However, Paramount picked up rights to Penny Arcade's science fiction comic New Kid in June and is planning an adaptation of it. The studio tapped The Book of Eli writer Gary Whitta to pen the script and Mary Parent and Cale Boyter are producing via their Paramount-based Disruption Entertainment.
Paramount has distributed animation fare from Jeffrey Katzenberg's DreamWorks Animation, but that deal is coming to an end at the close of this year. Dauman has repeatedly said that his company's studio would be fine without DWA, which has also weighed its options, including self-distributing its movies. But Dauman has not directly ruled out a potential renewal of the DWA deal.
Viacom released a SpongeBob film several years ago, but back then, Nickelodeon did not have as much of a presence around the world, Dauman said Tuesday in touting the outlook for the new feature.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie hit the silver screen late in 2004 and grossed $85.4 million domestically and $54.7 million abroad, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. The film saw SpongeBob take leave from the town of Bikini Bottom to track down King Neptune's stolen crown.
Paramount did not provide additional deals on the new SpongeBob film.
Dauman also once again said that the Paramount animation productions will be a new opportunity for his company as they will each cost less than $100 million, and the animation unit will be only 30 to 40 people strong, allowing for good financial returns. Thanks to modern technology, the films still look "great" despite the lower cost, he said. He also lauded his studio team for winning an animation Oscar for Rango, the studio's first fully-owned CGI effort. "We're very proud of that," he said.
David Stainton, the head of Paramount's animation effort, resigned abruptly earlier in February. That has left Paramount Motion Picture Group president Adam Goodman in charge.
Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com; Daniel.Miller@THR.com
Twitter: @GeorgSzalai; @DanielNMiller