“The Croods” and “How to Train Your Dragon” filmmaker Chris Sanders is returning to DreamWorks Animation with “The Wild Robot,” a new animated feature based on the New York Times best-selling book by Peter Brown. Sanders wrote the script and is directing the project.
Jeff Hermann is producing “The Wild Robot” and Sanders’ longtime creative collaborator Dean DeBlois will executive produce. No release date has been set. But you can still get very excited.
“The Wild Robot” follows Rozzum 7134 (“Roz” for short), a futuristic robot that washes ashore on a deserted island. From there, according to the official synopsis, “a tale of survival and discovery begins when she becomes the unexpected protector to an orphaned gosling, which she names Brightbill. Together they struggle to survive the harsh environment, but only succeed with the help of a close-knit group of misfit animals, who become first friends, then family. Ultimately Roz and company save the island from a robotic invasion by Roz’s manufacturer, looking to bring her back to civilization by any means necessary.”
The synopsis says the film “tells an emotional story about how we all have the power to ‘exceed our programming,’ to become more than we were destined to be. Roz not only finds a way to survive in this dangerous world, but also brings new meaning to her ‘life’ by taking on the responsibility of parenthood. The movie celebrates what it means to be wild and alive, and how cooperation is the key to survival in a harsh world.”
Brown’s book “The Wild Robot” was first published in 2016, was a huge bestseller and was selected for numerous awards. It also spawned two celebrated sequels: 2019’s “The Wild Robot Escapes” and “The Wild Robot Protects” (which was released earlier this week).
Joining Sanders on “The Wild Robot” are production designer Raymond Zibach, a longtime DreamWorks Animation vet (his first movie was the traditionally animated “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas”); editor Mary Blee (who worked with Sanders on “The Croods” and “How to Train Your Dragon”); and head of story Heidi Jo Gilbert, who most recently worked on the Oscar-nominated “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.”
Sanders, of course, was one of the key figures of the Disney Renaissance, working on “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “Mulan.” His style and sensibilities were always there; you could tell a Chris Sanders storyboard, even the hastily sketched ones, from every other artist.
Sanders moved to Disney Animation’s Florida outpost for “Mulan,” where he served as a writer and story supervisor. After “Mulan,” he stayed in Florida and worked, almost in secret, on a low-budget project based on a book he had unsuccessfully pitched years earlier – “Lilo & Stitch.” Of course, that film, which he wrote and directed with DeBlois, wound up being a huge financial success and one of the rare hits from that period of Disney Animation. He still continues to voice Stitch to this day, including in the upcoming live-action remake from “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” director Dean Fleischer Camp.
After John Lasseter was installed at Disney following the company’s acquisition of Pixar, he clashed with Sanders and removed him from his ambitious, idiosyncratic “American Dog” (later released as “Bolt”). Sanders and DeBlois settled at DreamWorks Animation where they tackled “How to Train Your Dragon,” and then Sanders wrote and directed “The Croods” with Kirk DeMicco.
After executive producing the “How to Train Your Dragon” sequels (which DeBlois directed by himself), Sanders developed a “Croods” sequel for a while and then made a live-action adaptation of “Call of the Wild” with Harrison Ford, a movie that had the misfortune of opening days before COVID-19 shuttered theaters. And now he’s back at DWA.
While there is no release date yet set for “The Wild Robot,” we hopefully won’t have to wait too long. It’s been a decade since Sanders last directed an animated feature. But at least we know it’s on the way.