Tim Minchin opens up on the shutting down of his animated film

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Tim Minchin was three quarters of the way through directing the $90m film Larrikins when it was shut down – and he’s been chatting about it.

The sale of DreamWorks Animation to Comcast (the parent company of Universal Pictures) a few years ago brought with it a reassessment of the many projects the studio was making at the time. As a consequence, several films in development were shut down, and one of them was a much-anticipated animated musical by the name of Larrikins, that Tim Minchin was developing and directing.

It’s pretty well known that Minchin sunk several years of his life into his project before the plug was pulled. And chatting to Richard Herring on his excellent Leicester Square Theatre podcast, he’s opened up about the film closing down, when it was 75% done.

“I spent four years on the film, ended up directing it. A $90m DreamWorks musical with singing animals, Hugh Jackman, Jacki Weaver, Margot Robbie… Hans Zimmer was doing the score with me”, he recalled.

Songs were completed, animated sequences were worked out in their entirety, and a lot of money had already been spent.

“When Universal Pictures bought DreamWorks, the question I’ll never know the answer to, did they get a team of experts in animated musicals and go ‘this one’s not going to work’. I do know the answer: they didn’t”.

It did, ultimately, call in at least one person with significant animated movie knowledge, though, before opting to use the production as a corporate write-off to help with the costly takeover.

The studio turned to Chris Meledandri, who runs Universal’s other animated studio, the wildly successful Illumination Entertainment (the Minions films and such like). Meledandri was asked by the studio what he thought of the Larrikins movie. And whatever he said seemed to lead to the film closing down. Over 100 people were working on the film at the time, and for whatever reason, it was shut down overnight. And four years of Minchin’s work was gone.

Could the film be revived? Well, Minchin tried. “Netflix wanted to buy it, Animal Logic wanted to buy it, the short story is Universal made it completely non-viable to buy”

“When I asked one of the executives why you would take something that you’d already used as a write off against the expense of the studio, which is basically what they did… one of the execs said it was ‘schmuck insurance’.”

That boiled down to making the price tag exorbitant – and Minchin explains more in the podcast – to mitigate against executives looking like a schmuck had Larrikins gone on to make money.

The full podcast – and there’s fruity language within – is excellent (as Herring’s interview podcasts are), and you can find it below in full. The Larrikins chat starts around 14 minutes in…

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