It’s Officially Splitsville for Aardman and DreamWorks

Bristol-based Aardman Animations has officially severed ties with DreamWorks Animation. The entities announced today that they have prematurely dissolved their five-picture deal after making just three animated features together. The news comes in the wake of disappointing box office for their latest effort, last year’s CG-animated Flushed Away.

“I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with Peter Lord, David Sproxton, Nick Park and the Aardman team for almost ten years and highly respect their storytelling and filmmaking talents,” DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg says in a statement. “Today, DreamWorks Animation is focused on producing two computer animated movies per year, with a full film slate laid out into 2010. While I will always be a fan and an admirer of Aardman’s work, our different business goals no longer support each other.”

The two toon camps first teamed up for the 2000 clay-animated pic Chicken Run, a promising start that yielded more than $100 million at the domestic box office. The second effort, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, was an overseas hit and went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature of 2005 despite lackluster ticket sales in North America.

With Flushed Away, Aardman adapted its signature stop-motion style to CG, but is likely to go back to plasticine characters following this brief venture into computer animation. Aardman co-owners Peter Lord and David Sproxton comment, “We’ve enjoyed a hugely successful and creative relationship with Jeffrey and DreamWorks Animation, but both companies are aware that our ambitions have moved apart, and it feels like the right time to move on. Aardman has an ambitious slate of feature film projects in development and we will announce our future production and distribution plans shortly.”

For the time being, DreamWorks Animation will stick to developing its own concepts and is looking to its star franchise to come through once again with Shrek the Third, which will be trumpeted into theaters on May 18. The pic will be followed by the Jerry Seinfeld comedy Bee Movie, with Kung Fu Panda kicking in for 2008. The studio is also at work on a sequel to the 2005 hit Madagascar for 2008.

Aardman continues to produce several stop-motion and CG-animated series, including BBC’s Shaun the Sheep, Creature Comforts (CBS will debut the U.S. version of the series this spring) and two CG-animated co-productions with Decode Entertainment, Chop Socky Chooks and Planet Sketch. In addition. studio heavyweights Nick Park, Steve Box and Peter Lord all have animated feature films in the early stages of development at the studio.