Bubbles was being produced at L.A.-based Starburns, which had previously made the Oscar-nominated stop-motion pic Anomalisa. The film was in pre-production at the time of the recent work stoppage, with around two dozen people working on puppet fabrication and animation tests.
Sources with knowledge of the situation tell Cartoon Brew that some of the laid-off crew members are unhappy because they had turned down work on other hotly-anticipated stop motion projects for Netflix (Henry Selick’s Wendell and Wild, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio) to work on Bubbles.
The co-director of Bubbles, stop-motion veteran Mark Gustafson, had left the project last fall to become the co-director on del Toro’s upcoming Pinocchio.
In an interview earlier this month, Waititi had alluded to the fact that Bubbles had been slow to move forward, saying that it “a little bit stuck in the early stages of trying to figure out what it could be and what it would look like.”
What may have been the nail in the coffin for the project was the release of the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, which profiled two men who claimed they were sexually abused as children by the singer. While artists at Starburns were told that Waititi had pulled out due to scheduling conflicts, the doc wiped out any enthusiasm for a film set in Jackson’s universe. There had been rumors in the stop-motion industry that Bubbles would fall apart ever since the HBO doc was aired.
However, while Waititi and Netflix are no longer involved, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility that other producers could still push forward on the idea.
Starburns had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication. Netflix would not comment on the record for the story, but a spokesperson did not dispute details of Waititi’s departure or the pre-production halt at Starburns.
(Taika Waititi photo by Gage Skidmore used under CC BY-SA 3.0 license)