Original-Cin Interview: Sony Animation's Pam Marsden on the Oscar, Angry Birds 2 and watching a medium grow up

When it comes to animation, the Oscars is usually Pixar’s party, with nine Best Animated Feature wins. But this year, Sony Pictures Animation crashed that party, web-snatching the trophy with the ground-breaking Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

So how do you follow a brilliant upset like that? Would you believe with the Internet-meme-inspired The Angry Birds Movie 2?

Lil Tel Howery voices Alex in The Angry Birds Movie 2

Lil Tel Howery voices Alex in The Angry Birds Movie 2

Pam Marsden, the head of Sony Pictures Animation agrees the summer family film sequel is not going to win any Oscars (though its sailing with a positive 74% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

What kind of a follow-up is The Angry Birds Movie 2? “It’s the best kind,” Marsden enthuses. “It’s the opposite direction of the sophisticated Spider-Man. It’s fun, it’s family oriented, it’s hysterically funny. It’s funnier than the first one.”

In other words, it’s a pause.

“I think we will always try to work outside the box, to push the boundaries of what we’ve done before, as we did with The Spider-Verse, Some of our movies like Angry Birds don’t need to take that kind of risk. But the investment of how funny that movie is and the fantastic cast and the zaniness, we can go to bank with.”

Still, Marsden’s private interview with Original-Cin was taking place backstage of the tech-oriented Collision Conference in Toronto, where she’d just given a speech about the game-changing aspects of Spider-Verse, both technical and creative. And the message was clear that, behind the scenes, the Academy Award was making the under-dog studio animation company – known for the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania franchise - rethink how it did things.

Pam Marsden

Pam Marsden

Did they have serious meetings about how to change course post-Spider-Man? Of course they did. “But it takes so long for that to come to fruition. We have projects in development that would be very different from an Angry Birds and a traditional animated movie. We have a slate that I think is diverse enough to scratch that itch.”

Marsden has been on the ground floor of a cinematic sea change before. She came out of the Chicago and New York theatre scenes, where she stage-managed in the ‘90s. She was hired by Disney back then to work on the CG film Dinosaur, no experience necessary, because CG animation was still fairly new. 

“I started work with a team that included leaders from Disney’s historically fabled storytelling and traditional animation, veteran animation producers, live action camera operators, stop motion animators and rocket scientists. 

“I’m talking actual rocket scientists, and me a theatre person who didn’t understand the term ‘a shot.’ I had to sneak into the ladies room to ask if a shot was the same thing as a scene in theatre. And it isn’t. 

“it didn’t really matter that none of us had a background in what we were about to undertake at the time. No one did.”

The first more-mature, arguably Spider-Verse influenced project from the studio is likely to be next year’s The Mitchells Vs the Machines, produced by Spider-Verse story creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller. “It’s a story of a dysfunctional yet loving family that takes on a robot apocalypse,” Marsden says. “Anything Phil and Chris do will have eyes on it.”

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

And after that? Marsden says Spider-Verse paved the way.  “Battle are scary, villains have guns, people die. A traditional animated movie meant for family audiences would never support that break from tradional style like The Spider-Verse did.”

The studio does have an R-rated animated feature on its development sked, a comedy called Fixed by Hotel Transylvania director Genndy Tartakovsky.

So how about a hard-R, like (Marvel’s) Deadpool? “Something that tonally dark? Probably not in the next five years. These things take some time. We really have to convince ourselves. We have to cook our stories up to be ready to talk about them and be bullish about them.”