Taika Waititi has exited as the director of Netflix’s stop-motion animated movie Bubbles, which tells the story of Michael Jackson‘s longtime chimpanzee, and Collider has confirmed that Netflix has pulled out of the project as well.
Cartoon Brew broke the news, reporting that scheduling conflicts with WB’s Akira forced Waititi to exit Bubbles, and with the director no longer involved, Netflix also decided to step away. An individual familiar with the streaming service’s thinking told Collider that “Taika didn’t have the bandwidth to devote to it, and since he was the big draw, it didn’t make sense to continue with another director. The producers are figuring out next steps.” Pre-production had been well under way at Dan Harmon‘s Starburns Industries, which produced the Oscar-nominated feature Anomalisa and referred all press inquiries regarding Bubbles to Netflix.
According to Cartoon Brew, roughly two dozen people working on the film’s puppets and animation tests have already been let go, adding that some who were laid off recently turned down work on other stop motion projects for Netflix, including Guillermo del Toro‘s Pinocchio and Henry Selick‘s Wendell and Wild.
Netflix acquired Bubbles for a reported $20 million back in 2017 and its executives were excited by the idea of working with Waititi, who was red-hot coming off of Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok. According to Cartoon Brew, Waititi’s exit prompted Netflix to get cold feet, though there may be another reason behind the streamer’s decision to pull the plug.
Just two months ago, HBO aired the disturbing documentary Leaving Neverland, which followed two men who claimed that Jackson sexually abused them as children. Since then, the world has struggled to reconcile their devastating stories with his public image and iconic music. It’s no surprise that Netflix, or any other company, for that matter, would have second thoughts regarding an animated movie featuring Jackson as a key character. Bubbles was an acclaimed script by Isaac Adamson that topped the 2015 Black List, and while it isn’t about Jackson per se, the singer’s shadow would undoubtedly loom large over the story.
“This film is not about Michael Jackson because that’s not a story for me to tell — or a story I’d be comfortable telling. It’s about a chimpanzee’s fascinating journey through the complex jungle of human life,” Waititi said back in 2017. And yet, what made the real Bubbles worthy of the movie treatment in the first place was the fact that he wasn’t just any chimp, he was Michael Jackson’s chimp. Remove MJ from that equation, and I’m not sure what’s left, though I suppose the script could always be rewritten to make Bubbles a different celebrity’s chimpanzee while keeping many of its themes intact.
Oddly enough, Waititi isn’t even the first director to leave the project, as his co-director, stop-motion veteran Mark Gustafson, stepped away from Bubbles last year to work with del Toro on Pinocchio. We’ll keep you posted on any developments regarding this project, but its prospects certainly don’t look good in today’s climate.