The Dam Keeper feature film

One of the real standouts of last year’s batch of Oscar-nominated shorts was The Dam Keeper, a gorgeously animated tale from Pixar alums Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi. The story was simple and bittersweet, but the characters felt fully realized and the world around them felt rich. Now we’ll get a chance to explore them further, as a Dam Keeper feature film is in the works at Twentieth Century Fox Animation. 

The original Dam Keeper short centers around an anthropomorphic pig tasked with running the town windmill to keep a sinister dark cloud at bay. Despite his important role in the community, he’s constantly bullied at school. His life picks up when he meets a new student, an artistic fox — but an unhappy turn in their friendship proves to have potentially devastating consequences.

The Hollywood Reporter writes that Fox Animation will team up with Kondo and Tsutsumi’s Tonko House for the Dam Keeper feature film. Kondo and Tsutsumi, former Pixar art directors whose credits include Ratatouille and Monsters University, will return to direct the feature. John Henry Hinkel will write the script.

The new Dam Keeper movie will take place several years after the events of the short. It’ll look and sound quite different, too. While The Dam Keeper short was done in flat 2D, with colorful visuals suggesting oil paintings or pastel drawings, the Dam Keeper feature film will be done in CG. In addition, it’ll feature “plenty of voice work,” in contrast to the dialogue-free original.

This is the part where I admit my knee-jerk reaction is to get annoyed about the changes. Part of what makes The Dam Keeper so special is how unusual it looks — a shiny, glossy CG movie just wouldn’t be the same. I also fear it’ll take away some of the magic to have the characters talk. But the original Dam Keeper will always exist, and the more important thing for the feature film will be to get the tone right. If all goes well, it’ll just be another chance to spend more time with these characters and this universe.

Besides, I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Not long after the Oscars last year, Tonko House announced plans to make a feature film adaptation of The Dam Keeper. There’s also a trilogy of graphic novels in the works (the first will hit shelves in 2017), and a ten-episode Hulu series for Japan (which will also debut in 2017). Plot details on the Dam Keeper feature film have not been revealed, but maybe this earlier description of one of the comic book stories provides a clue:

The story will begin five years after the events of the short, with friends Pig and Fox on the cusp of adulthood as the dark cloud that the dam holds back recedes for the first time. They go out into the world in search of answers about the fog, and the fate of Pig’s parents—with the unlikely help of Pig’s enemy, Hippo.

No release date for the Dam Keeper movie has been announced. Watch the trailer for the original short film below.

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