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Netflix Appears to Scrap Gorillaz Movie as it Guts its Animated Originals

Netflix apparently hates fun and goodness

Screenshot from the music video for "Silent Running" by Gorillaz, off Cracker Island

If at any point in the last twenty years, you asked me what movie I desired the most in the world, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second: a Gorillaz movie. And that’s not as wild an idea as you might think. The idea of Gorillaz film has been tossed around Hollywood since the aftermath of their 2001 self-titled debut album. But in recent years, it looked like the project was finally, actually happening. But the problem is, the project was happening under the umbrella of Netflix. And according to a new interview with Damon Albarn, the real-life music frontman of the band, Netflix has gone and done a very Netflix thing: canceled the project.

This comes barely a month after one of Netflix’s most acclaimed animated original series, Inside Job, was canceled after only two seasons. Netflix canceling a critically-beloved show after two seasons is a tried and true tradition (I’ll never forgive you for Lady Dynamite, Netflix). But the Gorillaz and Inside Job cancelations come at a time when animated projects are getting canceled across the entire US film industry. Netflix canceled two other highly anticipated animated adaptations last year: Bone and Wings of Fire.

In the second half of the year, a hectic merger between Warner Bros. and Discovery caused several beloved animated series, including Infinity Train, getting unceremoniously pulled from streaming, while many other shows and projects in development were canceled. There was a second where it felt like going on Twitter meant seeing another animator I love announce with a broken heart that their project in development at Cartoon Network had been cut.

The four fictional members of Gorillaz—2D, Noodle, Murdoc, and Russel—and the music “they” release have remained internationally beloved for over two decades. You’d think a band with literally millions of fans would be an easy sell for a film deal. The news about the Gorillaz movie was one of the incredibly few good things which happened in 2020. This news hurts. Especially when you learn the history behind it and who else was working on it.

Tracing the history of the Gorillaz film that’s been killed once again

The history of Gorillaz’s attempts to get on the silver screen go back to around 2001, when Jamie Hewlett—the mastermind behind the band’s cartoon side—started working with Dreamworks on a film called Celebrity Harvest. However, he disagreed with Dreamworks’ desire to make Gorillaz “family-friendly” (good for him!), so the project fell apart. What’s fascinating is that the movie was far enough along that a ton of artwork and even some music were generated for it. There’s a full script out there, somewhere. They were apparently rubbing elbows with Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam about it.

Throughout the next 15 years, the Gorillaz team never quite gave up on the idea of a film. In fact, they seemed continually attracted to the idea. After Hewlett and Albarn worked on the 2007 opera Journey to the West, Hewlett talked about something called Carousel, which Hewlett explained in 2008: “Originally it was a film but now we think it’s a film and it’s a stage thing as well. Damon’s written around 70 songs for it, and I’ve got great plans for the visuals.”

Finally, in 2017, some concrete news arose: there would be a ten-episode Gorillaz TV show. Yet, the project grew and grew, and turned into a film. We knew officially that Netflix Animation was involved in 2020—although that speculation had started two years earlier.

Who was involved with the Gorillaz film?

The TV show was originally going to be tied to Gorillaz’ 2016 comeback (?) album Humanz and act kind of like a talk show. But Hewlett realized he didn’t want the project explicitly tied to an album. Nothing about the planned plot of the film has been divulged.

However, Alex Hirsch, the creator of the spectacular show Gravity Falls, appears to have been on board for this project. For years, his Twitter bio has said that he’s “currently cooking up mischief at Netflix.” We still don’t know if Hirsch was writing the Gorillaz film, or directing it, or what. But it was a perfect match. A match too close to my wildest dreams to possibly be true. A match made in animation heaven, because Hirsch is well-versed in the frustration of a parent company shoving their idea of “family-friendly” down your throat. Knowing this iteration of Gorillaz will probably never come to light actively hurts my heart.

Jorge Gutierrez, the creator of the Nickelodeon show El Tigre, was also rumored to be involved. Gutierrez has being doing “‘dev things’ at Netflix” for some time.

Is the Gorillaz film really dead-dead?

Unfortunately, the film seems very dead. As told by Stereogum, Albarn broke the news in a recent interview, where he was promoting Gorillaz’ new album, Cracker Island. The film seems more than dead, the way Albarn tells it.

The new record came about because Jamie and I were often in Los Angeles. We were working on a Gorillaz feature film, which will never happen…Without naming names because the whole matter has not yet been settled: the streaming platform for which we were making the film has withdrawn. They started to panic because they were making too much content and decided to cut back on their movie offerings. And, as has been classic Hollywood practice for decades, the guy we were working with has moved on to another company. From then on you have lost your guardian angel, and there seems to be a bad smell hanging on you. Hollywood is quite territorial: if a new guy comes along, he must and will have a different opinion, even if he secretly agrees with his predecessor.

Obviously, the “streaming platform” is Netflix. These are the words of a man who’s been through the Hollywood rigamarole before and had a bad time then, too. To hear him say a Gorillaz feature film “will never happen” cuts like a knife. But it seems like he and Hewlett have had enough with Hollywood politics yanking their chain. I can’t blame them, but it makes me shake a fist at the universe.

At least Gorillaz fans have something else to look forward to. Their new album, Cracker Island, is out on February 24, 2023, on Parlophone. And the two music videos which have been released have been quite … cinematic.

(featured image: Nexus Studios / Gorillaz)

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Kirsten (she/her) is a musician, audio person, writer, and nerd. When not talking about One Piece or Zelda (among other anime and games), she's finding surprising ways to play the guitar.