Virtual Reality and its growing popularity are changing our basic assumptions as to what constitutes mainstream entertainment. Baobab Studios is, whether they realize it or not, helping define what that new entertainment baseline is going to be as we move forward into the new decade. This is especially true as, for better or worse, movie theaters are shuttering in the wake of the Great Pandemic. All that talent won’t just sit there, or evaporate. There’s too much momentum behind it all, and it has to go somewhere.

We think we know where it’s going. Virtual reality headsets are the new television, combining passive visual and audio media with the casual gaming experience enjoyed on the phones and tablets of the most recent generation of consumers.

Here is a teaser trailer for Baba Yaga. It’s being billed as a VR experience, but it has some gaming elements in that player choices determine the outcome of the story. Pause the stream at the upper right and watch.

To make entertainment that stands tall enough to fill the space left vacant by theatrical films unable to reach their theaters, one needs all the skills and powers of a major studio. Baobab is one such studio.

Directed and written by Baobab Studios co-founder Eric Darnell (Madagascar franchise, Antz) and co-directed by Mathias Chelebourg, BABA YAGA stars Oscar® winner Kate Winslet (The Reader, and the upcoming film Ammonite), Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Ophelia), Oscar and three-time Grammy® winner Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls, and the upcoming Aretha Franklin biopic Respect), and three-time Golden Globe® winner and seven-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close (The Wife, Albert Nobbs).

The VR immersive experience is a contemporary portrayal of the Eastern European legend breathed to life with illustrative 2D pop-up animation, as well as hand-drawn and stop-motion styles, creating a modern visual language for VR inspired by classic animation. Leveraging the studio’s award-winning animation pioneers and interactive gaming veterans, BABA YAGA blends theater, cinema, interactivity, AI, and animation into a unique experience that explores themes of empowerment and environmentalism. BABA YAGA is executive produced by Jennifer Hudson, Maureen Fan, Larry Cutler, and Kane Lee.

In BABA YAGA, viewers will be invited as a main character into a haunting fairytale world completely reimagined, and their choices could determine the ending of this story of love, fortitude and magic. Sometimes a force for evil, sometimes a force for good, the enigmatic witch Baba Yaga (Winslet) uses her powers to stop the villagers whose settlement encroaches upon her enchanted Forest (Hudson). When the viewer’s mother, the Chief (Close), falls deathly ill, it is up to them and their sister Magda (Ridley) to do the unthinkable—enter the forbidden rainforest, uncover its hidden mysteries and get the cure from Baba Yaga. Ultimately, every decision the viewer makes matters … perhaps even whether humanity and nature can live in balance. 

We are still in the early days of VR, sadly. One size does not fit all, and content is available on this branded unit or that one on a strictly arbitrary basis – until more broad distribution methods level the playing field. Thus, BABA YAGA will be available only on Oculus Quest early 2021. 

While this gives people an incentive to buy an Oculus Quest, it also locks the content away from what is currently the vast majority of the VR consumer market. Producers are going to want to reach the broadest audience possible, without the artifice of branded platform between them and the money they want to make, so we predict that within five years, these barriers will begin to drop.

Directed/Written by:        Eric Darnell

  • Co-directed by:                 Mathias Chelebourg  
  • Cast:                                 Kate Winslet, Daisy Ridley, Jennifer Hudson, Glenn Close 
  • Executive Produced by:        Jennifer Hudson, Maureen Fan, Larry Cutler, and Kane Lee
  • Produced by:                   Maureen Fan, Nathaniel Dirksen, Jeremiah Graves
  • Distributor:                       Baobab Studios  
  • Instagram & Twitter: @BaobabStudios
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