Sunday, April 02, 2006

Feature Animation Overload?

It's ironic that the Sunday edition of DAILY VARIETY has a front page headline: "Studios fret that CGI toons are at a saturation point" on the day when Ice Age 2 is going to make Fox some heavy coin... VARIETY has a habit of wringing its hands about too much cgi feature animation in the market place. In November 2004, it ran an article about the boom times of cgi animation coming to an end, and all that's happened since is one CGI hit after another. The trades need something to write about, I guess, but it's always amusing when a 'think piece' comes out over too much animated product. When was the last time you say DAILY VARIETY worry over too many live action films? ("The audience is going to get fatigued over seeing all that real life-type stuff up on a sixty foot screen! It can't go on!") And of course, fingers are always pointed at the sagging results of hand-drawn features a decade ago, and comparisons are made to the current abundance of product. But I have a radical notion. Animated features didn't go into the tank in the late nineties because of a "glut." Animated features lost market share because there were fewer good ones being made. I mean, everyone knows the Disney features that were made at the start of the nineties: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King. But what were the Disney animated flicks that rolled out at the end? Got to think about it, don't you? But now, let's go back to the early nineties again. Tucked away among that Disney honor roll is another title. It's The Rescuers Down Under, and hardly anybody ever mentions it. Rescuers 2, you see, was the Disney mutant from the early nineties. It was the ONE animated feature -- in amongst Little Mermaid, Beauty and all those others, that didn't get the turnstiles spinning. And why didn't it? Because it...ahm...wasn't very good. Oh, it was beautifully animated, and Disney's brand new CAPs system was in bright display, but it was basically a retread of the first Rescuers, and not a very good retread at that. You see, at the end of the day, if your movie doesn't have a compelling story, you probably have an underperformer on your hands. I'm surprised VARIETY didn't start beating out a funeral dirge went Rescuers Down Under was released. Something along the lines of "End of the Road for Disney Animated Hits?" Would have made great copy. Problem is, it would have been just as misleading as the headline in today's paper. People will flock to all the animated features you can make, if you make them GOOD.

6 comments:

Kevin Koch said...

Earlier on this blog I posted a list of all the CG-animated features coming out this year (here) to make pretty much the same point. Some of these films will tank. But it won't be because the audience is sick of the technique. It'll be because they won't pay good money for films that don't excite and interest them.

Steven E. Gordon said...

I have an even more questionable theory about CG animation.
The general public doesn't hold 3D in the same category as 2D. They view them as several steps closer to live-action and without the same stigma as 2D (as a children's medium) and I think, to a large degree, the early success of Toy Story 1 and Shrek had a lot to do with this.
If some of Pixar's films like Bug's Life and Monster's Inc had come out first it might have been a different story.

I also think it has a lot to do with the medium. As much as most in the animation community prefer 2D I think the general audiences feel less jarred with 3D.


Of course, I could be wrong, but who's gonna prove me wrong ;)

Congrats to all involved with Ice Age 2!!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Ice Age 2 isn't very good. good animation, technically competent, but the story was flimsy at best...

however, the audience and the kids mostly, still ate it up with applause and laughter throughout. I was mostly pleased by the squirrel's antics, but everything else was bland and I couldn't find myself caring about many fo the characters.

I'm stumped. there might be more to some film's success than a good story... Maybe just getting an audience to laugh and forget their troubles for an hour and a half is enough?

Tom Dougherty said...

It is weird to have the warning flag raised, but there are an awful lot of CG movies coming up, and "An awful lot" is a way to describe the quality, from what we've seen. There are always some gems, but there is more terrible CG animation being produced now than there ever was traditional cel animation. It's cheaper to make a cheap, theatrically released CG feature than a mid to low grade hand drawn feature, and with a small, small staff, a low budgeter can make a tub of undeserved money.

I hope- pray, really- that this herd is thinned by the Valiants and the Wilds released out there, but since even the spectacularly terrible Hoodwinked found an audience, I suspect that things won't turn around too soon.

Kevin Koch said...

Tom, so far the "really cheap CG features" have a terrible batting average, and I think the thinning out of that end of the industry is already happening.

I don't think Hoodwinked has yet managed to make back what the Weinsteins put into marketing alone. Valiant and Jonah a VeggieTales Movie both tanked, taking Vanguard and Big Ideas out of the feature game. DNA seems to already be bracing for the worst by, from the accounts I've heard, by virtually completely shutting down when Ant Bully wraps. Doogal was another dud that will make it that much harder to get something low budget going in the near future.

Steven, I completely agree with your assessment. At least so far, the adult audience is much more willing to got to CG features. We'll have to see if that continues to hold true after this year.

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