Monday, April 17, 2006
The weekend estimates for The Wild indicate a fourth place finish and less than $10 million (half of what Ice Age 2 made in it's third weekend). This is well below the forecasts I saw, and likely indicates a final domestic tally in the $30-40 million range... What does that mean for us in the animation industry? First, a digression. I divide feature animation into three production categories. There are the high-end domestic productions (mostly in California, but Blue Sky fits here, too), the super-cheap, primarily outsourced productions (Hoodwinked is the prototype), and the films in no-mans-land trying to straddle those two realms. We all know the films in the first category (by Pixar, DreamWorks/PDI, Disney Feature, Blue Sky, and soon Sony Pictures Animation) have a near-perfect record of success. No matter how films by smaller studios perform, these major players are going to stay the course. The second category is relatively new, and might have some promise, but clearly has tremendous risk. If you want to make a feature very, very cheaply, you'll need a lot of up-front time, energy, talent, and luck. And even then you'll need some decent financing to get to the point of attracting a distributor. The Wild falls into the third category. It was initiated as part of Eisner's shotgun approach to try to find a replacement for Disney's Pixar deal. Films in this category have fairly substantial budgets, and attract some good talent, but they clearly aren't in the big leagues (examples include Valiant, Jimmy Neutron, the upcoming Everyone's Hero, The Barnyard, The Ant Bully). The Wild falls in this category. I don't mean this to be insulting to these films or the people who make them -- I just think it's undeniable that these films don't have the same resources available. And I think this is the category that's going to suffer the most from the market shakeout that we're all expecting. The public won't say, "Hey this film only cost $40-60 million, not the $80-100+ million the majors spend, so let's give it a chance." They will simply continue to go to films that look really appealing, and ignore films that aren't. And making animated features is so labor intensive, and fraught with difficulty, that it's hard to cut the budget by tens of millions and not end up with something that looks bargain basement. So I think we're coming into a feature market that's close to all or nothing. Either make a film for a song, so your risk is minimal, or commit to spending a fortune on your infrastructure and your talent, so you can get every element right. The bar has been set too high, and these productions are just too expensive, to go part way and have a chance with an audience.
Posted by Kevin Koch at 12:02 PM