Sunday, February 18, 2007

Weekend Animation News Roundup

Time once more for articles of lasting interest...detailing some of the happenings over the past week in the 'toon and cgi animation biz:

First up: the Big Mouse lost a round last week in its ongoing battle over Winnie the Pooh royalites. On Thursday last, a copyright lawsuit seeking to end Disney's royalty obligations to the Slesingers of Beverly Hills was tossed out of court:

"The court specifically indicated in its order that Disney's claims against the Slesingers were inappropriate and improper," said Barry Slotnick, an attorney for the Slesingers. "We plan to ask Disney to pay us billions of dollars in compensatory and general damages."

Not so fast, said Daniel Petrocelli, an attorney for Disney, who noted that it was Disney that had come away the big winner in a pivotal battle in the long-running legal saga.

In 2004, a state court judge threw out the Slesingers' 1991 breach-of-contract lawsuit against Disney after finding misconduct on the part of the family. That judge accused the Slesingers of trying to gain an edge in the litigation by stealing confidential Disney documents from the company's trash, and then lying and altering court papers to cover up the thefts.

On Friday, Petrocelli downplayed the Slesingers' ability to parlay Thursday's ruling into an award for damages.

"The ruling has no bearing on Disney's rights to Pooh nor does it affect the judgment that Disney won, throwing out the Slesingers' state court case with prejudice," he said.

Petrocelli refers to Disney's earlier state-court win where a Slesinger lawsuit was jettisoned because of some unseemly rummaging around in dumpsters. But how much will be paid to who remains to be seen (no settlement seems in sight)...

As Pooh percolates along, Disney-ABC is going after the diaper and pre-school set with some of its older characters not created by A.A. Milne::

Disney has introduced a whole new generation to Mickey and its other core characters (Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy, et. al) via the toddler-targeted Disney Channel skein "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse."

It's a money move on Disney's part: The munchkins who fall in love with Mickey today will be the kids who clamor to visit Disneyland tomorrow. In turn, those tweens will become the teens who wear Mickey-branded merchandise and then adults who spawn Mickey-loving kids of their own.

"No question this is the most beloved and important character to the Disney company," says Disney Channel Worldwide entertainment prexy Gary Marsh. "Certainly, the conversation internally has been trying to, if not reinvent, then reintroduce Mickey to this new generation. Our goal is, in success, that this character will be exposed to 500 million people."

Mickey's rebirth as a character for the under-5 set is paying off: Earlier this month, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" posted its best ratings yet among kids 2-5, improving the channel's "Playhouse Disney" block by almost 40% vs. last year. Show regularly finishes in the top 10 basic cable rankings with the high-chair demo.

And as the #2 conglomerate focuses on the high-chair demographic, conglom #1 (Time-Warner) goes after the young adult "Comedy Central" crowd:

In the many-stationed world of cable television, where every niche channel is an isolated island or remote valley, new species of programs are born and new forms emerge.

When Ted Turner had the idea to recycle cartoons from the massive film and TV libraries that he had acquired and use them for a 24-hour, all-animated network, he surely could not have imagined that he was creating the soup from which would crawl Adult Swim. That programming block of funny-strange and even antisocial series now occupies 45 hours a week of Cartoon Network real estate and consistently leads ad-supported cable stations in delivering to advertisers the prized youth demographics.

But success, even the iconoclastic kind, always establishes a code, and there is now a recognizable Adult Swim aesthetic, and new shows are created in its image.

"Adult Swim" on Cartoon Network has been a commercial success for a while now. Sometime back, studio head Brian Miller related to me how Family Guy took off like a rocket when CN picked it up for its "AS" nighttime block and Fox took notice. Then FG dvds started selling like hotcakes, Rupert M.'s company put the show back into production, and the rest, as we say, is a Major Revenue Stream...

Off on the other side of the globe, Indian cgi animation -- which accounts for low-budget fare like Mickey's Clubhouse, the upcoming My Friends Tigger and Pooh and Tinker Bell, is working on domestic product:

The fledgling Indian animation film industry is on an unprecedented roll: according to trade projections, the sector is well set to touch the $ 1 billion mark by the year 2010, accounting for one-sixth of the total size of the Indian entertainment business...

The growth, say industry players, has been hastened by the fact that the once pure outsourcing model is being increasingly supplemented by original intellectual property creation, especially by the bigger producers in the segment...

At least four full-length Indian animated features are lined up for release in 2007. Percept Picture Company is developing a sequel to Hanuman, the 2D animation film that threw the sluice gates open two years ago. Two other mythology-inspired animated features, Krishna and Ghatotkach, are also scheduled to hit the multiplexes this year...

On the animation-live action front, Fox VARIETY reports how Fox is delighted with its latest blockbuster Night at the Museum. It might have gotten laclkustre reviews, but audiences around the world have flocked to it. (Makes you wonder why it spent ten years in development hell...)

After spending a pokey 10 years in development, Fox's "Night at the Museum" opened Dec. 22 to dreadful reviews and a nice but hardly astonishing $42 million. Rival studios considered it a risky bet overseas, where U.S. family comedies often have a dodgy time.

But the pic has proven a surprising success story, expected to near $500 million worldwide. Domestically, it has remained in the top 5 for a whopping eight weeks, and overseas it has maintained a torrid pace, hitting No. 1.

The success story is a mixture of sticking to proven formulas -- and defying others....

Have a jolly three-day weekend.


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