Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Big New Feature Releases ... and Accompanying Risks

Yesterday at DreamWorks, an animator who's trying to work his way into a supervisor's slot asked whether he was better off staying with the company or going someplace else for career advancement. Since I don't have a good idea in what esteem the company holds him (or what his specific prospects for a promotion are), I gave him my semi-generic answer:

"The studio might like you a lot and want to boost you up the ladder, but I think a lot depends on how they're doing at the box office. If Kung Fu Panda does well, and Madagascar II knocks it out of the park, then there will be lots of production being done around here and they'll probably consider you for a higher position. Animation is a market-driven industry. The product does great, and employees usually do fine making more of it.

While we're on the subject of the industry booming or not booming, there are a cluster of upcoming animated projects forPixar/Disney, DreamWorks, and Fox, none of them sequels and all of them creative departures. And Daily Variety speculates on how each will do at the box office (and is being promoted):

Fox's "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!," DreamWorks' "Kung Fu Panda" and Pixar's "Wall-E" signify major departures for their respective studios. As such, marketing efforts have been under way since last summer to message each film's unique qualities to audiences.

"Horton," which opens Friday, marks the first adaptation from Blue Sky Animation, the team behind the "Ice Age" franchise. Since kids aren't likely to make this connection, Fox is pushing the fact that this beloved Dr. Seuss story boasts two A-list comedians, Jim Carrey and Steve Carell ...

[As regards DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda] with Jack Black voicing the title role, laughs would come naturally, but not at the expense of the epic feel [the directors] were trying to create: In a version of ancient China where humans never existed, five critters invent kung fu's key styles according to their unique animal qualities ... "We asked ourselves the question, 'What if Akira Kurosawa shot a Jerry Lewis movie?'"

Pixar's nearly dialogue-free "Wall-E" (June 27), a trash-compacting droid left behind on an uninhabitable Earth falls for a newer model beamed down from space. In the robot romance that ensues, the characters communicate primarily in a language hatched by Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt (the brains behind R2-D2)...

I don't think there's ever been a time when the health of the animation business didn't depend on animated television shows/features/commercials doing gangbuster business. The animation explosion in the early and mid-nineties was pretty much predicated on Disney's string of monster hits, the television renaissance occurred when prime time cartoon series and daytime animated blocks (Duck Tales, The Disney Afternoon) made buckets of money.

So, in your morning and evening prayers, express the fervent home that Horton, Panda and Wall*E set the box office turnstiles to spinning so fast that they burst into effing flames.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Since kids aren't likely to make this connection,..." Fox decided to sell out probably the greatest American cartoonist and surrender his legacy to the ADD of snappy A-list verbal masturbation, and condemn yet another animated film into certain irrelevance within five years.

And Pixar keeps pushing the envelope with a dialogue-free concept? There you go. That is why they are so successful, box office be damned. Pushing the envelope is what keeps the jobs coming - NOT SELLING THE FARM.

Floyd Norman said...

"Selling the farm" is what animation executives do.

What I find truly amazing is - - they don't seem to have a clue why Pixar is successful.

Anonymous said...

Simply, they load the deck to fill the seats and numb John Q with enough marketing novacaine to last the three weeks needed to claim box-office victory and secure their bonuses. By the time you realize they spent 150 million on a piece of shit, the DVD's are being air-dropped from B-1 bombers over Nicaragua.

Do you hear that Jim? - give the cat's hat back already and for once let my grandchildren hear their own voice when they read ABC books.

Anonymous said...

Well, so much for prayers, eh, Steve? You forgot the basic rule of most in this industry: if it's not Pixar it doesn't deserve to do business.
I just thank God that the people we really make these films for don't have the same tunnel vision that most people that post on this board do.
I dread a time when only Pixar can make money in the theaters.

Anonymous said...

I resent Horton Hears a Who being called a "150 million [dollar] piece of shit" since I worked on it, and I know the blood, sweat and tears that went into crafting this film from the creative side.

While I agree that nearly every film has flaws, this one still attempts to cut through the corporate Fox edicts and make something special. But you would know that since you've seen the film.

Right?

...

Right?

Anonymous said...

no ones calling horton a piece. the point is that as doped up on steroids that hollywood makes these things, it won't lose. it will win, but not for the right reasons, and to the benefit of the wrong people first, in their pockets, and likely in their pockets off the top within the first three weeks.

more in theirs - ie, less in yours, the artist. and the credit goes to the guy on the junket interview circuit appearing on larry king - because he's the one on larry king.

Steve Hulett said...

Well, so much for prayers, eh, Steve? You forgot the basic rule of most in this industry: if it's not Pixar it doesn't deserve to do business.

Au contraire. Pixar isn't the only studio doing quality animation. And at the risk of sounding sacreligious, some Pixar features are less than total works of genius.

Anonymous said...

"You forgot the basic rule of most in this industry: if it's not Pixar it doesn't deserve to do business."

Actually I was being sarcastic in stating what many of the dolts (and those that should know better)around here espouse. I couldn't agree with you more with what you said. Unfortunately that statement is considered blasphemy around these parts.
To reiterate: thankfully the public doesn't agree with the Pixies.

Bob & Rob "Professional American Writers" said...

Thanks for the nice sentiment, Steve. Look forward to seeing how this all shakes out. It really is going to be an interesting test for these films.

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robiscus said...

"And Pixar keeps pushing the envelope with a dialogue-free concept? There you go."

EXACTLY.

if you pitched the Wall-E story to Jeffrey Katzenberg and his "brain" trust tomowoore they would shoot it down for featuring a non speaking character. "what? we can't have that! the audience won't know how to take it. a non speaking character has never worked before!"

translated - they are too chickenshit to take a risk or challenge the audience. yet, Wall-E will make more money than any of the watered down low brow features they have so many talented artists wasting their time on. Pxar is a real studio that creates movies and Dreamworks is a hollywood cookie cutter studio that panders to the lowest common denominator audience.


hell, if Jaws had never been made and you pitched it to Dreamworks, they would argue that there has to be more of the shark revealed - and earlier in the film. they have shown repeatedly that they won't take risks and without doing so, their movies aren't worth my time or money.

who really cares about what Dreamworks makes?

Anonymous said...

Hey, numbnuts, I guess you forgot Spirit. That wasn't chancy was it? God, I hate these Pixies!!! They're every bit as bad as the Bluthies used to be!!!

Anonymous said...

Pixar isn't the only great gig in town, but they do know how to surprise us. That's what people and audiences follow.

Every studio is capable of this. They have surprises within those walls every day - incredible ones! But their marketing depts are completely unable to put the surprise above the marketing - they are the anti-surprise people. They don't like surprises. They can't stand them. They suck on their Wall Street crystal balls like binkys.

Boo! It's a hit.
Boo! It's a failure.

Will Wall-E be a hit or tank? Boo!

It doesn't matter. It's a surprise.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't tell from the marketing of Horton that it was Dr. Seuss, which is really weird. I thought they license from storybook establishment for the name, history, legitimacy, built in audience, etc. From looking at the side of a bus, I recognize that the makers of Ice Age have a new cute animal movie about an elephant and a little guy who are Jim C. and Steve C. Is it reverse sideways kind-of-a-surprise marketing? Why not just slap the cover of the original storybook on there? Didn't they pay for that, too?

Killroy McFate said...

Evidently the Pixies are drinking a superior brand of Kool-Aid than the Bluthies ever did.

Anonymous said...

Could be...what flavor is that kool-aid, Floyd?

Anonymous said...

So, I'm guessing from the anti-consumerism message in Wall-E that Disney/Pixar will not create all types of merchandise based on this film that will eventually clutter the planet. If they did that wouldn't that kind of make them hypocrites...?

Bolivar Butt said...

Can't speak for Pixar, but the Kool-Aid flavor down at D'works is definitely "Sour Grapes".

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling Mr Butt doesn't understand what is meant by 'kool-aid'...

Anonymous said...

"translated - they are too chickenshit to take a risk or challenge the audience. yet, Wall-E will make more money than any of the watered down low brow features they have so many talented artists wasting their time on."

Exactly! Just like Ratatouille made more than Shrek the Third, The Incredibles made more than Shrek 2, Monsters Inc. made more than Shrek 1 ...

Oh, wait ...

Anonymous said...

-but they did make more money because they didn't dump cash into Bee Movie, Flushed Away, Shark Tale etc. without any real returns.

If Dreamworks had only made the Shrek series then you'd have a point, but there is a long line of dismal half ass releases they have put out which will soon have the addition of Kung Fu Panda.

Anonymous said...

robiscus, you're an idiot.

Anonymous said...

Isn't fun messing with the Pixies...they get their panties in such a bunch.

robiscus said...

no, the idiots are the guys who helmed Kung Fu Panda which is why the production had to endure rewrite after rewrite to the point where Jack Black completely lost faith in the project and had to be brought back on board by Jeffrey Katzenberg himself.

last time i checked Pixar doesn't invest in fart jokes whereas Dreamworks has established their own cottage industry of catering to the lowest common denominator of audiences. naming the Aardman film "Flushed Away" and using a giant toilet as a promotional stunt was not just a low point, it sent the brilliant Nick Park packing. i look forward to the next Wallace & Grommit feature.

i don't really care about any upcoming Dreamworks releases. its a shame because their artists are all immensely talented.

Anonymous said...

Wow...someone who knows what's inside Jack Black and Nick park's head. I think we've found the answer to all our problems...what's inside George Lucas' head?

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