Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cannibalizing the Release Slates

A fine trade paper relates:

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, "This will be the strongest summer for animation ever."

In a normal summer, having Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University would be more than enough animated fuzzy-wuzziness to satiate audiences. But when you throw in Epic, Turbo and Planes (and Smurfs 2 for good measure), suddenly the high-stakes animation race has never been so crowded. By the time summer 2013 is done at the multiplex, Hollywood will have the answer to a billion-dollar question: Is there enough audience to go around? ...

The unprecedented glut of product points to a seismic shift in the animation business as new players such as Universal and Sony finally gain a stronghold and established companies like DreamWorks Animation, Fox, Disney Animation Studios and Pixar up their games. ...

Late last month, Pixar and Disney Animation chief creative officer John Lasseter essentially declared war on Katzenberg by dating a slew of untitled Pixar and Disney Animation Studios films through 2018, going so far as to claim June 17, 2016, even though DWA already had put How to Train Your Dragon 3 there. Never before have a Pixar and DWA movie gone up against one another. Katzenberg and Fox, where Vanessa Morrison heads up Fox Animation Studios, retaliated by flooding the calendar through 2018 with their own untitled films, even planting one on June 16, 2017, a Pixar date. ...

Historically the current glut has some (faint, mild) precedent. In 1940, the Fleischer brothers released Gulliver's Travels and Disney released Pinocchio on top of each other. And in the nineties, several studios attempted to replicate Disney's red-hot run of blockbuster animated features (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King) and pretty much fell on their corporate faces. (But for forty-eight months or so, there was a lot of competition.)

CG animation has been something else again. Lots of studios have jumped into the game and lots of studios have succeeded at marketing their animated offspring. Disney, DreamWorks, Universal, Sony ... all of them have produced major hits.

So the field of elbow-throwing competitors has now widened and grown deeper, and the release schedules have become more crowded. And here we are, with a busload of animated features rolling down the summer turnpike. (The Reporter failed to mention Cloudy with a Chance of Meataballs 2, which hits in September, but that isn't exactly a summer release, now is it?)

The real question is: How many films can succeed in one three-month stretch? And will the feature animation business start devouring some of its own?


Jamil R. Lahham said...

The end is nearing...I can almost smell it

Kevin Koch said...

A few weeks ago I threw away a couple of yellowed news articles from the trades and the LA Times, all decrying the 'glut' of animated features and how it would surely spell the doom of feature animation. There were all written eight to 12 years ago. Rereading them, the articles seemed quaint, but at the time the writers (and numerous industry experts) were sure that the public would never stand for 2 or 3, and later 5 or 6, animated features being released in the same year. Doom was upon us!

We've gone from a time when there was one successful animated feature every 3-4 years (always a Disney film), to several successful films a year, to several successes a season. What the public has shown is, if the film is well done and entertaining, they'll pay to see it again and again, even if there are other films in the multiplexes.

My educated guess is that many of these films will do well if they are done well, and the clinkers will tank. And if two or three cartoons in a row tank, then the doomsayers will finally be sure they were right all along.

Steve Hulett said...

This is a wee bit like saying: "There are too many live-action films released."

Yeah, there probably are too many live-action films released, but the studios are going to continue to release them.

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