Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Fifteen Years

Guess whose birthday it is?

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the theatrical release of Antz.

What makes that somewhat important is that it is the 15th anniversary of DreamWorks Animation DWA as the Woody Allen bug comedy heralded the arrival of what was intended to be a major competitor to Disney. DreamWorks SKG was co-founded by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1994 after Katzenberg bolted from Disney following power struggles with Michael Eisner. ... The irony of the last fifteen years is how DWA slowly transformed from the representative of “edgy”, more adult animated product to (perhaps unfairly) what defines what is most safe and conformist about mainstream theatrical animated films.

Antz and The Prince Of Egypt were both intended to be marked contrasts to the conventional Disney cartoon. Both had PG ratings (back when you had to really earn your PG for an animated film), full of violence and adult subject matter, and both were markedly more adult than general audiences were used to. Antz was of course the “edgier” bug cartoon of 1998, preceding Pixar’s G-rated A Bug’s Life by about six weeks. A Bug’s Life out-grossed Antz $162 million to $90m and the very expensive The Prince Of Egypt slowly crawled to $100m domestic, but the first shot was fired. ...

You might remember that John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were furious about Ants. They considered it a rip-off of A Bug's Life, and thought that Jeffrey Katzenberg had stolen a march on their project.

I think the two movies are considerably different from one another, that studios imitate one another as a matter of course, so what, exactly, is the big deal. But, of course, I don't have pride of authorship, so maybe I'm more ... ahm ... emotionally distant.

But I would argue that Scott Mendelson's criticism of DreamWorks Animation as a purveyor of kiddie fare is a bit unfair. Sure, the company relies on hit "wacky animal" movies, but Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon, Spirit, Prince of Egypt, or even The Croods are a long way from being simply eye candy for moppets. (I would also say that Over the Hedge is one of the most under-rated "adorable animal" movies in the DWA portfolio, but that's me.)

DreamWorks Animation, like most studios, has had its share of artistic "misses," but I would say the same thing about Pixar. Wall-E is one-half inspired movie-making, and one half 2001 with fat people. Cars I & II are beautifully rendered and executed, and pretty much eye candy for moppets.

The difference between Pixar and DreamWorks Animation is that DWA has owned some commercial failures; Pixar, by contrast, has had none of those.

2 comments:

Grant said...

All I remember is it was all brown and ugly. And terribly unfunny. That said, it was a SMIDGEN better than that train wreck bomb prince of egypt.

Steven Gordon said...

Though the revisionist history seems to be very strong with Pixar, Bug's Life was actually less than a box office smash.
With a 'released' budget of 120 kill and a domestic BO of only 162 mill that doesn't say smash hit. Not to mention Cars2 at a bidget of 200 mill and a BO of 191 mill (though toy sales makes that one a moot point, but BL has never been a big toy seller)
But, I guess it's true...the winners can write history any way they want

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