Why animated films are the UK’s favourite – and why that’s not likely to change
America’s Fox television network calls its Sunday night schedule “Animation Domination”. That would make a good label for the current state of the British box office. In 2013 animation became the top-grossing film genre at UK cinemas, making almost £250million, a fifth of total box office takings. We shouldn’t be surprised.
Animation’s present popularity is built on solid and clearly identifiable foundations. The easiest way for a film to be enormously popular is for it to appeal to everyone who goes to the cinema. Films that truly are “for all the family” have a far larger potential audience than those that only appeal to one demographic. Animation plays well with the largest group of UK filmgoers – people aged seven to 24 – but its appeal stretches far beyond the young.
Many of the current crop of animated films – such as the widely adored Lego Movie – appeal as strongly to parents (and even grandparents) as they do to children. These films don’t have adults begrudgingly chaperoning children at the cinema on spare afternoons in the school holidays; they have them marching their sons and daughters to queue up on opening day.
And these pan-generational audiences are loyal. One of the most reliable laws of 21st-century movie-going is that sequels make more money than original films – and many major animated movies have become dependable franchises. Despicable Me 2, the most popular film in the UK last year, was a sequel. It will be followed by a second sequel, Despicable Me 3, in 2017. And next year will bring a spin-off, The Minions. ...
This is a trend that's been developing for a while. And the big entertainment conglomerates -- none of them particularly slow on the uptake -- have moved into long-form animation with energy and focus. (World grosses can be persuasive. And as an added bonus, there aren't any high-powered profit participants.)
Chris Meledandri, the exec behind the Despicable Me/Minions franchise, understands that animated features have to own simple, clearly articulated stories ... and characters that pop off the screen into audiences' laps. Disney understood that (and pioneered the concept), Lasseter knows it, Jeffrey Katzenberg knows it on his good days. And Mr. Meledandri has demonstrated he has picked up the concept in a career that reaches back to Anastasia and Titan A.E. when he (apparently) didn't have a full grasp of the idea.
When the basic format isn't followed and/or executed well ("What's this movie ABOUT? Who's our likable protagonist?" etcetera) lackluster box office occasionally results.