Sunday, November 19, 2006

Stop the Presses! Glut Cancelled!

A funny thing happened on the way to the foregone conclusion that the public was sick of Computer-Animated Talking-Animal Pix . . . yet another CATAP dominated at the box office. All year Steve has been pointing out the dire and knowing and repetitive and superficial news articles decrying the supposed glut. It makes one wonder why these newspapers don't save some time and money and just keep reprinting the same article.

So this weekend, against all the expert's opinions, another CATAP put up huge numbers (as in a $42 million opening). Happy Feet bested James Bond, and it crushed the contention that we (the animation industry), had long ago maxed out our audience with too much product. . .

None of this is to say that making a CATAP is a guaranteed success. Lord knows they're ridiculously expensive and difficult to make, and there have been some genuine failures this year. But what have we really learned?

The conventional wisdom was that, for the viewing public, animation is animation. That they see all these films as a big, blurred whole. That's it's a zero-sum game at best, and if you put out too many animated films, they'll just cannibalize each other, or, worse, the audience will fatigue and ignore all of them. That, clearly, is false.

The real lesson is the same thing that many of us have been saying for a long time: Audiences respond to appealing movies, not to filmmaking techniques. Animation, whether CG or hand drawn or stop motion or some crazy combination, succeeds not because the audience is wowed by a new technology, but because a film promises to give them what they want for a couple of hours -- escape, excitement, entertainment, emotional catharsis, etc.

With animation, we have an ideal set of techniques to provide that. And based on the repeated successes of animated films this year, by a wide variety of studios, I have a feeling we'll get the chance to keep doing that for a while.


Anonymous said...

But...but...these are effing TALKING ANIMALS!

And EVERYBODY effing knows that NOBODY wants to see TALKING ANIMALS anymore!!

Unknown said...

What all these prognosticators seem to forget is that animation isn't a genre and it's obvious that audiences don't consider talking animal films one either. The audience will decide on a film by film basis! Just like they do with every other film.
Though Talking Penguin films sure seem to becoming a genre all its own.

Anonymous said...

Steve and Steve:
Please do not forget the little toasters, and that other stuff, that's next.

Anonymous said...

make a good film and if it happens to be with talking what! if its a good film or a story that people just want to see...they will go. period.

i have not seen Happy Feet. i dont even know if i will, but good for Warner Brothers! And this from a film made outside of

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I have a feeling that a lot of this "no more talking animals" buzz is coming from inside the industry, not just press. General audiences don't really care, but as an animation student, I've noticed that tons of animators want western animated features to "grow up" and explore. Including me. I don't mind talking animals, I don't mind the straightforward - sometimes repetitious - way of storytelling and types of stories, yet I wish something fresh, heartfelt, personal, or just something in a plain different genre could be released. Somehow, the press/analists caught on to this feeling, and thought they had the answer. It claimed audiences are bored and want something new. I believe, though, that it's actually the artists who wish to explore more, for their own satisfaction. Hoping that audiences will accept it and that they can keep on exploring. Simply cause it'd be more fulfilling creatively and artistically.

Anonymous said...

Don't underestimate the press. They'll find some way to tie this in to their "glut" story.

"Happy Feet took in a paltry 42 million, far less than Shrek 2's 108 million . . . ."

We saw it happen during Eisner's declining years. it ain't gonna stop now.

Anonymous said...

benjamin, how exactly is this penguin movie exploring anything? I haven't seen the thing, but something is telling me it isnt exploring much, and yet it still did well. Despite the fact that it is a talking animal movie. That is the point of all of this. That stories with talking animals have nothing to do with whether it does well or not. It is just the story itself.

I don't think anyone is really looking for more out of animation (in an overall sense, outside of a few artists or the few people in the press looking to bash animation, the bastard child of film). Mom and Dad and Kids are still looking for the same type of animated movies they have all been looking for. Talking animal movies. Just that the talking animal movies have been really lousy lately. Remember, the main audience in the US are KIDS and their parents.

BTW, it is a shame that this was the talking animal movie that did well. Considering it is mocrap. Maybe the story is really great, but I hate to think that producers will be equating $$$ with mocrap.

Anonymous said...

The press is always pretending to know what the audience wants/needs and is often wrong.
They keep feeding us the latest on Tom's wedding and who Paris Hilton is dating and such. As if!!

All we can do as artist is to do our best.


Kevin Koch said...

I don't think Benjamin was claiming Happy Feet was exploring anything. I think he was suggesting that a lot of people close to the industry (and that may or may not include the the general public) would like to see a greater variety in animated features, both in style and substance. I think that's true, though in the past when studios have tried really hard to change things up, they also ended up making films that were amazingly unappealing.

I also don't think our primary audience is kids and their parents. The animated films that have succeded have all appealed widely to adults, and some, like the Shrek films, appeal more to adults than to kids.

Also, George Miller has made clear that mo-cap was used for the dancing, and not the rest of the film. From what I've read of his comments, mo-cap wasn't used for the acting and facial animation.

Anonymous said...

Well, unlike at least some of the negative commenters upthread, I actually saw Happy Feet this weekend.

I enjoyed it tremendously -- IMHO just about the best animated feature I've seen this year -- and I think it's a LOT more than just "another talking animals" movie. It does tend to shoot off in a lot of different directions, story-and tone-wise, but it has enough propulsion that it isn't a bumpy ride.

I also agree with the George Miller comment that Kevin quoted; although mocap may have been used for some of the dancing, it doesn't look like a mocap movie.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Yes, that's what I was trying to say. In simplified terms, something like this:
-> there happen to be many movies with similar themes/subjects, and as artists, we animators would like to do some different, fresh type of story
-> press says "hey, they're in the industry, they're the experts", so print that there's a glut
-> yet the audience is simply looking for good entertainment

Anonymous said...

bring on the talking animals. as long as they come with a really good story, i'm in and so is the rest of America.

Ming said...

What's wrong with talking animals? The story matters, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Name a single studio that does not have a story in progress or about to be released feature with talking animals in it? None. Because its all about the story. And animals are a lot of fun when your dealing with personality traits and not stereotype humans.

Bring on the next rat movie from Pixar.

Anonymous said...

I'll say this, I miss the animated films with some true drama in them. And not just heartfelt moments that a lot of the talking animal/comedy type films have, but the old-school disney style drama from Sleeping Beauty, Dumbo, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc. While we all have our own opinions of these films, they do stand out more so as dramas to me, or drama-edys, than what I have seen come out lately- over the top, light, gag-filled films featuring the latest in celebrity voices.

Anonymous said...

I guess the final domestic numbers for Happy Feet would be about 164 mil.

which would place it among the years top three grossing animated films.

pretty good for the first animated film from an australian studio.

maybe Sony should send it's staff over there for a crash course on "How to make a good first film"

Anonymous said...

I liked the film. Decent, not fabulous, animation, but quite good during the entertaining musical, dance numbers. The environmental message is effective, if a bit heavy-handed. The "follow your own path, be a non-conformist" message works fine as well. And there is another interesting theme of the Puritan-like North Americans vs. the Latin South-Americans (yes, I know the film tries to cover too much thematic territory, but it is all interesting). The voice cast is good, especially Robin Wiliams (and I am not a big fan usually). The cinematography looks great. All and all, much more interesting and entertaining than most computer animated films this year. Except for Flushed Away, the other computer animated films this year were pretty slow or flawed. Open Season had some fun cartoony animation, and Monster House had an effective plot, and the characters seemed less creepy looking than with the last motion capture film. But Cars just was slow--Pixar's worst film so far (although it looked good--but it needed more humor and thirty minutes cut). Over the Hedge didn't work for me. Ant Bully was forgettable. And the rest of the lot, the male cow film, etc., plain awful. So, it makes some sense that this film is doing well. Plus, that preview with the Robin Williams penguin singing really worked to spark interest. Flushed Away should be doing even better too, and would be, I think, if Dreamworks hadn't given up on it before they even released it.

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