Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Feature Animation Year In Review

With only a few days left in the year, now seems a good time to take a look back. As we've been tracking all year, 2006 had an unprecedented number of major animated feature films released, and a particularly amazing number of CG features (12 this year, compared to five last year, four in 2004, and one in 2003). Because of this, lots of people have been speculating that this was the year CG animation would hit the wall, the way hand-drawn features did a few years ago, and we'd be awash in major animated busts. Cue the funeral dirge . . .

But stop the music, and take a look at a list of the box-office leaders for the year. What's that? Four of the top eight films in 2006 were fully animated? (And we'll note that animators had a big hand in three of the remaining four on that list.). . .

There's Cars at number two, then Ice Age: The Meltdown, Over the Hedge, and Happy Feet (the latter with a bullet) in slots six, seven, and eight, respectively. So if the public got sick of these films, they had a pretty odd way of showing it.

Below those hits, there were a surprising number of films that put up midrange numbers. Feature animation has tended to be feast or famine, with films either hitting big or flopping badly, but this year there were five films that made between $58 and $83 million. Given that the domestic box office makes up only around one eighth of the revenue stream for most animated features (foreign box office is another eighth, worldwide video/dvd is about half, and pay tv/broadcast tv/merchandising/etc. makes up the last quarter), that's not too bad.

Because I enjoy crunching numbers, I've added up the total number of films, and the total domestic box office, for the last few years:

Year -- # of Features (CG) -- total domestic box office 2006 --- 16 (12) --- $1,207 million 2005 --- 10 (5) ---- $ 659 million 2004 --- 12 (4) ---- $1,200 million 2003 --- 10 (1) ---- $ 579 million

I may have missed a minor release or two, and there's one more film to be released in '06 (Arthur and the Invisibles), so the 2006 numbers aren't final. But they do show that this year was a very good year overall for feature animation, and that the audience appetite for our work remains high.

And let's be frank, it wasn't like any of this year's films exactly hit a nerve with the public the way films like Shrek 2 and Finding Nemo and The Lion King have in the past. If you look at all this year's films on Rotten Tomatoes, you see that there wasn't a single film that scored as high as 80% "fresh." Imagine how huge the 2006 numbers would have been if at least a few films had been real crowd pleasers and instant classics?!

Looking ahead, 2007 will probably feature more variety, fewer releases, and perhaps more potential for some huge hits. It looks like it's going to be another good year. And while this year will probably always be remembered as the year of the CG glut, it won't be remembered as the year that the audiences got fed up with animation, CG or otherwise.


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