Saturday, May 26, 2007

Animation Links Extravaganza

And it's another links festival for another weekend...

The Hollywood Reporter observes that the Age of Monster Tentpole is upon us, and will be around for years to come:

Thomas Mallory's hoary observation about the "lusty month of May" also applies to the global boxoffice, with summer tentpoles now staking out their day-and-date claims to the month with unprecedented gusto.

Internationally, the May syndrome received a major lift early this month when Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 3" set all-time international opening records of $176.6 million for a conventional weekend opening and $231 million for a six-day blast.

DreamWorks Animation/Paramount's animated sequel "Shrek the Third" got off the ground in four international markets this past weekend. Then, on Wednesday, Disney/BVI's third film in the "Pirates" franchise, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," lifts off in France and explodes around the globe by the end of next week.

There's a new French animated feature that sounds like a rib-tickler, growing up in "Mullah-ridden Iran":

"Persepolis" is an animated feature by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud based on Satrapi's graphic novel about her growing up in Mullah-ridden Iran during the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. The young woman, who now lives in Paris, paints a grim picture, one familiar to those of us in the West but one that many Iranians and Islamic fundamentalists will no doubt vehemently reject.

The drawings themselves are plain, generalized and almost entirely in black-and-white. Perhaps Satrapi and Paronnaud feared that if the animation were more vital and realistic, the film would become too cartoonish and vulgar. Perhaps they're right. But as animation, "Persepolis" is fairly uninteresting, its characters' facial features not conveying much individuality.

Satrapi's dramatic young life so far has been anything but uninteresting. The film should attract those interested in women's issues and politics in specialty venues. But Sony Pictures Classics will have to market hard to reach out to adult moviegoers beyond those categories in North America.

Disney top-kick Robert Iger was in Anaheim last Monday holding forth about the Disney Company and the movie biz:

On the future of the movie theater: "I got myself in the headlines a couple years ago by making comments about making DVDs available at the same time that movies were available in movie theaters. What I really meant was I thought that we had to listen to the consumer and make content available more aggressively, which meant that I thought at the time that the window, meaning the time that movies are in theaters, would probably collapse and should collapse.

"I actually believe that the movie-going experience, when you go into a theater with a number of other people and see it on a big screen, is a good experience and an important experience for the business, and I don't think that should go away. And I believe it actually should be protected in a few ways. One, we should all be working as an industry to make the product more compelling, which means everything from digital theaters, digital cinema to just a better movie-going experience.

My spies and stoolies informed me that Mr. Iger allowed as how "some personnel changes" might have triggered the decline of Disney animation in the late nineties. (You think?). Sadly, I can't find any reference to this in a published article...

Re that other big animation company: Ted Allrich at Seeking Alpha analyzes DreamWorks Animation's financials moving forward:

...Revenues are expected to be $705 million this year, up from $394.8 million last year. Most likely they'll drop next year to $650 million since Shrek 3 is such a runaway hit. Earnings this year are expected to be $1.85, up from 15 cents last year. Look for $1.55 next year.

Other numbers to consider: Current assets are almost 18 times current liabilities with more than $500 million in cash. Return on equity was 1.5% last year with forecasts for 15.5% this year and 11.5% next year. Debt is 15% of the capital structure. Officers and directors own 60% of the stock with institutions owning 30% of the Class A stock.

...This division, the Animation group [of DreamWorks], was spun off in 2004. Since the stock started trading in late 2004, it has gone mostly down, getting to a low of $20 a share last year. Now things are starting to turn for the better, revenues are way up and so are earnings. For the moment, anyway. And that's the caveat with this stock: things can look great for a current release but that's only good for the one movie. If the next movie is a flop, the stock is going to reflect it. That's why the new projects such as the Broadway musical and the television special are important: they give the company a more diversified revenue stream.

Then there is this speculative piece from the Hollywood Reporter about what films might turn out to be the summer's "sleeper hit." It includes an animated offering that's been overlooked in all the hoopla regarding Shrek and Ratatouille:

...what's left that could emerge as a sleeper hit? Well, looking over the rest of the pack there are at least 10 interesting possibilities -- based on release schedules now circulating, but subject to change -- that might be able to fill the bill...

...(2) Sony's computer animated family film "Surf's Up" (June 8) is a mockumentary about surfing having been invented by penguins. Directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, it's rated PG and features the voice talents of Shia La Beouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder and James Woods.

Lastly, Variety published a story about the increasing pressure on visual effects houses to do the work "better, faster, cheaper":

If the visual effects industry had its way, the Disney tentpole that sailed into theaters May 25 might have been named "Pirates of the Caribbean: At Wits' End."

Industrial Light & Magic topper Chrissie England, who's seen many blockbusters come through her shop, calls the editing/post-production race to the pic's delivery deadline "about the scariest thing I've ever seen." The film's vfx supervisor, John Knoll, calls it "a freakin' miracle" that the film was done on time.

"Pirates 3," warn England and Knoll, is just one tip of an iceberg that's sending a chill through the visual effects industry. Visual effects houses are worried about the increasing demand for more product, at higher quality, in less time. Some effects houses have been losing key workers, and a few are threatening to shutter, because of the shifting economics....

So nothing seems too different in animation/movie land, just the usual b.s. Have yourself a splendid Memorial Day weekend.


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