Friday, March 21, 2008

Competition in Toonland?

And as the Hollywood Reporter writes about television animation, so Daily Variety analyzes the theatrical version:

The world of feature animation -- once thought to be the exclusive domain of Disney and DreamWorks -- is getting increasingly competitive, as studios left outside the gates of the toon kingdom are employing aggressive tactics to break in.

With the successful bow of "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who," Fox Animation reaffirms its place in the top tier, thanks to a string of hits from its Blue Sky CGI studio, capped by "Horton."

Word out and about -- and I've only got a couple of sources so label this "rumor" -- is that Chris Wedge, the founding father of Blue Sky and the man who led the first Ice Age, is not super happy with Fox execs and might move on at some point.

Then, of course, Fox is allegedly pretty tight-fisted in the money department with its Blue Sky unit. (Like, they're not real keen on high salaries for the production crew.) Maybe the complaints I've heard from animators extend to Mr. Wedge?

The other studios are jockeying to join that select crowd.

Universal successfully courted former Fox toon topper Chris Meledandri, who oversaw development on "Horton" and the "Ice Age" franchise, by helping him establish his own independent family entertainment company. The studio's exclusive deal with Meledandri includes partial ownership of his production house, Illumination.

I've called the Universal/Meledandri shop on behalf of artists who've asked me what's going on there. When I checked a couple of months ago, they were still setting up the studio and had little to tell me. By now, of course, things have no doubt changed.

Though it has struggled with its two first releases, Sony recently put new execs atop its animation unit and claims to be re-committing to the space.

We posted about the exec reshuffling at Sony a little while back. I know that long-time employees at SPA were worried that Amy Pascal (head of Sony) was going to sell the Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Picture Imageworks "if the right offer came along."

Selling those two Sony subsidiaries is now, happily, off the table. I have no idea why there was a change of corporate heart, but I'd wager it was a combination of wanting to make Sony's animated franchise work (what with all the successes other studios are having) and few credible offers for the purchase of SPI and SPA.

But I'm glad Sony Pictures Animation is going to soldier on; they've got some topflight people down there in Culver City, and certainly Imageworks/Animation has the creative muscle to make things work. Many people in the cartoon biz had warm feelings for Surf's Up, it just never caught fire at the box office. (More than one artist said to me: "Kinda sucks to be the fifth or sixth penguin movie out there ...")

Coming off the success of "Happy Feet," Warner Bros. has thrown a multitude of projects into development and is hoping to become a destination for live-action filmmakers interested in toons, and for independent animation studios.

Warners, back in the go-go nineties, set up its own feature animation group in Glendale, and didn't have a lot of luck with most of its releases (Quest for Camelot, Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones). Warners Feature Animation is a distant memory. This time around, WB looks to be partnering up with outside players as it gets deeper into the feature animation game.

The big difference with animated features in the 21st century is, Disney isn't the sole colossus anymore. Unlike the early 1990s, when every feature anmation producer crashed and burned trying to emulate the Mouse House's hand-drawn blockbusters, this time around there are a multitude of studios enjoying success and big bucks in cartoon land.


Anonymous said...

Good story.

I believe that Illumination is taking the route of development and then outsourcing (not necessarily out of the country outsourcing) the production to already established studios.

That's what Sony is doing with Open Season 2 and is an increasingly more common way of doing things. Another way to pass the buck if something goes wrong! :) kidding of course. Or am I?

p.s. Steve, are you aware that when you click on "read entire post" that it opens new windows up?? That is bothersome.

Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

It seems like some of the major studios may have passed a crucial test, (following up a hit with another hit)...easier said than done. So, congrats to all involved. Really good article Steve...see if you can follow it up with another one...kidding! See what I did there?! Kidding aside, you are the Pixar of animation blogs! Have a Great weekend, Bob:)

Anonymous said...

So glad to see more successful studios. Its good for everyone in the business regardless of which state they produce them in nowadays. I look forward to seeing this Blue Sky film tomorrow. I hope Disney can get back into making hit films sooner than later too.

Steve Hulett said...

are you aware that when you click on "read entire post" that it opens new windows up?? That is bothersome.

Noticed it just now. Wasn't happening when I departed earlier today, I'll see what I can do ...

(But understand I'm as technologically desterous as a greased pig on ice.)

Feri-san said...

I didn't know Warners had done so bad with their animated features. Iron Giant and Quest for Camelot are amongst one of my favorite animated movies.

Overall, I'm kinda GLAD tha other studios are also producing animated features. It may look like studios are copying each other (Disney's the Wild reminded me TOO MUCH of Madagascar) and that they're only trying to bring in big bucks, but in the way, they're producing really awesome, blockbusting movies.

I may not be that fond of CGI animation anymore (too much of it tired me) but I do think it's a work of art and that they're producing better and better CGI movies, and those CGI movies are not coming only from Pixar. I'm happy for that.

Anonymous said...

...I hope Disney can get back into making hit films sooner than later too.

I'm thinking the Disney comeback will start next year with The Princess and The Frog, then followed in 2010 with Rapunzel. I know Bolt's coming out this year but I'm not sure how well it will do.

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