Sunday, December 27, 2009

Animation Recently ... Animation Soon

Nine months ago Uncle Steve wrote:

[There will be] nineteen features over [the next] thirty-three months .. and if you include the features in release between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2011, the total bumps up to ... a grand total of twenty-one ...

We're about a quarter of the way through the cycle, so how, exactly, are animated features doing? Not badly, as a matter of fact. A number of titles listed on the far side of the above link can be considered solid winners in the movie pantheon. Let's look at the group that's recently been in release, shall we? ...

Bolt -- Generally considered something of a disappointment (it got stunted by the brilliant Disney marketing campaign opening it on the same day as Twilight.) Worldwide gross: $308.3 million -- production budget: $150 million.

Coraline -- A stop-motion sleeper hit out of Laika Animation in Portland, Oregon. Worldwide gross: $121.9 million -- Prdctn bdgt. -- $60 million.

Monsters Vs. Aliens -- A hit in the U.S., but an under-performer elsewhere. Worldwide gross: -- $381.5 million -- prod. bdgt (est.) $150 million.

Battle For Terra -- Indy made in L.A. that failed to hit the sweet spot. Worldwide gross: $2.9 million. Prdctn budget: $24 million.

Up -- Pixar's latest, and another homerun. Worldwide gross: $683 million -- Prdction bdgt: $175 million.

Ice Age 3 -- a hit domestically and gargantuan hit overseas, the Ice Age franchise is one of the pillars of Fox-News Corp. -- Worldwide gross: $883.7 million -- prctn budgt: $90 million.

Astro Boy -- A big budget and a lot of talent onboard, but the retro title failed to connect. Worldwide gross: $21 million -- Prdctn bdgt: $65 million.

Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs -- A (mild) hit for Sony, its domestic gross got stunted when theatre chains pulled the picture after Sony's early DVD release announcement. Worldwide gross: $194.8 million -- Prdctn bdgt: $100 million.

The Princess and the Frog -- In release, doing okay but not great. -- Domestic gross: $63.4 million (and counting) -- Prdctn cost: $105 million.

Alvin and the Chipmunks - The Squeakquel -- This animation hybrid is another sharp arrow in Fox's consierable animation quiver. 1st 5 days domestic gross: $77 million. prdctn bdgt: $70 million (est.)

So that's what's been happening with animation the past year. Some misses, several hits, and a couple of productions that were in the so-so category.

But what of the soon-to-be future? DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon will be another hit for Jeffrey's company, and Shrek #4 will be a huge hit. (I'd say you could take that to the bank, but given the state of banks these days ...)

Toy Story III, out this summer, will be a sizable money-maker around the world.

The jury is out on the American-prepped but French-made Despicable Me. I wouldn't count it out, since the visual gags and pratfalls (judging from the trailers) are numerous, and you can seldom go wrong with visual humor, so long as there's the semblance of a story.

Hybrid animation is with us for the long haul. Studios have had good results with chipmunks and house cats (the first Garfield especially) and will continue to mine that rich vein. And there will be lots of animation in the big, live-action blockbusters, whether they're set on faraway planets or in Victorian London. Stereo viewed pictures (3D to you and me) will continue to expand, with animation leading the way.

Disney's Winnie the Pooh will probably track a little lower than The Princess and the Frog, which looks iffy to crack a $100 million domestically. (Pooh gets a Spring release in 2011.) I'm thinking that Walt's company will keep doing hand-drawn animation, but only at a production cost of $40 million-$70 million. The audiences, as of now, don't seem to be there for hand drawn product in the way they were in the early nineties. (Wish it were otherwise, but the grosses tell the tale.) Maybe the right hand-crafted property will really and truly click, or maybe the eyeballs have made a permanent move to CGI and stereo viewing.

The one thing that's evident is that theatrical animation is definitely a major commercial force in Tinsel Town, and is likely to stay that way. Nobody ignores it anymore, nobody cedes animation to one or two companies, everybody is in the game. And that's not going to change anytime soon.


Anonymous said...

"The audiences, as of now, don't seem to be there for hand drawn product in the way they were in the early nineties."


No, I'd say the problem is that the audiences aren't there to see hand drawn movies that look and feel like a re-tread of what they were seeing in the early nineties (and umpteen direct-to-video cheapquels ... those things poisoned the well and we still haven't recovered from that crap ... if ever).

Originally I was skeptical about a musical princess movie as the way to win back the audiences, but I so wanted to believe that J.L. was smarter than me , that there was some sort of master plan at work that I just couldn't quite grasp , that the wisdom of going all "retro 90's" would prove me wrong , but now I'm back to thinking what I thunk before : another Princess movie and Pooh ? That's it ?!! That's the best you can come up with for the glorious return of 2D animation ? Why, why, why ? Innovate! Push the medium. Do something fresh that audiences feel like they haven't seen before .

Don't get me wrong: I think Princess & the Frog was a good movie, but it's looking backwards , not looking forward. It's not the sort of thing that changes the game.

Alishea said...

i agree with that guy. Disney should push itself, they've done it in the past and found great results. Maybe they got too comfortable with princesses? (i mean it is what they do best)
However, I loved that they brought back music & dancing in Princess & the Frog. That's something 3D is missing & might benefit from. That's something the older 2d films did that stuck with me as a kid. Like Lion King's Just Cant Wait to be King Beauty & the Beasts' it's a Guest and who could forget Aladdin's Whole New World duet?

Anonymous said...

I completely agree, anonymous. Disney is totally looking in the wrong direction. They are letting marketing decide the direction of their movies and it shows. I had the exact same feelings you had about JL. I trusted JL's judgment even though I disagreed with him. I defended his choices, but I'm done defending him. It's sad that Princess and the Frog is failing, but in a way its a good thing. It means Disney needs to start looking in the other direction or become obsolete.

Anonymous said...

I agree about Princess and the Frog. It looks an AWFUL lot like a direct-to-DVD title. Another cheapening of the brand we can thank Eisner for. Ah, but wait! Wait until we see The Hulk and Captain America running around Disneyland! Not to mention seeing the Muppets advertise for it. Looks like Iger's no better than Eisner when it come to thinking of quick easy money over long-term quality.

I lament Astro Boy's troubles. It was a good, solid, accomplished movie that suffered from poor advertising and scheduling. And Cloudy was a victim of corporate greed, leaving it stillborn in the midst its theatrical release. Tragic stories both. Hopefully both will reap rich rewards from DVD sales. Not that such largesse would end up lining the pockets of the artists involved...

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why "Alvin" is being called an animated film and "Avatar" isn't...

Jonathan said...

I agree with the earlier comments. PATF was looking backwards. I describe it as good, not great. We need a new vision in 2D films. Perhaps Lassiter doesn't have it. For my money, Sylvain Chomet has done the best 2D film of the decade, with Tripplettes of Belleville.

Anonymous said...

There's an elephant in the room regarding "Princess and the Frog" that NO ONE wants to mention, but which maybe played a partial role in its disappointing sales.

There seemed to be an enthusiasm gap for "Princess." And I suspect that part of that enthusiasm gap came from folks quietly, subconciously, thinking to themselves "It looks like a black movie." That perhaps, on a subconcious level, they weren't as open to seeing it because they thought they wouldn't relate to the characters as they might've for, say, Belle or Ariel.

I'm not suggesting anyone was openly hostile to the movie--just that on a subconcious level, many people may have just subtly internalized that this movie was for other people, not themselves.

I hope my theory ISN'T true, as it would be terribly sad it is. And I'm sure there were many factors why it didn't do well. But marketing got the word out effectively--there were billboards and ads galore. Everyone was aware of the movie--but not many seemed terribly interested. Could this be reason?

Mike said...

PATF is not failing because it's a black movie, it's failing because it's a little girl's movie. You'll never crack $200M if your target audience is little girls. Let's take a look at Pixar's slate - monsters, bugz, robots, superheroes, cars, male buddy flicks, father/son stories...not a chick flick in the bunch. They leave those for Disney to make.

Anonymous said...

No. It woulda have done the same if it was a white girl. It wasnt pushed and didnt take any risks, and looked dated. PLus it faced serious competition. The race issue is a non issue.

Let's see what Disney does with Rich Moore. I think if we expect them to do anything out of the box, it'll be on his project. Rapunzel sounds like it'll be more of the same, albeit probably going to be very beautiful.

For the record, my favorite 2D film of this decade? Emperors New Groove (2000). Talk about underrated.

Anonymous said...

... I'd say the problem is that the audiences aren't there to see hand drawn movies that look and feel like a re-tread of what they were seeing in the early nineties (and umpteen direct-to-video cheapquels ...

This sounds about right, as others above had said.

The problem, of course, is that the decision to make THIS hand-drawn film was made and it under-performed relative to CGI features.

Which will impact future decisions for hand-drawn films, maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad. But except for another Simpsons movie and some lower-budget foreign offerings, I think Disney is the only studio who's got an ongoing commitment for more hand-drawn features.

And based on the evidence, no other U.S. conglomerate will bother to jump into the hand-drawn game. They'll look at the returns of TP&TF and say "We'll stick with CGI."

I don't see anything now that makes me think hand-drawn features will make a big comeback. Disney needs to produce something that rakes in $400 million worldwide. Making something that brings in half that won't get any other studio to alter its business model.

So you can say "Well, Lasseter made the wrong decision about what picture to make ..." and there's no way to prove you wrong. But the fact remains that it got produced and under-performed. And believe me, John isn't going to stand up at an internal meeting and say "I goofed."

He's going to say (despite his public pronouncments): "Gee, audiences don't want to see hand-drawn features after all."

That way it's not his fault. It's what movie execs do. Deal with it.

Steve Hulett said...

I don't understand why "Alvin" is being called an animated film and "Avatar" isn't...

I've called both of them animated.

Don't I count? I'm an actual BLOGGER!

Michael said...

I think that maybe audiences have yet to get used to the "new" Disney. During Eisner's decline, everything was decided by marketing and "strategic" planning, so the public got used to Disney cranking out stuff just for little kids. PATF *wasn't* just for little kids, but it looked like something that was - and considering how Disney has flogged the Princess franchise in recent years, it seemed like a movie just made to excite young girls.

Now, I think it was a good movie that anyone would enjoy, but people who don't necessarily follow the internal corporate workings at Disney (ie, pretty much everyone in the general public) might see those commercials and think it's another direct to DVD cheapquel.

I just think Disney is having to pay for the sins of the past. I don't think it was a huge mistake to greenlight a princess musical for the return; after all, it's a popular tradition and it's been a *long* time since we had a new one. They executed well, too. But Disney is going to have to revive themselves via word of mouth since visually the films are not such a huge break with the past (something CG immediately conveys).

I do think that Pooh is a mistake, though. If anything, it only serves to cement the image of Disney as a kiddie-focused company. That's a mission creep that has negatively affected both films and parks. I'm biased, though, because I have negative interest in going to see a Pooh film.

They don't have to ditch all the old formats, but they need to better integrate some new ideas. PATF did this in a few ways, but they need to push it further both subject-wise and stylistically.

What do I know, though - I just want another Fantasia.

That all being said, there are certain animated films raking in dough, and I'd rather see Disney making a dozen formulaic musicals than making one of those "hip" pics. But I don't get paid the big bucks, either.

Anonymous said...

John isn't going to stand up at an internal meeting and say "I goofed." He's going to say (despite his public pronouncments): "Gee, audiences don't want to see hand-drawn features after all."

You've clearly never worked at Disney or Pixar. He's usually pretty honest in internal meetings.

Anonymous said...

Audiences are getting bored with animation, especially CG. There is already a backlash brewing and expect a drop. CG is no longer novelty and now lack of story and character - lack of a movie period - are being felt. CG/live-action breeds are so contrived now that one can almost see every classic set-up shot for the animation to play, and the predictable reaction shot of the actor that is supposed to be seamlessly sharing the space with the magical talking animal or knome or troll or whatever-the-fuck 'surprising' creature that visits our world! Nothing has changed a bit since Mary Poppins. Pop in Lord of the Rings today and you might as well start humming Jolly Holiday. The statement Disney was trying to make with PATF - that craft matters - was honorable but falls on deaf ears. Not enough people recognize or care to recognize this. They know a good movie when they see one, but don't know why.

Maybe PATF just wasn't a good film, but at least in this environment it had the best chance of being one. It was made for the right reasons.

Film history will look back on this CG period as vacuous and devoid of meaning. Computers! Ooh! Look what video game worlds we can make in our basements! The digital age is turning out to be as much of a curse as every other technical 'advance' of the last two centuries.

Anonymous said...

You know what makes me nervous is...Avatar. It's about the ultimate when it comes to CGI eye-candy. People sure aren't raving about it because of its script. So if the above poster is right...and I think he/she is...then if people are already bored with CGI, and eventually get bored with CGI that's will animation hang onto audience's eyeballs after that?

Anonymous said...

What the fuck are you talking about?

You're clearly bitter and old, and hate computers. (dern and blast it, how do you turn this monkey machine on?) This year was one of the largest moneymaking years for animated films of all time, maybe even the highest. Steve would know.

Pop in Lord of the Rings today and you might as well start humming Jolly Holiday.

HAHAHA! What? You're nuts.

I mean, I get your overall point, that there's only really 7 stories you can tell, but equating Lord of the Rings to Mary Poppins has GOT to be one of the dumbest things Ive ever heard.

Mike said...

No, CG is here to stay. It is the new norm. Hand drawn will be the niche style, like stop motion, done because a creator wants that style. CG hasn't killed stop motion. This year we got two great films. That's the future for hand drawn.

Anonymous said...

"Let's take a look at Pixar's slate - monsters, bugz, robots, superheroes, cars, male buddy flicks, father/son stories...not a chick flick in the bunch. They leave those for Disney to make."

Except for Brave.

Pixar's first "chick flick" in November 2011.

Anonymous said...

PATF was a well-made film, beautifully animated.

It's a shame that it hasn't received more of a reaction than it has so far. The tepid box-office receipts have to be a bitter disappointment for the artists at the studio who poured so much care and hard work into the crafting of the movie.

Unfortunately I think the public was conditioned by the flood of derivative direct-to-video stuff (one of many examples) to no longer value the look of the classic animated films. The Disney "brand" of hand-drawn animation was in fact cheapened and whether it can ever be renewed again is up for discussion. I do believe that The Princess & the Frog is suffering from the ongoing effects of the previous regime's "killing of the goose that laid the golden eggs" .

Plus what was already mentioned about it being a film that was greenlit and controlled by someone whose vision for hand-drawn animation seems to be limited to looking backward, rather than looking forward. Despite PATF being a handsome looking film (congrats to all who worked on it , your work is fantastic ! ) in the big picture it was an opportunity squandered and now it seems less likely than ever that Disney Animation will be able to reassert itself as a leader in the industry. Following it up with a Winnie the Pooh film is just going to cement the studio's reputation for aiming at little kids only with it's hand-drawn movies.

The worst will be if this one film is allowed to be perceived as having been the final word on what audiences will or will not respond to. From the beginning I have objected to how this film was saddled with the responsibility for "saving" 2D animation, as if the whole future of the art form was riding on the financial success or failure of this one film. That's an absurd, dangerous idea to buy into , but unfortunately that is how this story is being played out ... "well, gosh 'n' golly, even Lasseter can't bring it back . Guess audiences just don't want to see hand-drawn animation anymore." Bullshit. They don't want to see something that was marketed as a movie aimed at little girls (the Tinkerbell demographic) and that on the surface looks like one of the many direct-to-video movies . (I say "on the surface" because I think PATF far exceeds those direct-to-video features, and it doesn't deserve to be lumped in with those, but I think the way the film was marketed could have left that impression. That's the sort of thing that leads a parent to say: "let's just wait to get it on Netflix." )

Anonymous said...

I saw Lilo and Stitch again today on TV. And it had so many memorable moments where excellent 2D character animation really stood out, really sold a scene, really left an imprint in my memory. I saw no such moments in Princess and the Frog. All the animation was well-done, but generic, workmanlike. The character designs were generic too, especially the frogs. Which is too bad, because frogs aren't generically appealing. As for CG...the novelty has definitely worn off, and now story is more important than ever, and SELLING that story to the public is crucial. Summit did a poor job of selling Astro Boy (and did an equally poor job of selling The Hurt Locker, a film that's being touted for Best Picture by many film critics - even though it, too, was a box office flop), and I think Disney was unable to make Princess and the Frog seem special, black princess or no. The jerk up above who claimed that CG was in no danger of losing its hold on the public imagination is a fool IMO. It's in very great danger of doing just that, with every major movie studio putting out product and a lot of that product looking the same. Again, that's where selling the film comes in. Otherwise audience fatigue will affect CG films just like it affected 2D back in the 90's.

Steve Hulett said...

Like it or not, what matters in the end is: Do the features make money? And how MUCH money?

Because profit is the name of the game. And if profits are big, then more movies of the same type get made, and more artists and technicians get employed.


CGI is today's coin of the real, and permeates almost every high-grossing film that gets made ("Blind Side" being the exception.) It dominates this year's record-breaking box office.

The audience isn't getting tired of Computer Generated Images. I know this because I look at the stats.

Anonymous said...

Psst. A good movie makes people go to the movies, too. The people we all work for don't, but we expect that from them. Are we teaching future craftsmen here not to give a shit also? A bit shortsighted.

Anonymous said...

so i'm guessing you enjoyed working on alvin and the chipmunks. good luck with number three. your work is gold!

Anonymous said...

The digital age is turning out to be as much of a curse as every other technical 'advance' of the last two centuries.

Yeah, I wish i was still riding a horse and using my flintlock pistol to hunt and eventually die from some terrible disease that simple penicillin would fix.

Yeah, progress is BAD.

Anonymous said...

btw, that penicillin you were just prescribed, the dose that 'costs' three thousand times more than a comparable dose in India, did not clear up that staff super-bug you caught at the hospital when you went in for your annual rectal exam.

progress is an illusion spun by technocrats, banks, and insurance commercials. still living in the 1950's I see. wake the f*** up.

Anonymous said...

"You've clearly never worked at Disney or Pixar. He's usually pretty honest in internal meetings.

I've been at those same meetings and no, I don't see him being frank about this kind of goof. No way. He's "usually" fairly honest and can be "pretty" frank, true. But he's understandably also got an Ego and is fiercly protective of his rep as King Of Animation Wisdom.

Anyway, he doesn't interact with the people at FA in the same way that he does his group at Pixar(which is likely one of the causes of problems for FA).

Anonymous said...

" But he's understandably also got an Ego and is fiercly protective of his rep as King Of Animation Wisdom. "



But I would think after the big build-up leading to the release of this movie there are many people (both within Disney Animation and without) who would be interested to hear him say at least something about why the "wisdom" he was espousing for the past three years doesn't seem to be playing out the way he clearly expected it to ... that is, about how he contended that audiences didn't abandon hand-drawn animation because there was anything inherently wrong or less compelling about hand-drawn animation compared to cg animation , but rather they were tired of seeing the derivative, not-so-compelling stories and less-than-attractive characters that accompanied quite a few of the 2D movies in the late '90's/early 2000's (i.e. Road to El Dorado, Atlantis, Spirit , Home on the Range, Sinbad, Brother Bear, etc. , not to mention the direct-to-video cheapquels which flooded the market) .

He's been saying: "it's about the story, not the medium. If you make a good film in 2D animation people will embrace it. It's not about whether it's made with traditional or cg."

(and for what it's worth, I still AGREE with that. But I don't think the idea to make a retro 90's-style musical fairy tale princess movie was the way to get the general audience excited about 2D animation again. And following it up with yet another Pooh movie ... oh, my gosh .... WHY?!! )

Anonymous said...

Maybe Disney's next 2D film should be the Emperor's New Clothes.

Talk is cheap. It was pretty apparent to everyone (even Eisner) that princess movies were played out. AND Ron and John were also played out (or, at the very least, needed JK to guide them).

All these years everyone thought Lasseter was a genius or really lucky. Maybe he's neither and it's just Pixar that is lucky.

Anonymous said...

"Except for Brave.

Pixar's first "chick flick" in November 2011.

Why do you call it a "chick flick"?
Is it because the lead character's a female or because the director is?

I have to guess the latter as there are loads of films like, say "Rapunzel" that NO one has called that, or suggested is one of those things.

Or maybe it's the combo of the two. I wonder what Brenda would think of that appellation applied to her project?

Anonymous said...

"Chick Flick" - definitely time to retire that one. I cringe every time I read it or hear it.

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