Sunday, December 13, 2009

The World Cartoon Explosion

A well-known entertainment trade paper surveys the new global animated paradigm.

This year alone, toon fans helped five pics earn more than $100 million in the U.S., with Disney's "Up" floating close to the $300 million mark and DreamWorks Animation's "Monsters vs. Aliens" and Fox's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" scaring up nearly $200 million each.

That kind of coin has encouraged producers to as many animated projects as they can afford into production. Many of those films aren't being made in the U.S., but overseas, in territories where much of the physical work on Hollywood's animated films already takes place.

A toon boom is underway in Europe and Asia, with studios there ponying up big bucks to produce animated family fare that's carefully crafted for American audiences -- boasting appealing characters, high-end computer-generated visuals and packed with pop culture references.

But "carefully crafted" or not, to date most animated features created on foreign shores haven't set American turnstiles ablaze.

After earning $108 million worldwide ..."Arthur and the Invisibles" [made] just $15 million in the U.S. ... Despite their big budgets, "Planet 51," has earned $30 million since Nov. 20, while "Astro Boy" has earned just $19 million domestically since its release Oct. 23 ...

... Previous films like "Valiant" or "Igor" didn't attract audiences because they were considered too "European" or "fell short in production values," says "Planet 51" producer Perez Dolset. Others attribute their disappointing performances to the size of their marketing efforts in the U.S. ...

Frankly, I couldn't tell you with precision why the majority of overseas animated features go bust in the U.S. of A. Some are clearly clunky, or have under-powered story and character development, or simply don't gel with American tastes.

But others? I remember seeing trailers for Happy Feet years ago and thinking, "Jeeze, another penguin movie?! How well can that do?" yet the epic took off.

This past weekend I saw the second trailer for Despicable Me and laughed out loud. It doesn't look like most American animated features, not even close, but they seem to be larding it up with a lot of Warners-style gags, so who knows? It could be a hit for Universal and cement Chris Meledandri's reputation as Master of the Feature cartoon in the same way that Jeffrey Katzenberg is a master. (DM, if you don't know, was produced in France.)

Foreign animation flaming out in the American market isn't a new phenomenon. It's been happening since Once Upon a Forest in 1990, and further back than that if you consider the Soviet-produced Snow Princess going nowhere in the States back in 1960.

It must be maddening for overseas cartoon studios to see American animation sail to the top of their own box office charts, while their efforts seldom break through stateside. Also crappy and "unfair," but the way -- by and large -- it seems to be.


Anonymous said...

Helps to have a good marketing campaign and to schedule your picture's release within a comfortable, less-competitive timeframe. Something Summit (distributor of Astro Boy) desperately needs to learn.

Anonymous said...

Summit also need to pick better movies to distribute. Astroboy was pretty lame.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say I saw Planet 51 and I liked it a lot!
there have been some good animated movies this year like Monsters Vs. Aliens or Ice Age, but my vote goes definitely to Planet 51!!
hope everyone likes it!

Anonymous said...

Planet 51 was a cute, but hardly worth seeing in a theater. There are TV shows better looking/animated than that.

Anonymous said...

Clearly this newspaper has it's finger on the pulse.

Planet 51 and Astro boy, the two films they are referring to that were produced in the European and Asian "toon boom" were massive stinkers in every sense.

rufus said...

I simply refused to go see "Monster vs Aliens", it looked shitty from the trailers. And even though the animation on "Ice Age 3" was, IMO, fantastic, the plot was terrible.

I in fact enjoyed "Planet 51". It was deinetly woth seing it in the theaters.

BuckPrivate said...

Astro Boy was pretty good, actually. I wonder if those here who are criticizing it here actually saw it. In no sense was it a "massive stinker" or "lame".

Anonymous said...

Ive never seen so much sideline cheerleading as I have for Astro Boy on these comments.

Was it REALLY that good? I mean, when the critics said it was "meh" and the ticket sales reflected that, you gotta stop and wonder if the reason YOU liked it is because you're the correct demographic niche, and nothing more.

Anonymous said...

I'm one who saw Astro Boy, and I'm here to cheer too. I took my nephew and niece to see it and we all really enjoyed it. I'm 28 and female, FWIW. My nephew is 14 and my niece is 8. Are we "niche"?

Reasons WHY I liked it: I loved the way the characters looked. They were cartoony but convincing; I never got the idea that I was watching an animated talking balloon (which is the feeling I got while watching Russell in "Up"), or a computer-generated muppet (which is the feeling I got while watching Carl in "Up" or practically all of the characters in "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs"). Astro himself had one of the most appealing, subtly expressive faces I have ever seen in a CG cartoon. He is one of the most lovable characters I have seen onscreen in ages. He makes your heart ache and your spirits soar. And his supporting cast is just as memorable. And I loved the music - one of the most beautiful scores I've ever heard. So what can I say? That a small, relatively unknown and struggling studio somehow came up with a little masterpiece? Yep, I guess I can. That about sums it up.

Anonymous said...

I guess Ill have to see it. I dont believe its the masterpiece a couple people claim, but Ill at least give it a try before knocking it.

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