Monday, September 10, 2012

The Nikkster's Hat Dance

Ms. Finke disembowels Mr. Katzenberg:

... The basic problem for DreamWorks is that its business model appears to be crumbling. One major concern is that Jeffrey Katzenberg‘s formula of making parodies of movie genres as well as sequel after spinoff has run its course – and the new slate looks like more of the same. (As opposed to Pixar’s boundless creativity.) Competition is growing in computer animation not just from Pixar but from Illumination Entertainment and Blue Sky Studios and so on. DVD sales for family fare are declining at an alarming pace. 3D didn’t live up to anyone’s expectations ...

Very true that DVDs aren't what they used to be (see below.) But as for DWA features "running their course?" What solar system is Nikki residing on?

Here are the two most recent DWA failures:

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted -- $611.9 million
Puss in Boots -- $554.7 million

And the two most recent boundlessly creative Pixar offerings:

Brave -- $488.3 million
Cars 2 -- $559.9 million

As you can see, the creative studio (above) is head and shoulders above tired DreamWorks. Brave is a masterwork (ignore the public complaints of the original director.) And Cars 2 shines with the genius of its creator (critics and audiences be damned.)

It's not that all of Nikki Finke's criticisms are wrong. (They're not.) It's that she takes her over-arching, sour-assed narrative of Jeffrey Katzenberg's failure and sticks with it, even when the facts are against her. DWA has made some lacklustre features, but it has also created some brilliant animated entertainments, and over the the last couple of years, has had but a single box office under-performer (MegaMind.) The feature How to Train Your Dragon stacks up well against the Pixar product, and surpasses many of them.

Mr. Katzenberg landed flat on his back after Michael Eisner threw him out of Walt's Kingdom. But he picked himself up and built an enterprise that has generated not only a lot of entertaining features, but provided lots of work for a lot of animation artists. He's performed a corporate high-wire act for nearly twenty years, something that even Pixar -- now a division of a huge multi-national conglomerate -- failed to achieve. And the fact that Jeffrey hasn't sold DreamWorks Animation to one of the other entertainment conglomerates says more about our current economy than it does about him. (Pixar was purchased by the Disney Company for a premium price years before the 2008 financial meltdown. If the timing had been different, it quite possibly would have remained a stand-alone animation studio in the same way that DWA is today ... or made Mr. Jobs and his heirs a lot less money at the point of purchase.)

It's not enough to have high-grossing feature films. You must also have industry love and critical hossanahs. John Lasseter has more of both than Jeffrey Katzenberg, and that reality won't change anytime soon. The fact that Jeffrey had a major hand in shaping the original Toy Story means little.


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