Friday, April 13, 2012

2011's Animation Box Office: An Alternate History

Alright ladies and gentlemen, it's time for a rather optimistic, strictly opinion-based alternate history of one of animation's lousiest years... This past year. Let’s just say 2011 wasn’t the depressing year in box office that it was, how would 2011’s animated crop perform at the domestic box office? Here's my take...

January 2011... Animation fans fondly look back on the previous year as it was a great year in animation. It’s animation domination. Toy Story 3 becomes the highest grossing animated film of all time worldwide (and gets a Best Picture nomination, indicating that the Academy Awards are finally starting to realize that animation is an art form), DreamWorks steps up their game with How to Train Your Dragon which goes on to become one of their most successful non-sequel films while getting excellent reviews. Disney scores their first box office smash hit since the 1990s with the critically acclaimed Tangled. Illumination enters the field successfully with the wildly successful Despicable Me, which still manages to get good reviews. Most of the good animated features do well at the box office, while the crappy ones (Alpha and Omega, for instance) don’t fare so well. 2010 was a fine year for the medium and it went on to show that audiences will show up for quality films. Where do we go from there? In this alternate history, the economy doesn’t take the huge dip that it did. In fact, it only gets better.

2011's animated crop has lots of potential. We have a sequel to one of DreamWorks' more popular films, a new Pixar film as always that's also a sequel, a wildly original Western directed by Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy director Gore Verbinski, a fun film from Blue Sky about colorful birds set in Rio de Janeiro, a sequel to Happy Feet, a film starring the well-liked Shrek character Puss in Boots, and a hand-drawn film from the Mouse House about the beloved Winnie the Pooh. Then there's stuff like The Smurfs, Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil and Hop, who knows how that stuff is going to do.

The first film out of the gate is Touchstone/Starz’s Gnomeo & Juliet. A project that was on and off at the Mouse House for years that was pretty much Elton John's pet project. It opens with $25 million and shocks everyone. It does well because it’s the only family-friendly film that’s available at the moment in theaters. It comes close to $100 million, despite getting mixed reviews.

All of a sudden, Paramount’s Rango appears at the beginning of March. With confident marketing behind it, this decidedly more adult animated film scores $60 million on its opening weekend since March is a hot spot for big blockbuster releases. While several parents complain that the film is too risque for kids, it goes on to make $190 million at the domestic box office and $350 million worldwide. This indicates that audiences are now warming up to artistic experiments in animation, and the critics had nothing but great things to say about it. The success of the film gives Paramount confidence in setting up their own animation studio to do equally groundbreaking projects. Other studios take note of this and start green lighting experimental animated films for mass audiences.

The week after Rango debuts comes Disney and ImageMovers' motion-capture disappointment called Mars Needs Moms. Critically panned, the film becomes one of Disney’s biggest bombs and only grosses less than $60 million worldwide against a $150 million. It singlehandedly kills Robert Zemeckis’ brand of motion capture, thus leading Disney to scuttle his planned remake of Yellow Submarine. Disney considers dropping "Mars" from its upcoming sci-fi action epic John Carter of Mars, but the studio realizes that Mars Needs Moms bombed because it wasn't good, so John Carter of Mars' title isn't changed.

On April 1, Illumination released the Easter-themed Hop, which only cracks $90 million domestically because of the holidays. It doesn’t interest anyone else, being more kid-friendly than Despicable Me. On April 27th, the long-delayed Hoodwinked Too!: Hood vs. Evil (an unwanted sequel to a film that really wasn't that successful to begin with) comes and goes. In the middle of the month, we get Rio from Blue Sky, a colorful romp that's sure to please everyone. It does so, from critics to audiences. Grossing $46 million on its opening weekend, it has no competition for a month and grosses $165 million. It's an Ice Age-sized hit for Blue Sky. Worldwide, it's a huge hit.

Now we move into May, this is when the heavy-hitters come. Paramount and DreamWorks realize early on that releasing Kung Fu Panda 2 against The Hangover Part II isn’t such a bright idea. They schedule it for May 13th, with absolutely no competition going against it. The marketing is given an extra kick, so it isn’t lazy. Kung Fu Panda 2 trumps its predecessor’s opening weekend with $80 million. Given the popularity of the first film, the sequel took off from there. With a multiplier that equals its predecessor, the film takes in over $280 million domestically and with a $580 million overseas gross, the sequel makes $860 million worldwide. It puts it alongside the highest grossing animated films ever, and on top of that, it gets great reviews as it indicates that DreamWorks is getting better and better.

The big animated event for 2011 comes, the Pixar film, but wait... It disappoints critics and audiences. Cars 2 still pulls in $85 million on its opening weekend due to people trusting Pixar and kids loving the first film, but with poor legs, it grossed over $210 million, even less than what the first film made without 3D six years ago. Still, it takes in over $650 million worldwide so it isn’t viewed as a financial disappointment. Disney rolls in the dough and figures they don’t have to ask Pixar for another one since a direct-to-video spinoff is sure to make more for them when it hits shelves in 2013. While people are disappointed with the film, they don’t lose an ounce of respect for Pixar. The teaser trailer for Brave already generates lots of buzz for being different from the usual Pixar teasers.

Next up is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ next hand-drawn film, the simplistic and charming Winnie the Pooh. Disney originally planned on releasing the film on July 15th, the day the final Harry Potter was slated to open. Someone with common sense asks Disney to move the release date, so they move it to the first weekend of August. Marketing fires up after the first trailer premieres before Tangled in November 2010, playing up the nostalgia to the teen crowd like some of Toy Story 3’s marketing did while also making it look appealing to adults.

Winnie the Pooh opens in August and opens with a decent $28 million and pulls strong legs, working its way up to $100 million domestically while getting critical acclaim left and right, and taking in $200 million worldwide. Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Animation’s shameless attempt at modernizing the characters from a popular comic strip and cartoon, The Smurfs, opens before it but it crashes and burns. The film misses $100 million domestically. Audiences are smart enough to avoid it, although the kids eat it up so it still grosses $70 million. Worldwide grosses save the film.

Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a 3D re-release of Disney’s The Lion King pops up (also in 2D, to satisfy those who are sick of pointless 3D) and grosses $150 million domestically and $100 million worldwide. With the re-release totals added to the original and 2002 re-release grosses, the film now has grossed $478 million domestically making it the highest earning animated film domestically defeating DreamWorks' Shrek 2. With the worldwide totals, it has grossed $1 billion worldwide and is only behind Pixar's Toy Story 3. The title has been in the vaults since the Platinum Edition DVD went out of print, which is why the re-release is a success, and the Diamond Edition will follow after the re-release. The success of this re-release plus the success of Winnie the Pooh proves that hand-drawn animation is still alive and well. Disney plans several re-releases of their classics, including the Pixar films. Beauty and the Beast 3D is scheduled for January 2012, with more planned for 2012, 2013 and even 2014.

DreamWorks’ next and last release for the year, Puss in Boots, opens with $44 million as people reject it at first being sick of all the countless Shrek films. But to their surprise, it’s actually a good film and it has very strong legs. The film crosses $200 million by the time it’s out of theaters, another $200 million grosser for DreamWorks. A few weeks later, an unwanted, unnecessary sequel to Happy Feet hit theaters. With bad critical reception and barely any marketing, it comes and goes, deservedly. It doesn’t make half of what the original made.

On Thanksgiving week, Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Animations roll out Arthur Christmas. This sweet, sentimental Christmas film satisfies audiences. It takes in $30 million on its opening weekend. It competes with two big family films, The Muppets and Hugo, but all three films clear $100 million domestically. Arthur Christmas becomes the first Aardman film to make that amount since Chicken Run.

Last but not least is Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, despite being a performance capture film, it still looks good. The film has already taken in $200 million overseas. The marketing mentions the original comics by Herge while also reminding 90s kids of the Tintin animated series that aired on Nickelodeon back in the day by attaching Nickelodeon’s name to the film, which also attracts family audiences the same way Rango did. The Adventures of Tintin opens amidst a box office battlefield (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) but it takes in a good $35 million on its opening weekend and finishes up with $155 million thanks to holiday legs. Family audiences see the Raiders of the Lost Ark-style action adventure film instead of the movie with the chipmunks singing pop songs that will already age horribly by next Christmas.

So basically, 2011 repeats the success of 2010, though there isn't any $400 million or $300 million grossers. It's still a fantastic year for the medium, as all the good stuff succeeds. Rango gives mass audiences a different kind of animated film, the DreamWorks films entertain and tell good stories, Rio entertains audiences while not completely pandering to kids, Pixar has one minor flub that still does well, Winnie the Pooh's success paints a good future for hand-drawn animation along with the re-release of The Lion King, and Arthur Christmas opens audiences up to the works of Aardman. The Smurfs only entertains kids, and leaves adults alienated, ditto Hop. Happy Feet Two fails to live up to its predecessor and underperforms. Mars Needs Moms bombs. Hoodwinked Too! is ignored. It's a great follow-up to 2010 and it gives animation fans high hopes for the future.

Domestic Totals
1. Kung Fu Panda 2 - $280 million
2. Puss in Boots - $214 million
3. Cars 2 - $210 million
4. Rango - $190 million
5. Rio - $165 million
6. The Adventures of Tintin - $155 million
7. The Lion King in 3D - $150 million
8. Arthur Christmas - $130 million
9. Winnie the Pooh - $110 million
10. Hop - $91 million
11. The Smurfs - $70 million
12. Happy Feet Two - $64 million
13. Mars Needs Moms - $21 million
14. Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil - $8 million

Worldwide Totals
1. Kung Fu Panda 2 - $860 million
2. Cars 2 - $650 million
3. Puss in Boots - $629 million
4. Rio - $523 million
5. The Adventures of Tintin - $466 million
6. The Smurfs - $423 million
7. Rango - $358 million
8. Arthur Christmas - $256 million
9. The Lion King in 3D - $250 million
10. Winnie the Pooh - $215 million
11. Hop - $160 million
12. Happy Feet Two - $140 million
13. Mars Needs Moms - $49 million
14. Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil - $12 million

And there you go... That's my alternate 2011 story. Again, this was only for fun and who knows if this would've happened or not. If you have an alternate history of sorts, be sure to share yours? Did you think 2011 was really all that bad of a year for animation? Or do you think otherwise? Please share your thoughts and what you think the year should've been like for animation.

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