Monday, April 30, 2012

"The Pirates!" Doesn't Go Over Like Gangbusters


Columbia/Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Animations' The Pirates! Band of Misfits opened at #2 this weekend, which is good for an Aardman or stop motion animated film, but... It opened with just $11 million, making it the smallest opening for an Aardman film (even below Arthur Christmas) and it's now among the smallest opening weekend totals for a wide release animated film. It's just another indicator that Aardman's films don't really explode on opening weekend, along with stop motion films in general.

What held this back from doing well on opening weekend? Arthur Christmas was a much more accessible film, but that too did not score a good-sized opening weekend probably due to when it was released and whatnot. The Pirates! didn't have much competition from other family films, and it basically has opened in the quiet month before the summer blockbuster typhoon. Could it be that audiences just don't care for stop-motion? Well that doesn't seem right, given how well Chicken Run did not to mention the huge following that The Nightmare Before Christmas has. Coraline had a very small opening weekend but strong legs helped it pass $75 million stateside. It can't be that it's stop-motion.

I blame the marketing, again. Now to be fair with Columbia Pictures, this was probably a pretty hard sell here in the United States. Are the books well known here? Or is it just something that's more popular in the UK and elsewhere? Again, regardless of whether it was based on books or not, this probably came off as a Pirates of the Caribbean spoof for kids to American audiences. The trailers and commercials didn't mention the books, and just made it look like another silly kiddie romp. Now look at the UK trailers, much funnier. The first trailer alone makes you want to see it. The title change probably didn't help either. In the UK, the film is called The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! since that's the name of one of the books it's based on. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is such a misleading title, and the trailers conveniently downplayed Charles Darwin who is a major character in the film. What, were they afraid of offending those who are against Darwin's theories? The film doesn't even make much mention of evolution or whatever, but since it's such a huge issue here, the marketing pretty much obscured Darwin and the whole idea that it's about science in nineteenth century England. Band of Misfits makes it sound like some kind of kids' film... Because you know, animation is totally for kids, right? What a shame.

In fact, Sony did try to make it more accessible to American audiences and kids. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is not the same film as The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! Some of the more crude humor was toned down (not counting the leprosy joke, that was cut by Aardman themselves), and a few characters were recast, even though a majority of the characters have British accents. What... The... Hell? It's not as bad as what happened to something like The Magic Roundabout (a very British animated film based on a British children's show, that was completely re-dubbed and re-written for American audiences and released as Doogal), but come on! These studios need to stop pandering to kids. Aardman's original film was clearly a much more adult-oriented film that could still appeal to kids with its wacky hi-jinks and fun character designs, but they had to alter it for American audiences. I'm an American and I am offended, because this is a condescending practice that is ruining the animation industry while stifling creativity and also treating American audiences like they are dumb. Why couldn't Sony just give us what Aardman originally set out to do and market it as the wildly fun and quirky animated film that it is? Why does it have to be for kids? Why? Why? Why?!? The original version probably would've been more successful! Had they marketed it as a more adult-oriented film, maybe not too many people (and no offense to anyone's religious beliefs) would freak out and say "It's science-loving Darwinists trying to corrupt our children! Oh noes!" Fortunately, the cuts don't really affect the story in any way and the overall quality of the film, but still, it didn't need to be altered for the sake of a certain audience!

Not all is doom and gloom, though. The film has a chance to score great word of mouth, which Aardman films always get. However, with a 4x multiplier and a sub-$50 million gross, that won't look impressive alongside other animated films. Something subpar like The Lorax had no trouble making more than that on opening weekend. Losing 3D screens next weekend won't be a problem, since family films do better in 2D anyways. It'll need to pull some very strong legs in order to pass $50 million, because $100 million is probably out of reach by this point. A real shame, because this is another very good animated film that needs to do well, cuts or no cuts.

I was hoping that this year would be some sort of stop motion renaissance and be what 2009 wasn't. Well, with this film underperforming, we now have to see how ParaNorman and Frankenweenie will do. Stop motion films have a chance to perform well alongside the heavy-hitters, but poor marketing and the whole "animation is for kids" belief is what's holding them back. We need nice alternatives to the CGI films and family friendly films. These films, along with several independent animated films, are the alternatives. They'll never do a thing though, because many people still assume that "animation is for kids". Well guess what? It's time for them to wake up.

Anyways, did you see The Pirates! Band of Misfits? Or if you live in Europe, did you see Aardman's original unaltered film? Do you think stop motion animated films are just not marketable? Or do you think that non-CGI/non-family friendly films are marketed terribly and thus don't score? If you saw the original UK version of the film, are you upset that it had to be altered for American audiences? Sound off!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"The Pirates!" is Another Winner from Aardman

QUICK FLICK REVIEW
The Pirates!
Band of Misfits
Directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt
Written by Gideon Defoe
Produced by Julie Lockhart, Peter Lord and
David Sproxton
Distribution: Columbia Pictures
Studio: Aardman Animations / Sony Pictures Animation

Update: Turns out, the original British version of the film is different than the version we Americans got. In my original review, I referred to it by the original British title: The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, so I'll be going by the American title, the dreadful The Pirates! Band of Misfits.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thoughts on The Beach Boys' 50th Anniversary Tour and Their Upcoming Album


The Beach Boys, arguably one of America's quintessential bands if not "the" quintessential American band, kicked off their 50th Anniversary Reunion tour in Tucson, Arizona a few days ago while also unveiling their new single, "That's Why God Made the Radio". I am a huge fan of The Beach Boys, and of course I am going to see them when they come to my state. This is actually the first time I'll be seeing the band live, because I wasn't too crazy about seeing them in the past. Now, Brian Wilson is back and the line-up consists of Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, who left the band after Little Deuce Coupe. It's all original members, which makes me happy. The thing is, I wonder what it would've been like to see Carl and Dennis Wilson. Too bad I wasn't in the 1960s or 1970s.

Upon reading their set-list, hearing the new single, and reading Bruce Johnston and Al Jardine's comments on the upcoming album That's Why God Made The Radio (which hits stores on June 5th), I am now very excited for the tour and the new album. The single? "That's Why God Made the Radio" ties the surfing sound of the early 1960s to the beautiful sound that dominated the likes of Pet Sounds. The singing is good and the playing is great. They still have it in them. It feels like "California Girls", while also having a Pet Sounds vibe to it with a dash of Sunflower and their Brother years songs. Bruce Johnston stated that the album reminds him of Sunflower, while Al Jardine said it was like Pet Sounds. I am glad to hear this, because I was afraid that their new studio album would just be another tired surf rock revival record. It's nice to see the band looking back on an era that is criminally overlooked.

What era is that, you might ask? The post-Pet Sounds era, when The Beach Boys had moved away from the surf pop sound and ventured into baroque pop and experimental territories. The intended follow-up to Pet Sounds, SMiLE, was an ambitious and highly creative masterpiece that was unfortunately shelved for many reasons. It signaled a strange era for the band, an era that I consider their best.

It was a somewhat misguided era, but one that gave us some of their greatest music. The album we got instead of SMiLE, titled Smiley Smile, was a strange album that alienated critics and music listeners in the late summer of 1967. The band was perceived as uncool and square, but in Europe, the album was another huge success. It was followed by albums that showed that the band was capable of trying different things, and by that point, being relevant in the states wasn't an option. Creativity was an option. If you've never heard the album Sunflower, you don't know what you are missing.

Sunflower (1970)
In the mid-1970s, the band began to slip back into the retro surf sound. Nostalgia made them a hit, and their concerts were huge. The success of the pre-1966 era songs compilation Endless Summer also helped, but the band resorted to subpar studio albums (minus 1977's Love You) that the public avoided. Afterwards, they have been perceived as that surf band, and success of the pop radio-friendly "Kokomo" pretty much cemented this belief into music listeners. Now that they are going back to the sound of the mid 1960s and the early 1970s, I am hopeful that this tour and album will lead people to seek out the albums they missed out on back then. A very good album like Friends was a huge flop in 1968, ditto Sunflower in 1970.

Last but not least, the set list. It consists of the hits, you know... "Surfin' Safari", "Surfin' USA", "Kokomo", "California Girls", "I Get Around"... What are they mixed with? Let's see... "Cottonfields". You know, the single from 1970? You may not know, but it was a country rock take on the Leadbelly classic that was a huge hit in Europe but a flop in the States, one after a string of many. What else? "This Whole World" and "Forever", two classics from Sunflower, one of their finest albums that was unfortunately a huge flop in the states but a success in Europe.  "Disney Girls (1957)" from Surf's Up, also nice. "All This Is That" from Carl and the Passions - "So Tough", "Sail On Sailor" from Holland... Wonderful! In addition to that, great songs from the early-to-mid 1960s that you might not find on a "Best of" set such as "Please Let Me Wonder", "The Little Girl I Once Knew", "Little Honda", "Then I Kissed Her" and so on... Also, they will play "That's Why God Made the Radio".

It's a great set list. It's one that gives casual fans what they want to hear (the surf stuff, "Kokomo") and songs that fans like me want to hear. I couldn't be any happier. I mean, I wasn't expecting them to do something like "'Til I Die" or... Say... "Solar System" or even something like "It's About Time" or "Bluebirds Over the Mountain". I am just glad that they are playing at least one selection from each of the post-1966 albums, except Wild Honey and Friends. Not sure why they couldn't have added the title tracks from those two albums, or something like "Darlin'". Those two albums are great. SMiLE tracks? They're playing "Heroes and Villains" of course, but nothing like "Surf's Up" or "Wonderful", but let's face it, the SMiLE tracks probably can't be performed live without an orchestra or something. Still, it's a great, diverse set list.

The Beach Boys are back, and they mean business this time. The new album will mix the surf sound with the artistic sound that defines their greatest albums and the tour set-list dives into albums that people haven't heard of or probably forgot. Also, don't forget that the first ever release of The Beach Boys' version of SMiLE was a success, and will probably get listeners interested in a great amount of music that was missed. This will be a fine summer for The Beach Boys.

Are you a fan of The Beach Boys? What are your thoughts on this band? Are you familiar with the post-1966 output? Or are you more of a casual fan who enjoys the surf stuff? Sound off!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ron & John's Next Film Will Be... Hand-Drawn!


Yesterday, Disney's Animation Research Library confirmed that Ron Clements and John Musker are directing Disney's next hand-drawn animated film in celebration of Clements' birthday. For those of you who don't know, Ron & John directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog. Aside from those films, they also directed The Great Mouse Detective with Dave Michener and Burny Mattinson, along with Hercules and Treasure Planet.

What will it be? We don't know, all we got was "we can't say." I think it might be Mort (an adaptation of a novel in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series), since it was announced that it would be their next film in November 2010, but that just seemed to disappear. Maybe they might take over King of the Elves, because Chris Williams dropped out of that project since it ran into massive story problems. Maybe it might be Fraidy Cat, the project Disney announced back in 2004, that Hitchcockian mystery story about the cat who last three of his nine lives. I'd love to see that happen.

This announcement makes me think that Disney hasn't lost confidence in hand-drawn animation, and they might be aware of the fact that terrible marketing and poor timing was what killed The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh's chances of doing well at the box office. With Rich Ross out, it's possible that Disney will find a Chairman who knows animation very well and knows how to market a good animated film without having to resort to shoddy marketing campaigns or ones that make the film look horrible. (Tangled, anyone?) Hopefully the marketing department will be improved, now that MT Carney left prior to John Carter's opening day. All Disney needs at this point is for Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen to exceed all expectations.

What do you think will be the next hand-drawn animated film from Disney?

P.S. Happy late birthday Ron Clements!

Also, check out this new NFL Draft TV spot for Pixar's Brave.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

More Disney News from CinemaCon


Last night, Disney's presentation at CinemaCon revealed that Pixar's dinosaur film had been titled The Good Dinosaur, Lee Unkrich's next film at Pixar is Dia De Los Muertos and a teaser trailer for Monsters University was shown that went over very well. They also previewed the first thirty minutes of Brave, which was met with satisfaction. During the presentation, Disney revealed many other things...


They showed off the first six minutes of their upcoming animated film Wreck-It Ralph, which was basically a nearly completed version of the opening scene that was shown in storyreel form at D23 last summer. Like the first thirty minutes of Brave and the Monsters University trailer, it went over very well. That's great to hear, considering that this is one of their riskiest projects yet, but where is the trailer? I'm hoping Disney surprises us and attaches it to Aardman's The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! on Friday. If not, like I said before, they ought to attach the trailer to The Avengers, since this film is aiming for the gamers. It would be perfect.


Sean Bailey, the President of Production at Disney, also announced that The Muppets II is a go. Even though The Muppets wasn't a smash hit, it was still a very profitable film for the Mouse House. I really enjoyed the film, so I'm curious to see what the sequel will be like. Hopefully they go all out with it and deliver a very fun sequel.

The other news from the presentation that excites me came from Shane Black, the director of Iron Man 3. I was initially worried about the project, which was apparently taking a "rooted in reality" approach, and the Mandarin wasn't going to be the villain. Black stated that the villain (who is being played by Ben Kingsley) will "frighten in today's world". I wonder who it could be, since Iron Man 2 dropped the ball by pitting Tony Stark against a vengeful Iron Man wannabe. I personally don't want another villain who finds the arc reactor and makes his own suit. Black also stated that the film is a "technological thriller", a "crisis movie" that will put Tony Stark "through the wringer". All I can say is, not bad. At least they are trying something new. While I enjoyed Iron Man 2, I still believe it was a missed opportunity. The sky was the limit after the first one, but the second one just felt a bit grounded. It's like they had several potentially great ideas and couldn't do much with them (Tony Stark's drinking problems were wasted on an idiotic party scene). When will we get a trailer for this? Before The Avengers? Probably not. I'm going to say The Amazing Spider-Man will have a trailer, or maybe not. Speaking of which, the new trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man will be attached to The Avengers. I'm still on the fence about Spidey. Iron Man 3 opens May 3, 2013.

Footage from Sam Raimi's Oz: The Great and Powerful was shown as well, which was met with praise. I'm still not sure what to think of that film, but I figure that Disney is trying to score another Alice in Wonderland-sized success, since the film is being released on March 8, 2013. I expect this film to be another visual treat. When will we get the trailer? I'm assuming we're going to get it before either The Avengers or Brave.

Jerry Bruckheimer's Lone Ranger was presented by Johnny Depp, and it was also revealed that Jack White (Cold MountainQuantum of Solace) will compose the score. Seems perfect for this film. Lone Ranger was on and off at Disney last year due to budgetary concerns, it's back on track and photos have been revealed. Of course, Gore Verbinski is directing the film. Coincidentally, he directed Paramount's animated Western Rango, and Depp was the lead in that. Seems perfect for Verbinski, hopefully it delivers and brings back Westerns. True Grit was a surprise hit, but Rango underperformed. The Western genre has been in trouble since Will Smith's Wild Wild West, so hopefully this won't be a bust. With Rich Ross and MT Carney gone, here's hoping Disney's marketing department learned their lesson and markets the hell out of this film. Lone Ranger opens May 31, 2013.

In addition to that, footage from Tim Burton's Frankenweenie (another animated film that I'm really looking forward to, opens October 5th) was shown alongside footage from Finding Nemo 3D (which opens on September 14th) and an upcoming Touchstone/DreamWorks' collaboration People Like Us (which opens June 29th).

What's your take on this? Which of these upcoming Disney films are you excited for? Which ones are you not anticipating? What would you like to see in Iron Man 3? Do you think Lone Ranger will be a success? Or not? What are your thoughts on a Muppets sequel? Sound off!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Big Pixar Update: New "Brave" Trailer, "The Good Dinosaur" and "Dia De Los Muertos"

Note: This was originally posted as an article on the Brave trailer, but since the big news came in a few hours later, I felt it necessary to merge both posts.

It's finally here, the third theatrical trailer for Pixar's Brave! I'm happy to say that it's a fantastic trailer, and quite possibly one of the best Pixar trailers I've ever seen. It was very consistent all the way through and it did a fine job establishing the story while also showing the film's more dramatic side. It's a far cry from the choppily edited first trailer that showed up back in November 2011, and other frenetic trailers for Pixar films. (WALL-E and Toy Story 3 come to mind)


While the trailer shows us Merida's relationship with her family (in greater detail than before) and what she does to unleash the curse on the Scottish highlands, it also tones down the comic relief and uses it effectively. The comedy with the three lords makes more sense now in this trailer and the two-minute clip, same with the triplets. With that, it's a lot funnier in this trailer than it was the November 2011 trailer.

In total, this trailer is everything I wanted it to be. It balances the drama, the humor and the action effectively. It looks like something people will flock to see, and it's nice to see Disney really aggressively marketing this film because they don't want it to go over terribly. I'm confident that Brave will remind audiences that Pixar is still one of the top notch animation studios, Cars 2 or no Cars 2. Of course the trailer also mentions WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3, Pixar's three tearjerkers, for the inevitable "From the creators of..." section during the effective last half of the trailer. Here's the thing though, why do the trailers have to keep reminding audiences what Pixar made? Shouldn't they know? Oh wait, never mind...

This trailer makes me all the more excited for Brave, now that the marketing has really kicked off. Hopefully it's a huge hit and a rebound for Pixar. One dent in the armor isn't enough to bring them down, and hopefully this will prove it. One thing I want to know, why did they wait until now to release it online? This trailer was attached to the 3D re-release of Titanic earlier this month, and now we get it online. I wonder why. I'm guessing they wanted it to be exclusive to theaters because they might've expected that Titanic 3D would be a huge hit... But it wasn't! Oh well, at least we got it.

But that's not all... We got even bigger news today!


Talk about a triple helping from Pixar for the day... First, the new Brave trailer, and now this... Pixar's untitled film about dinosaurs is now titled The Good Dinosaur and Lee Unkrich's next Pixar film is titled Dia De Los Muertos. Pixar announced these updates at CinemaCon less than an hour ago.

The Good Dinosaur was originally scheduled for release on November 27, 2013, and the release date was pushed back after Walt Disney Animation Studios' Frozen took that spot. For a while, it didn't have a release date. Now it's coming out on May 30, 2014, when Pixar's still-untitled Inside the Mind project was slated to come out. That has now been pushed back to June 19, 2015. I'm assuming the title refers to the brontosaurus that appears in the concept art with the boy that was in the Up B-Roll I video. When Pixar first announced this project last summer, I was already excited, since the idea alone (dinosaurs never going extinct) was pretty creative. That's all I can say about this project for now.

Lee Unkrich stated on Twitter that Dia De Los Muerto's story is set in the world of the Mexican holiday of the same name, which translates to Day of the Dead. Sounds ambitious already, and dark. Pixar just seems to be getting more and more ambitious and creative, but I wonder, when will Dia De Los Muertos come out? I'd say summer 2016, since Pixar films have been summer releases since Cars. One thing though, I've never seen their upcoming slate change so much. Sometimes we saw projects being scheduled for November releases, and then moved to the summer. I just hope this is the definitive upcoming slate. The only thing is, where's Newt? Oh well, they may bring it back, you never know!

As a bonus for those who were at CinemaCon, a teaser for Monsters University was shown, which reportedly had the crowd roaring with laughter. Hopefully that trailer will appear soon, but something tells me we're going to have to wait. Who knows, maybe we'll get it online right now. What do you think?

Your thoughts on this? Which one of these projects excites you? Or do all of them excite you? Sound off!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Thoughts on the "Lego" Movie


In the recent years, we've been seeing more big budget films based on popular toys. We got Michael Bay's Transformers series, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and its upcoming sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and the forthcoming Battleship. What's next? Lego! Unlike the movies I mentioned, this will be an animated film. (According to some reports, about 20% of it will be in live action) Today, it was scheduled for release on February 28, 2014.

The project was green lit by Warner Bros. last autumn, and Animal Logic (Happy Feet) will handle the animation. All I can say is, this could be a fun project. I just hope they don't go the route that most summer blockbusters go: Poorly written plots, poor writing and just action scenes. Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) will direct the film, which already shows that the project might work. A Lego movie is perfect for animation.

Animal Logic found a surprise success in 2006 with Happy Feet, but their second film, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, couldn't recapture the critical and commercial success of that musical penguin film. With this and an adaptation of Jeff Smith's Bone in the works, Animal Logic might match the success of Happy Feet and have at least one hit film on their hands. This film is obviously going to be huge, and personally, I am somewhat interested. There are a lot of possibilities with a Lego movie, so hopefully all that potential isn't wasted on a weak story and terrible writing.

On the other hand, I am somewhat annoyed. The film is yet again another toy adaptation that's sure to be a hit with kids, continuously saying to audiences that animation is a kids' thing. I will try not to be too negative, but I am somewhat on the fence here. If the folks at Warner Bros., The Lego Group and Animal Logic can deliver a fun film that anyone can enjoy, I'll be happy. If they just make it another Transformers-type film, I won't be happy.

What are your thoughts on this upcoming Lego movie? Do you think it's unnecessary? Or do you think it could work? Are you sick of films based on popular toys? Or not? Sound off!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Future of Walt Disney Animation Studios (Part 2)


In part one, I went over Frozen, which is scheduled to be released on November 27, 2013. Right now, this is the only project after Wreck-It Ralph that currently has a release date. Two other projects that are in development right now don't: King of the Elves and a film based on Mickey Mouse.

King of the Elves was announced back in early 2008, when Disney released a big upcoming slate that included the cancelled Pixar film Newt and several other projects such as Bolt, The Princess and the FrogTangled (back when it was called Rapunzel), WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3Cars 2 (back when it had a summer 2012 release date) and Brave (back when it was called The Bear and the Bow) along with the direct-to-video Tinker Bell movies. The film was supposed to be directed by Brother Bear directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker. Brother Bear producer Chuck Williams would be the producer. For a good while, it seemed like this film would happen. It was still scheduled for 2012 after Bolt came out. Then after The Princess and the Frog opened in December 2009, it was shelved. Rumors went around months later that the project was back in the works, and the director would be Chris Williams, the co-director of Bolt, which would be confirmed last year. Michael Markowitz will write the screenplay, as he wrote the screenplay for Horrible Bosses and wrote a few episodes of the Klasky-Csupo animated series Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man. Good choices so far.

Prior to Bolt, Williams directed Glago's Guest, a rather rare Walt Disney Animation Studios short film that hasn't showed up on home media. Bolt was an indicator that the studio was now back on the right track after the woes of the Eisner era. Bolt's writing, while not perfect, was miles ahead of most of the 2005-2007 Disney animated output. The film was witty, heartfelt, the characters were very likable and the cast does a fine job. The story is familiar, but told well, while also being a nice satire of the entertainment industry. It wasn't formulaic either, it felt like a Pixar film in some ways. If I had any problems with Bolt, it would probably be the screenplay, but it's not much of a big deal. Another minor flaw was the safeness of the storyline, I would've liked to have seen Chris Sanders' American Dog. Still, Bolt is a very good film. It gives me hope that Williams will deliver the goods again with this project.

King of the Elves is based on the short story by Philip K. Dick (who wrote stories that were adapted into films like Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report) about a gas station owner who becomes the leader of tiny elves who are at war with trolls. This isn't a classic fairy tale or a love story, so this could be very interesting. Hopefully it is pulled off in a great manner, and not one that's going to have the critics saying "bowdlerization!" A respectable adaptation it should be, much like the Walt films. Maybe we can see that happen, with Lasseter & co. at the studio. Like Frozen, it will be computer animated, but I still want to see Disney doing more hand-drawn films.

The film based on Mickey Mouse was confirmed a while ago by Disney veteran Burny Mattinson. There are so many things you could do with a Mickey Mouse film adaptation. As long as Disney doesn't ruin the character, I'll be happy. Walt Disney Animation Studios is doing it, all should be well. It shouldn't be insulting like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Hopefully it'll remind this generation of why Mickey Mouse and his friends are icons, instead of trying to make them hip. This should be more akin to The Muppets and Winnie the Pooh than Alvin and the Chipmunks or The Smurfs. Aside from that, what could this film possibly be about? Will it be based on Epic Mickey? Maybe, that could make for an ambitious film. Will it be some big epic adventure? Or a fun comedy? What could they do with this character?

Mickey has appeared in films before, but no theatrical film ever centered around him or Donald and Goofy. The characters have appeared in segments in the 1940s package films, and of course Mickey is the Sorcerer's Apprentice in Fantasia. The thing is, it's probably not easy to make a movie based on a classic cartoon character, taking that character who had small adventures that took up a 6-minute short film into a roughly 90-minute film is no easy task. Some films based on classic cartoon characters just seem to go for broke and do whatever (Tom and Jerry: The Movie, Felix the Cat: The Movie) while others just don't work (Looney Tunes: Back in Action). Luckily, Disney proved that they can do an adventure about a character in something that's over 10 minutes long with Mickey and the Beanstalk, which is fantastic on its own. Again, there are so many possibilities. The only thing I'm not too crazy about is the fact that Disney is doing a Mickey Mouse movie and not something original or ambitious. We should be getting something like Mort, not a Mickey Mouse movie. However, there is a possibility that this will be an animated classic, so I won't be too skeptical. A very good Mickey Mouse movie can be a nice addition to Disney's animated film legacy while also reeling in bucks for corporate Disney. One last thing, it better be in hand-drawn animation. Classic cartoon characters in computer animation just don't work. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and the CGI direct-to-video Popeye movie (which I never saw) are good examples.

Of course, we don't know what will come next. Who knows what story Disney will adapt, or if they'll do more original works like Bolt and Wreck-It Ralph. They might bring back projects like Mort or old cancelled projects like Fraidy Cat and A Few Good Ghosts. Maybe not, sometimes projects are canned at Disney and show up years later. Walt Disney considered The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast back in the 1930s and 1950s, we got them in 1989 and 1991. Lilo & Stitch was around in the 1980s, but the film came out in 2002. Treasure Planet was thought of in the late 1980s, and we finally got that in 2002. If they don't go back to scrapped ideas (and they have a TON of scrapped projects), who knows what new original projects they will come up.

Right now, Walt Disney Animation Studios' future is somewhat unpredictable. Their upcoming animated film for this year is a "great decider" of sorts. Tangled was a smash, Winnie the Pooh was gap filler (very good gap filler), so now it's down to Wreck-It Ralph. If this film is a runaway success, then we might see Disney green light ambitious projects. We might see more projects being announced. Wreck-It Ralph needs to repeat the success of Tangled and establish Disney as a competitor to the big guns. A poster is already out, so hopefully a good trailer will be up soon. Hopefully Disney markets this thing aggressively, much like they did with Tangled. Another big success is what the studio needs, after having a string of underperformers and flops. Hopefully Wreck-It Ralph will signal a new, successful, ambitious, creative direction for Walt Disney Animation Studios.

We may find out in November...

The Future of Walt Disney Animation Studios (Part 1)


With the studio's 52nd animated film, Wreck-It Ralph, hitting theaters this autumn (if you go by the official so-called "canon"), what future does Walt Disney Animation Studios have? It's hard to say at the moment, considering that their upcoming slate only includes that film and Frozen. Nothing is scheduled for 2014, and we don't even know what else is really in development. We've heard about the Mickey Mouse film project and King of the Elves, but that's it... Walt Disney Animation Studios' upcoming slate is shockingly underwhelming. It shows that Disney isn't fully confident in their recent animated output, which is a shame, because their post-Eisner films lack the big issues seen in most of the films produced from 1995-2005. In fact, they rival the Renaissance films and are somewhat superior to some of them. (A radical viewpoint, but I digress)

I was hoping that the success of Tangled would lead to them announcing more future projects. Disney's upcoming slate usually changes in some way or another, and sometimes promising projects (Wild Life, A Few Good Ghosts, Fraidy Cat) would be scrapped. Others would be re-tooled, such as American Dog and Rapunzel Unbraided. Apparently Mort, the planned adaptation of the Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett, is dead as well. We heard about that when Tangled was coming out in November 2010, and we heard that no one other than Ron Clements and John Musker were supposed to direct it, but nothing much since. What happened? Back in November 2010, it seemed like the line-up would be: Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, The Snow Queen, Reboot Ralph, Mort and Jack and the Beanstalk. This line-up is no more, only two projects have survived: Reboot Ralph and The Snow Queen, but with different titles.

I'm currently on the fence about Frozen. Personally, I'm glad that The Snow Queen project is finally back in the works, and the fact that a release date is set shows that Disney definitely green-lit it or had confidence in it. The project has been on and off for years, and it's good to see the folks at Disney bringing it back. Chris Buck is directing the film, as he co-directed Tarzan (which I believe is one of the best Disney animated features of the 1990s, not The Lion King) and co-directed Sony Pictures Animation's unfairly overlooked 2007 film Surf's Up. Kristen Bell will provide the voice of the protagonist, Gerda. Judging by her Broadway background, this might be a musical.

What I'm not crazy about is the fact that the film is going to be a computer animated film. Listen, I love computer animation and I think it's equal to hand-drawn animation and stop-motion animation. To reject computer animation while praising hand-drawn animation is ignorant in my book. I don't consider it to be any lesser than hand-drawn animation, nor do I consider it to be better. That said, I was hoping that this project would be the next hand-drawn film, but something tells me that the box office performances of The Princess and the Frog, Tangled and Winnie the Pooh convinced the executives at Disney to re-think reviving hand-drawn animation. If that's true, then this is 2003 all over again: The films failed because they were hand-drawn! Nobody likes hand-drawn animation anymore! It's outdated!

This is not true, of course, but this mindset seems to be persisting at Disney. Had those two films been marketed better and given a better release date, I think the folks at Disney would've been singing a different tune. We' probably hear about several hand-drawn projects. I have nothing against Disney doing computer animated films. Meet the Robinsons, Bolt and Tangled look great and I'm hoping Ralph will have some stunning animation as well, but this studio has a legacy of hand-drawn animation. They might not have invented the medium, but they sure revolutionized it! Pixar did the same for computer animation, but if Disney tries to move away from hand-drawn animation again like they almost did when Eisner was still CEO, then I won't be happy. A lot of folks won't be.

Then you might ask, "But doesn't the story matter most?" It does, but poor storytelling was what killed films like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear and Home on the Range. The Pixar films made so much money because they were good. Shrek did well because it was good. Ice Age did well because it was good. Shrek 2 did well because it was a hotly anticipated sequel to a good film that happened to come out at the time I like to refer to as the "CGI Fad". That "fad" would ware off in 2005 and 2006 when audiences weren't too thrilled with the likes of Valiant, Hoodwinked!, Doogal, The Wild, Barnyard and several others. The damage was already done by then, the fact that the final hand-drawn films from Disney and DreamWorks underwhelmed plus the fact that CGI ran over the art form was what put hand-drawn animation in the coma it's trying to get out of. Executives felt that computer animation was the new frontier (not artistically, of course), and to see hand-drawn animation possibly go through this again is heartbreaking. These executives felt that audiences rejected the aforementioned films was because they were hand-drawn, not because of how disappointing they were.

Aside from the fact that Frozen won't be hand-drawn, I'm also a bit worried that Disney will approach the story the same way they did with Tangled. While I really enjoyed Tangled, I wouldn't call it one of Disney's better efforts. Sure, it beats most of the 2000-2005 films, but I personally felt that Bolt, Frog and Winnie the Pooh were superior. Tangled was somewhat irreverent and it didn't take itself too seriously sometimes, while at other times, it was right in line Frog and the Pixar films. It was a bit inconsistent, but it was certainly entertaining and heartfelt. The characters were great too, but hopefully Disney doesn't do this with Frozen, because they would be repeating themselves.

I'd like see a more Grimm fairy tale-like approach. Remember Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? There were some pretty dark scenes in that film, and Walt Disney wasn't afraid of putting them in there. While there wasn't any graphic violence, the scenes still scared the living daylights out of young children. While parents complained that it was too frightening for their children, Walt Disney simply thought, "It's not a children's film." Something like The Little Mermaid is more child-friendly. After Walt passed away, animation was viewed as kiddie stuff, and Mermaid is usually one of the films that critics of Disney point to when the subject of "Disneyification" comes up. The film has dark scenes, but it has a kiddie side to it. Snow White is loaded with darkness, but the cuteness and comic relief isn't in your face, and it can appeal to adults much like a Pixar film. The dwarfs weren't meant to just entertain kids, they were meant to entertain everyone in the audience. The film carefully balances these things, which is probably why it's rightly considered one of Disney's finest achievements. Walt didn't make films for children, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg felt that Disney films had to be for kids. Those films pandered to kids, the Walt films did not.

My only problem with most of the Disney Renaissance films based on fairy tales is that they are essentially remakes of The Little Mermaid: Epic good vs. evil story, annoying cute sidekicks for the kids to laugh at, big musical numbers and an epic showdown with the villain at the end. Frog and Tangled had shades of that, but I'd like to see Disney deviate from that completely. Frog might've had the musical numbers and the good vs. evil story, but it had dark moments and not much cutesy stuff. While Frog did feel like a Renaissance film, it also felt like a Walt film. Tangled was more cutesy, and felt more like a 90s Disney film. There wasn't any kind of formula when Walt was around. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is not the same as Cinderella. Frozen should not be another 90s Renaissance-style fairy tale adaptation. I don't care if the executives want Gerda to appeal to young girls and have billions of dolls sold, I want something different and bold. Walt didn't have to worry about that, since there was no big Disney Princesses brand back then. That was all a product of the Michael Eisner regime.

That said, we don't know what direction Disney is taking this film in. I don't want a 90s Renaissance revival with too much cutesy stuff, I want something similar to Snow White or Pinocchio, or maybe something completely different. Something even darker than the Walt films, which were pretty dark as far as family films go. Most animation studios play it safe with cuddly comedies and romps, except Pixar, but we need other studios doing this too. Disney should try it with this film.

Remember this?

Finally, the title. I wish it was The Snow Queen. The title change is just proof that Disney totally buys into the "young boys won't see a girly movie" belief. Forget young boys, who cares what they want to see? You should care what everyone wants to see, and the kids will see it regardless. If it's a movie with a princess or queen, then market it properly and make it appeal to everyone. Tangled's marketing campaign, cynical and DreamWorks-y as it was, should tell them. I mean, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast were extremely successful. I guess back in 1989 and 1991, young boys weren't afraid of seeing "girly princess movies". No, those films were marketed correctly. The Princess and the Frog wasn't.

That's all I have to say about Frozen. When will we get a trailer? Who knows. With Rich Ross and MT Carney out, Disney's marketing department might kick things off early on instead of waiting to unveil something in early spring. Who knows, maybe they'll attach a trailer of it to Brave. If not, then Wreck-It Ralph. The teaser for Frog was out before Bolt hit theaters, so who knows? Am I excited for it? Like I said, I'm currently on the fence, but I would like to see what direction they're going with the project. What do you think? Are you excited for Frozen? What do you think of the title? Sound off!

In part two, I'll go over King of the Elves, the untitled Mickey Mouse film and more...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rich Ross Leaves Disney and Brad Bird News

The other day, big news came from the Mouse House. Rich Ross has left Disney. Ross has been with Disney for many years until becoming the Chairman in October 2009. The former Chairman oversaw some big successes like Pixar's Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, the inevitably huge Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and a film from the DreamWorks/Touchstone 30-film deal, The Help. He also oversaw colossal failures like Image Mover's Mars Needs Moms, the made-for-TV-quality Prom, and most importantly, Andrew Stanton's ambitious adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic John Carter of Mars novels, John Carter. He was also the man who made MT Carney the head of Disney's marketing department in April 2010, a huge mistake. She ultimately left Disney a few months ago, before John Carter came out. (For the better, I'd say)

In Ross' resignation letter, he stated that he felt that being chairman wasn't the right profession for him. The John Carter debacle most likely influenced him to resign, considering how that project's budget spiraled out of control and how terrible the marketing was. I wish the best for Ross, but I believe he wasn't the right man for the job. Here's hoping someone suitable will replace him, and perhaps vastly improve Disney's marketing department along with other things. Perhaps in the future, we can see good Disney films doing well at the box office. That said, who will be his replacement? Rumors are going around, some of which stated that Kevin Feige (who has produced all of the Marvel Studios films since 2000) might take his place. Who knows how things will go over if he becomes the Chairman, though I wouldn't be surprised. Who do you think will replace him? What is your take on this?

Recently, Brad Bird confirmed that he won't be directing the fifth Mission: Impossible film, if there ever is one. He stated that he liked how each film was handled by a different director, thus they all feel like different films. I'd say this is for the better, because I'd love to see what Bird's next animation project is. Either that, or he'll fire up his 1906 project, which he apparently wants to do next. What I'd like to know is, what ever happened to Ray Gunn? Apparently he was planning on doing this project when he was with Warner Bros. during production of The Iron Giant. After the success of The Incredibles, it was possible that this would be Bird's next Pixar production. Back then, this was when Ratatouille was helmed by Jan Pinkava and was slated for a fall 2006 release.

If 1906 doesn't go over, maybe that will be his next big project. Who knows at the moment, but I think 1906 will be it. It's been in development for quite some time. Bird hasn't forgotten about Ray Gunn, as he brought it up back when Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol came out. It's supposed to be a sci-fi noir story of sorts, something that would work as a Pixar film, considering that Pixar isn't afraid to try new things with each film they make. Personally, I'd love to see Ray Gunn get made. Supposedly, it's in the PG-13 territory, which could make for an interesting Pixar film. I've known about it since 2004, and I'd love to see it happen. What do you think? Would you rather see Bird do 1906? Or Ray Gunn? What did you think of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol? Will you see a fifth M:I film regardless of who the director is? Sound off!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"John Carter" Leaps to Home Media

Even John Carter himself thinks this cover
looks terrible.

Disney's much derided science fiction epic John Carter will hit Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and DVD on June 5th. (Much like Disney's Alice in Wonderland, which opened in early March and hit home video in early June) Hopefully this respectable adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic finds a new life on home video, and finds an audience. It's currently up for pre-order on Amazon, though it has been up for weeks.

Anyways, the cover artwork is awful. Usually covers for Disney Blu-ray releases (and a lot of other films) aren't really anything to write home about, but these covers are basically as bad as the posters if not worse. If Disney releases a nice steelbook alongside these editions, I would gladly pick that up. Would you like to see Disney release a John Carter steelbook? If so, what kind of artwork would you like to see on the steelbook? Personally, I'd like to see something with the JCM logo on it. Or perhaps they can use the awesome mondo poster. (Which pretty much destroys every John Carter poster put together by the marketing department)


Will you get John Carter when it hits Blu-ray? Did you like the film? Or were you disappointed by it? If you've never seen the film, are you willing to give it a shot when it hits home media? Sound off!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Wreck-It Ralph"'s First Poster Makes Its Debut

It's about time. Disney has finally released something that has to do with their upcoming animated feature Wreck-It Ralph. It's not a trailer, unfortunately, but a poster... A great poster at that! It's not like the usual posters for Disney animated films, or most animated films in general. A great retro design that reminds us of the days when video arcades ruled, the poster shows Wreck-It Ralph himself in his 8-bit form with the release date in the 8-bit font. It's certainly an attention-grabbing poster (it's already getting praise for its retro design), and it shows that this is not going to be your typical animated film.


... Which is a good thing, because Walt Disney Animation Studios (as I've said many times before) have made some really good films in the past five years since Michael Eisner stepped down as CEO of The Walt Disney Company, and they need to show audiences and movie-goers early on that these films are worth seeing in theaters. Compare this to the posters for, say, Bolt... Big difference! Like I said, this will be something different, and this poster proves it. No cutesy stuff or what you'd come to expect on a Disney poster. It's minimalist, retro and interesting.

There's only one thing this poster is missing: THE TITLE! Oh well, the Facebook page is on it. So Disney might be learning their lesson after the way they marketed The Princess and the Frog, John Carter and several other films. The good thing is, they at least got a poster out. This also means that we may get a trailer for the film very soon. I'm hoping they release one before Aardman's The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (or Band of Misfits, if you want to go by the US title) or before The Avengers. The Avengers would be a smart choice, since that's obviously going to be huge. I'm just hoping they don't wait until Brave comes out to unleash the trailer.

If they go ahead with a very strong marketing campaign, Walt Disney Animation Studios might see another Tangled-sized smash hit, but this time, an ambitious film will be the box office champion and open people up to what a Disney animated feature can be. If it goes over well, we'll probably see more risky efforts like this one.

What are your thoughts on this poster? Are you anticipating this film? Do you think it will be another home run for the Mouse House? Sound off!

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.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" Crosses $200 Million at the Domestic Box Office

Yesterday, Universal/Illumination's Dr. Seuss' The Lorax crossed $200 million at the domestic box office, the first animated film to do so since Disney's Tangled in spring 2011. It currently stands at $200.7 million, as well being the second highest grossing animated film released in March behind DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon. (It's possible that this will outgross it by a hair) To me, this is both a good thing and a bit of a bad thing for animation at the domestic box office. While I didn't think The Lorax was mediocre, it surely wasn't great either. Parts of it were entertaining and enjoyable, and most of the characters were likable. On the other hand, it was filled with some of the sugary things that tend to make animation look like a kid's thing. I'm all for animated comedies, and when they are pulled off well, they are good. The Lorax somewhat succeeds in doing this, but what doesn't soar is close to mediocre and at times cringe-worthy. All in all, it was a romp that was pretty much Despicable Me meets Dr. Seuss, but this time around, there isn't as much charm. It does feel very conventional and audience-friendly, and at times it panders to the younger set. It's an average animated film at best that's got its fair share of entertaining moments. However, you may disagree, and that's fine. What did you think of the film? Did you like it? Did you hate it? Was it just "meh" to you? I'm all ears.

Anyways, the fact that this was a success while films like RangoArthur Christmas and The Adventures of Tintin struggled at the box office somewhat annoys me. Again, I enjoyed The Lorax and thought it was a pleasant little diversion, but nothing more than that. Let's go back to March 2011, when Paramount's Rango hit theaters. This groundbreaking collaboration between ILM, Blind Wink and GK Films was surreal, off the wall and unlike anything else while still being conventional enough to entertain audiences. Yet this film was a moderate success at best, grossing $123 million domestically and getting mixed reactions from audiences. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, with its candy-coated visuals and tone, was more family friendly and ultimately outgrossed every animated film that was released in 2011. Arthur Christmas was another one, it was coming from a studio who only scored one hit in the states, and it was lost in the shuffle. The Adventures of Tintin might've been directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, but it seems like Americans weren't too familiar with the source material. Both films had good legs, but they both missed $100 million domestically.

This is somewhat telling, that the domestic market (remember domestic doesn't just refer to the US) might only like derivative comedies, but if that is so, why did the recent Alvin and the Chipmunks movie underperform? While its legs were strong, it still wasn't the smash hit that the first two were. The Lorax got to where it got because of that opening weekend. I don't think anybody expected $70 million for this film. I thought my $45 million opening weekend prediction was a little too high. Anyways, The Lorax will probably finish with less than $220 million. If it does, it'll indicate that it certainly wasn't a huge hit with audiences after its opening. (You got to remember the aggressive marketing behind this thing, and the fact that it's based on a Dr. Seuss book) This means that the film will probably score a 3x multiplier at best, which is lower than the multiplier Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! pulled back in 2008, without 3D. Also consider that this isn't a summer release, and family films do better during the summer since kids are out of school. If The Lorax was released around the time Despicable Me hit in 2010, $250 million would've been in play. Maybe, but this was clearly an audience-friendly animated film outside of Pixar and DreamWorks' films.

I'm perfectly fine with Pixar's films grossing $200 million every year, since they don't pander to any specific audience, ditto some of DreamWorks' recent efforts. Disney's films don't do so well because they are crippled by awful marketing campaigns. (I already voiced my frustrations about that on the last post) Then you've got your Blue Sky and Sony films that do reasonably well. Then you have your Rangos and Tintins that just don't catch on. How come films like these are ignored? Why can't they catch on? How come they aren't appealing to audiences? Here's some theories as to why they didn't do so well. Rango could've been a huge success, but it wasn't. Why? Too weird for family audiences, maybe? The problem is, there's still tons of adults and teens who won't attend an animated film or will regard it as a "kids only" flick (I always to have to point that out), and without family audiences, an animated film just seems to crumble. This is why anything animated that has a PG-13 or R rating won't come anywhere near $100 million at the domestic box office, unless it's based on something everyone knows that has been loved over the years. (The Simpsons Movie) Okay, maybe Rango was a little unconventional with its character designs and surreal tone, but certainly something like Arthur Christmas could catch on right? It's got appealing characters, funny elves and it's a warm sentimental Christmas story. Sounds like box office gold... It didn't even reach $50 million! Maybe it's because it was crammed between other family films that also disappointed at the box office (remember, The Muppets didn't really take off after its solid opening). The Adventures of Tintin was arguably more conventional than Rango, and that too missed $100 million. Okay, maybe American audiences aren't familiar with the source material, but even if they weren't, they would still see a classic action-adventure film regardless of what it's based on, right? The marketing didn't really establish who Tintin is, the trailers and commercials didn't really clue American audiences in on the original comics, and it wasn't an easy sell to begin with. It just looked like a generic action film to those who don't know about the original comics. Paramount probably assumed that audiences would go see a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style Spielberg film regardless of what it was based on and kids would beg their parents to take them because it has a comical dog in it. It was released amidst heavy competition and had to rely on legs to get it up to $77 million. Thankfully, it was a bigger success worldwide.

Anyways, enough with the debbie-downer stuff, it's nice to see an animated film actually clearing $200 million at the domestic box office. Sure, Cars 2 came close, but it seemed like $200 million was unreachable for this year's animated crop, even Brave. Well, with The Lorax doing well along with films like The Hunger Games breaking records, 2012 might be a great year for animation since it's already a great year for box office in general. I once referred to The Lorax as being the great decider of the fate of animation here in the states, and with it breaking $200 million, I am confident that we'll see a few other $200 million grossers this year. Maybe even a $300 million grosser. (I'm hoping that will be Brave) Now I know box office does not equal quality filmmaking, but if very high quality films (other than Pixar's) catch on at the box office, we might see a bright future for animation here in America.

As a side note, here are my current predictions:
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! - $66 million
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted - $117 million
Brave - $302 million
Ice Age: Continental Drift - $148 million
ParaNorman - $78 million
Hotel Transylvania - $102 million
Frankenweenie - $90 million
Wreck-It Ralph - $152 million (Come on Disney, start marketing this film!)
Rise of the Guardians - $204 million

The success of The Lorax indicates that there will be a good future for the medium, and that audiences are still interested in animation. Let's just look at 2011 and chalk it up to it being a bad year for box office in general. I wonder what would've happened if Rango or Tintin or Arthur Christmas were released this year, or better yet Cars 2, DreamWorks' two films and Rio. Would they have made more? What do you think? Do you think The Lorax being a success is a good thing or bad thing for animation here in the states? Also, how much do you think the other animated films will make this year? Sound off!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rant: Disney's Marketing Department

Note: I'm no expert and this entire rant is opinion-based. If you're looking for exactness, don't read any further.

Disney's marketing department has been receiving considerable amounts of criticism for their failure to promote Andrew Stanton's adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' epic science fiction novels, John Carter. What do I say? They deserve it, every last bit of it. While I don't approve of the folks who slammed the film, Andrew Stanton and the Mouse House in general, the marketing department really tripped up here. This, and along with other blunders, is what makes Disney's marketing department a target of criticism from folks such as myself, fans and the press. This colossal failure is also what hurts Disney in the long run along with their animation studio and other projects.

John Carter... It was once thought to be an epic science fiction blockbuster from the Mouse House, but it has now become the punchline of the press. It's already being forgotten by mainstream audiences, as the film has eked past $66 million at the domestic box office off of a $30 million debut. Word of mouth couldn't save it, it left audiences cold. While the reviews were on par with the likes of Tron: Legacy and higher than most summer blockbuster films that somehow gross $250 million when they don't deserve to, it still wasn't enough to save the film. It's doing respectable business overseas, but a $350 million final total won't make Disney executives happy. Lead actor Taylor Kitsch has been defending the film to the press, but we haven't heard from anyone else. Disney seems to be ashamed of the film itself.

What they should be ashamed of is how they marketed this film. Articles are everywhere, criticizing the marketing campaign. While some people were a little too mean-spirited towards the film and the Mouse House, Disney's marketing department does deserve the criticism it's getting. I firmly believed (along with many others) that the title change was what crippled Stanton's epic adaptation of Burroughs' influential classic from the start, along with the disappointing trailers and equally disappointing TV spots. In short, Disney's marketing department killed this film, and some of the people working for Disney are putting the blame on Andrew Stanton. (No, really!) Disney's marketing department crippled other films that could've been hits. This might sound insane, but something like Bolt could've easily taken in $200 million at the domestic box office, or $150 million at the least. No, that film only grossed $114 million domestically, a weak total when you stack it up next to other 2008 animated hits such as Blue Sky's Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! ($154 million), DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda ($215 million), Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa ($180 million), and Pixar's WALL-E. ($223 million) Instead, the marketing was lazy. The trailer was poorly put together, and the marketing pushed Miley Cyrus' name, whose character Penny isn't one of the lead characters. In fact, she's not even in it as much.

If Disney felt that this would help get the film popular, then they were dead wrong. Showing Cyrus' name probably scared off the people (such as myself) who hate "that" side of Disney. You know, the crass side of Disney that's all about Hannah Montana and the schlock on the Disney Channel. It didn't scare me off, what drove me away was the trailer. Also, I was still a bit bitter about the whole change from Chris Sanders' quirky American Dog idea into something more conventional. When I saw the film for the first time on Blu-ray (it was a blind buy, no less), I really enjoyed it. I wanted to turn back time and see the film in the theaters.

Bolt opened with $26 million at the domestic box office, which was an incredibly low opening weekend for a wide release animated film from a high profile studio. That was only a bit more than what Meet the Robinsons pulled in on its opening weekend back in 2007. Then something happened. It grew legs. Audiences clearly liked this film, but the low total said otherwise to Disney. Let's say the film was marketed properly, it would've made at least $35 million on its opening weekend. Let's just say it took in $40 million, then had the same word of mouth it did, it would've made over $170 million domestically. Maybe even more. Thanksgiving is a great time to release animated family films, but Disney blew it.

Disney blew it again with The Princess and the Frog. Instead of releasing the film sometime in November, before competition like Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and the "shitmunks" sequel, it would've scored a good-sized opening weekend. If they had marketed it like an event, and not some attempt to recreate the Disney Renaissance, then it would've had a bigger opening weekend than $24 million. (Even lower than Meet the Robinsons and Bolt!) With enough time to rake in cash before the heavy hitters came in, the film would've crossed $150 million domestically. But no, Disney released the critically panned comedy Old Dogs on the weekend Frog should've been released on. (Frog received a two theater-only release that weekend, the wide release was on December 11th) Old Dogs did poorly, and did it teach Disney a lesson? Sort of. Tangled was released on the Thanksgiving weekend, but against Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 1. Still, the film's marketing was aggressive and in-your-face. This is why it opened with $48 million, got great word of mouth and worked its way up to $200 million despite the heavy competition. (With some fudging from Disney, of course) If Frog opened on that weekend back in 2009 with aggressive marketing behind it, it would've made around $35 million or more, and with legs, it would've been the hit it deserved to be!

So Tangled does extremely well, but the hand-drawn film doesn't, and now Disney's future in animation seems to be CGI-topia! If Frog didn't underperform, there would be a push for more hand-drawn projects. Not anymore, especially with Winnie the Pooh being the one of the least attended Disney animated films of all time. Apparently Disney is reverting back to their 2003 mindset: "It failed because it was hand-drawn!" No, Winnie the Pooh failed because there was hardly any effort put into the marketing and it was released against heavy-hitters in a box office bloodbath of a month. Now look, The Snow Queen is Frozen and it's going to be computer animated! Well, hopefully it's a good film or one that at least deviates from the style they used for Bolt and Tangled. If it's going to be a remake of Tangled, then I won't be happy.

See where I'm getting at? These animated films that are superior to their crop in the last fifteen years and something ambitious and enjoyable like John Carter have all done okay or horribly. If Disney's marketing department didn't make all of these blunders, these films would have been successful. John Carter's sequel is now doomed, but Disney is still going through with ambitious live action projects, like Paladin. The Lone Ranger is hitting theaters in May 2013. What about Walt Disney Animation Studios? Sure, we've got the risky Wreck-It Ralph coming out. We have no idea what Frozen will be like. All we know is that after Frozen, nothing is scheduled for 2014 or 2015. All we know is that a Mickey Mouse film is in the works and that King of the Elves is in development, as it has been in development since 2008! Anything else? What happened to Mort? Or better yet, how come we don't know about other projects that are in the works? What other ambitious projects are in the works at the Mouse House? Hardly any. Maybe in 2015, they'll surprise us all. Maybe they won't.

It's not the quality of the films, it's the marketing. Imagine if Disney's marketing department tripped up marketing another studio's film? Let's say they messed up marketing something like The Hunger Games, they would've thrown away a great opportunity. Imagine if John Carter was handled by someone like Warner Bros. or Paramount, perhaps it wouldn't have been the colossal box office disappointment that it is.

That said, Disney's marketing department is probably aware of the fact that the name "Disney" alone turns people off, especially in America. We live in a country where animation and all things Disney are called "kiddie stuff". We live in a country where classic animated films and icons are perceived as lame and kiddie. We live in a country where teen audiences won't be seen attending anything with the Disney name on it that's family friendly. It's not just in America, either, animation gets the same flack everywhere else, but in America, it is rampant. In order to get something like one of their recent animated films or something like John Carter to appeal to audiences, they need to have chops. Make these films look epic. Don't waste the trailers on failed jokes or just action. You got to find a way to lure audiences in, especially if you're putting some of your films up against heavy hitters. That's Disney's other big problem. Combining lackluster marketing with putting the films against obvious hits. (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.)

Look at how Disney markets Pixar's films. They pour a lot of effort into marketing Pixar's films. Just look at the marketing for Toy Story 3 and Brave. Toy Story 3's marketing had the popularity of the first two films behind it, but they still put effort into it. Remember the viral marketing? The college cliffhanger screenings? They aggressively marketed it to everyone, from adults to teens to families. Brave has an excellent two-minute clip of the film being shown in theaters as a trailer, much like the trailer for The Lion King that was actually the entire "Circle of Life" scene. The marketing for Toy Story 3 and Brave made these films appeal to adults and teenagers. To everyone. Despite the "Disney is for kiddies" syndrome that people tend to suffer from, the marketing convinced them that these are events worth seeing. The only things that don't work are the trailers, but people know that Pixar delivers the goods, so the mediocre trailers never throw them off.

I can't say the same about the way they market their other films. John Carter? Three underwhelming trailers, an awful Super Bowl TV spot and TV spots that focused on action, action, action with no oomph. The recent animated films? A few trailers, not much marketing, unconvincing TV spots, and that's pretty much it. Most of these marketing materials are skewering kids anyway, while these films are designed for everyone to enjoy. Disney will keep getting the "Disney is for kids only" flack if they keep marketing their animated films this way. If their films did better, maybe animation wouldn't have such a hard time catching on in this country. If they can convince people that G and PG-rated animated films from another studio are worth seeing no matter how old they are, they can also do so for their own animated films.