Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Trouble at DreamWorks

The boy on the moon is facing some trouble... Big trouble...

Following the incredibly disappointing news concerning the status on Me and My Shadow, it looks like DreamWorks' is having a rough time.

Their latest film, Rise of the Guardians, was not a huge box office success. While making close to $300 million at the worldwide box office, it only doubled its $145 million budget by a hair. The holiday-themed film was certainly a tricky sell from the beginning, and the marketing tried its hardest. Whatever the case, it didn't appeal to fickle audiences and had to climb to $100 million with the help of word of mouth. Good reviews and audience reception essentially saved it, but it was overall a financial disappointment.

Since Me and My Shadow was also risky, it makes sense that DreamWorks removed it from the release schedule. The film is now back in the development stages, and I must ask - How much of the film was completed before this abrupt move? Was any animation finalized? Since it was scheduled for a spring 2014 release, I'd assume that some of the film was already animated given the teaser image we got months ago.

Now, DreamWorks has moved Mr. Peabody and Sherman from this November to March 7, 2014. This is ironic because Peabody was originally announced as a March 2014 release, with Shadow being the November 2013 release. Now it's the other way around again. Mr. Peabody and Sherman's move was justified by DreamWorks' Chief Marketing Officer Anne Globe to The Hollywood Reporter earlier today. No further adjustments have been made to the 2014 schedule: How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Happy Smekday! are still in place.

With that, The Croods and Turbo are the production company's only releases this year. Both are sure to perform better than Guardians, being much more market-friendly with safer concepts. Rise of the Guardians, now matter how good it may have been, failed to appeal to many moviegoers because many wrote off the concept as ridiculous. Sad to say, but DreamWorks shouldn't really write this title off as a flop in any way. $300 million is still not too shabby.

But Shadow going back into development is nowhere near as bad as what's going to happen with a good portion of DreamWorks Animation's staff. Massive layoffs are coming, reportedly 500+ people will be let go. If this is indeed a reaction to Guardians' box office performance, then that's rather unfair to the talent at the studio. Guardians may not have made Madagascar numbers, but it certainly wasn't a dud. It was slow burner that unfortunately happened to rake up a small total, and who knows how Blu-ray sales will go over. The cover scheme is very Easter-themed, and I assume that the forthcoming ad campaign for the release will be as well. The Blu-ray and DVD sales could very well cover the reported $96 million write-off for the film.

It's also unfair because The Croods and Turbo should make up for it at the box office. Again, they're much safer and won't have a hard time appealing to casual audiences. Guardians didn't have that appeal outside of the animation community and young audiences, sadly.

That all being said, maybe DreamWorks should cut down their release schedule rather than their staff. They miraculously had three films prepared for 2010 - How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After and Megamind. Would that be able to happen again? Well, obviously not at this rate. If you ask me, DreamWorks has way too much films on their schedule.

Not only are three films hitting theaters next year, but four in 2015: The Penguins of Madagascar, Trolls, B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations and the tentatively titled Mumbai Musical. Can you say "glut"?

Maybe if DreamWorks didn't focus on release dates and more on the story, maybe films like Me and My Shadow wouldn't be canned. It seems to me that the crew were having problems with the story, and with that deadline on their back, they didn't have time to think things through. When working on roughly three films for a 2014 release, there is considerable pressure, especially when their latest work is above average. I think it would be a bit ridiculous to expect the hard-working artists to have something of very good quality be finished alongside two or three other pictures (which are also expected to be of good quality) for release in a certain year.

In short, I think DreamWorks needs to take their time. Stop putting release dates on projects that are only in development, and give them time to grow. That's the Pixar process. That's the Disney process. DreamWorks ought to do the same.

DreamWorks suits also need to look at Guardians from another perspective, it was a massive risk. If Pixar had made that film, it probably would've had no problem at the box office. But from someone other than Pixar, they have to earn an audience. Pixar's is built-in, almost all of their films since Finding Nemo have taken in over $60 million on opening weekend. Their work is spotted by the audience, they can tell if it's Pixar, even in a world where people assume all CGI films are Pixar or Disney. DreamWorks still doesn't have that pull, most of their non-sequel films open below $50 million nowadays.

Sadly, box office is again dictating a company's decisions. That all being said, I wish the best for the people who are being let go. Hopefully all of those talented people will succeed elsewhere...

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