Tuesday, August 20, 2013

For Future Reference...

Well, the summer animation battle has pretty much come to a close. Yes, Planes might have been out for ten days, but it's pretty much over... So, what are the results and what can they teach distributors in the far future?

The Hollywood Reporter's click-bait title of an otherwise okay box office article would lead you to believe that there was an animation "curse". The Los Angeles Times also gets it dead wrong with their headline, suggesting that the recent string of duds is the result of the amount of animated features out there rather than the quality. Hollywood cranking out too many? Think again.

When will people realize that animated films that bomb do so for a good reason? Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is more than going to make these people eat their words (pun shamelessly intended), as its inevitably going to be a big hit. Why's that? It's a sequel to a film that critics loved, audiences of all ages loved and one that's just well-known. The sequel is being marketed right, and many are excited for it. It's clearing $120 million this autumn, guaranteed.

So with that, let's look at the last 5 animated releases...

Monsters University kicked things off to a good start after Epic quietly walked out of the gate (a film that was saddled with its own problems, its performance doesn't really have too much to do with its scheduling), with a big $82 million, certainly a good-sized debut for a Pixar film. So this film was on its way to $300 million domestically, right? Well, along came the minions. Despicable Me 2 opened with $83 million and got an even bigger boost from its Wednesday opening, and in no time in passed $300 million at the domestic box office - the first animated film to do so since Toy Story 3! It will end up with a sub-$400 million gross, which is great for this sequel. Universal calls it their most profitable release ever...

But did Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 perform well together? Well... Sort of... Monsters University, by the time its out of theaters, will have scored below a 3.3x multiplier. That's one above the lowest for a Pixar film: Cars 2. I think Minionmania really sucked the audiences away from Pixar's prequel, plus it's possible that families gravitated towards the Illumination film because Monsters University certainly was one of Pixar's quieter films, one that didn't have a lot of action or spectacle. Despicable Me 2 on the other hand had the laughs, but also the minions, lots of fun action and everything else. Perhaps Monsters University was released a little too close to Despicable Me 2, which was undeniably going to be a titan.

However, both films did very good and that's all that matters. Both were highly anticipated, both delivered, and both certainly appealed to audiences enough. The next three films... Well, that's a different story.

I will give props to Fox marketing for this...

Turbo was shackled by its concept and the marketing didn't differentiate it from everything else, plus it was opening inside the Despicable Me 2 tidal wave. The Smurfs 2 had little to no adult appeal, plus families already saw three other films before it. Had it opened in August, maybe it would've done a little better. Planes? Obviously that wasn't going to be big to begin with.

You need to give adults and teenagers a reason to go see your animated film, and that also includes parents who might not want to subject themselves to something like The Smurfs 2 in the theater. You not only have to have one that's good for them, but you need to make it look good to them. Monsters University is a prequel to a beloved animated classic that adults and children adore. Despicable Me 2 is a sequel to a recent animated hit that both adults and children loved. No surprise those two did very well, and they are the first animated films to cross the $250 million mark since the original Despicable Me... Three summers ago!

It all boils down to the content of the films, the marketing and timing. Perhaps if these studios spaced their films out a bit more, I think all of them would've done okay business. Why wasn't something like Epic or Turbo an autumn release? Or a Christmas release? What about... Mid-August?

Now, what does this mean for the future?

2015 is crammed. Monster Trucks kicks off a similarly large animation battle that'll end in late July with the Smurfs three-quel. I think this isn't going to be pretty, and many other planned 2015 animation releases haven't even been scheduled yet, such as Aardman's Shaun the Sheep, Rainmaker's Ratchet & Clank and if one is coming, a Planes three-quel. (Going by what Blue Sky Disney's Honor Hunter said recently, there will be definitely be a third one.) That year's holiday season is going to get a bit hairy as well.

Which makes me wonder, how come studios aren't spacing their work out a little more? Shouldn't someone opt for an August release? Or an April one? I don't know, it just seems like a couple of them may underperform because they're being released so close to each other. We also don't know what the quality be like on films like Monster Trucks and B.O.O.. Also, 20th Century Fox's plans to open their own animated releases on the same days/months as some Disney or Pixar films (i.e. Blue Sky's Peanuts vs. Finding Dory in 2015, How To Train Your Dragon 3 vs. Dia De Los Muertos in summer 2016) could possibly backfire, or their plans to release them very close to whatever Disney or Pixar is releasing. People will go see the films that will appeal to them the most.

But aside from the timing, we need better quality films from all the studios and a much more diverse selection of films. I know that's a lot to ask for, but you can't just throw a cute family-friendly animated film out there expecting it to do well just because it's cute and it'll appeal to family audiences. You need to get the adults in the theater too! To do so, you got to make a film that will appeal to them or market it so that it will appeal to them!

Next year might just prove my point, look at what we're getting: The Lego Movie, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, The Good Dinosaur, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Big Hero 6. To me, those movies are guaranteed hits because they'll appeal to adults and some of them are sequels to beloved films (How To Train Your Dragon 2 might just pull a Despicable Me 2 next summer), and there's potential money to be made in films like Mr. Peabody & Sherman and Rio 2. The Boxtrolls and Book of Life are the risky types, but I've rambled about this before - we need to make these films successful. Things people should get excited about after seeing a trailer or commercial. It's time we really make more kinds of animated films successful with mainstream audiences, in theaters! More adults-only animation! A diverse selection of animated films from the big studios! Family films, adult films, independent films! Animation is more than just family films and silly comedies. That's another story, though...

So yeah, maybe some studios might want to look into the quality of their films and the timing. Some studios might want to try something new and not follow a formula. Not to sound like a broken record here, but look! Rango did it!

In the mean time... Shut up, press. And to the LA Times writer, animation is not genre. How many times does it have to be said?

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