Tuesday, December 17, 2013

First Pick

Nowadays, studios have to claim dates very early on in order to set up a fortress of sorts. The big budget film world is a very competitive one, and so is the world of family-friendly animation. The six big studios currently providing our mainstream animated fare happen to produce costly films generally aimed at a wide variety of age groups.

So getting a good release date is very, very important. Also, summer and the holiday season aren't the only options anymore, and for the better. With more studios coming up, they can't just cram everything into one season or timeframe. Just look at this past summer!

But the problem is, when a studio picks a date, they'll usually stick to it. This especially applies to animation.

For a non-animated example, The Avengers was slated for May 4, 2012 as far back as March 2009. No way was it ever going to move, and it was pretty much a given by the time Iron Man 2 opened in theaters worldwide in spring 2010. The date simply told other studios, "Back off, this our territory!" Naturally, a lot of studios avoided releasing their big blockbusters up against the massive Marvel event. Those who did, well… Didn't fare too well, but maybe they were aware of their less-than-stellar product to begin with. *cough*Dark Shadows*cough*Battleship*cough**cough*

Animated films are scheduled in similar ways. If Pixar gets a mid-June date, back off... Unless something happens and Pixar has to end up moving the film. Other studios can be brave, Fox certainly has the balls to keep How To Train Your Dragon 3 in the mid-June 2016 spot despite the fact that it opens against Finding Dory. They're also content with releasing Blue Sky's Peanuts mere weeks before Pixar's The Good Dinosaur. Prior to this, DreamWorks and other studios usually kept their films a good distance from whatever Pixar was releasing.

However, is this "first pick" routine detrimental to some studios' output?

I think it has been to Pixar in the recent years. I think penciling in exact dates for in-development films like Newt, Brave and Cars 2 back in early 2008 wasn't a wise move, neither was scheduling The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out years before their planned release dates. I think what would be better would be Pixar claiming dates, but not specifying what will be coming out on those dates. Just look at Walt Disney Animation Studios…

They have four untitled entries slated for 3/4/2016, 11/23/2016, 3/9/2018 and 11/21/2018. We fans have heard of projects like Zootopia, Giants and Moana. We put together the puzzle pieces and figure that those three will be the first three of the four undetermined releases, in that order. Blue Sky Disney's Honor Hunter knows what's going on up at the Hat Building, so this may all come true. Zootopia was also revealed at D23, right after the Big Hero 6 presentation. That Marvel-based film opens on November 7, 2014, the following Disney Animation film will open in March 2016. Logically, Zootopia will most likely be the March 4, 2016 Walt Disney Animation Studios film.

But… Disney never outright said that Zootopia is opening on March 4, 2016. You know what I think of that? That's a very smart move.

Giants doesn't have a release date in addition to not being officially announced by the company, ditto Moana. Why is this a good thing? Well, what if Zootopia runs into a wall during production? *knock on wood* Don't want any nasty studio politics to rear their ugly heads, nor do we want to gets the news that director Byron Howard - since this is his first solo film - was removed from the project. No, no, no and NO. We don't want any of that…

I think by not officially confirming that March 2016 date for Zootopia, Disney is essentially allowing the artists to breathe so that the films turn out to be great. Maybe Zootopia will make it to spring 2016, maybe it won't, maybe it might need more time. Maybe Giants will be in a very good state that it'll move ahead of it, and Zootopia's crew can iron out the kinks with a small delay relieving them of the pressure. Maybe, maybe…

As long as we get the films soon and they come out great, what's not to like? Now let's look at a studio like DreamWorks.

Their schedule shuffles constantly… Too many times to name!

Me and My Shadow moved between the November 2013 and March 2014 timeframe quite a bit before the studio officially removed it from their slate. Rise of the Guardians was at one point a holiday 2011 release. The Croods hopped around spring 2012, fall 2012 and finally spring 2013. Films move a lot on their schedule, but here's the thing… Why chisel in dates if it the films aren't quite ready? Why set the dates in stone so early on when story problems is being worked out? For instance, they could've said The Croods was coming but not announce a "spring 2013" date or anything. Just give Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco and company a lot of time to figure out the story… But not too much of course, impose some kind of deadline ("We need it out before, let's say, 2015-ish?") and let it all play out from there.

Animated features are retooled even mere months before they open, changes are always made. I think by saying "Well our new film - [insert name here] - will come out on MM/DD/2014!" when said film is still in a bit of a pickle, you somewhat hurt the project. Again, look at Pixar's The Good Dinosaur. Obviously that film was not ready for next summer, and the delay, no announcement of a new director and everything else shows…

Let's look at Walt Disney Animation Studios again. Dean Wellins has had a "space race" project in the works since roughly 2011 (it had to be around the time he finished the for-some-reason-unreleased Tick Tock Tale), around the time Zootopia was pitched and Jack and the Beanstalk project/Giants was taken off of the shelf. As Zootopia and Giants moved forward, "Space Race" fell behind. Ron and John's Moana, also pitched sometime in 2011, moved ahead of it as well. Honor Hunter also said that other projects pitched after "Space Race" have also moved ahead of it. See where I'm getting at? Disney not setting a date for it might help the project, because the issues can be fixed without an exact release date looming (in this case, November 21, 2018). That being said, if they don't give the crew some form of a deadline, then we'll get a mess. We also don't want that.

If anything, temporarily putting something like "Space Race" on the back burner if it isn't working is the best solution. Meanwhile, what if Moana seems to be moving forward at a rapid rate? Well, if Disney puts it ahead of Giants, that could be detrimental to that film. Why's that? Well, according to Honor Hunter, Giants is more than ready to move ahead. Since Giants sort of fell into the earlier spot first, it wouldn't be fair to just outright say "Moana! Coming Thanksgiving 2016!" when the the film might not be ready for 2016. Again, props to Disney for not outright saying what exactly is coming out on 3/4/16, 11/23/16, 3/9/18 and 11/21/18… They're giving whatever is in the works a lot of time to breathe.

Now Pixar should really do the same. The 2017-2018 slate should remain the way it is for a long while, three "untitled" projects. Who knows what will be ready for release on 6/17/16, 11/22/17 and 6/15/18.

Studios ought to secure dates in order to warn other ones to back off, but at the same time, they should not say what films they think are going to come out on those dates.

What do you think?

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