Saturday, August 23, 2014

Becoming Commonplace?


With all this talk of release dates and studios shuffling their schedules/slates, I've been going back to the same question I've been asking since the Frozen / Lego Movie days…

Many people who don't think much about animation are always quick to say that there's a feature animation "glut", or that there are "too many" films that happen to not feature live actors and real sets. Of course, we animation fans know that any animated movie that does badly does so for a reason, it has nothing to do with the medium. Why did one live action superhero movie flop while another one didn't? Why did one live action romcom or two flop while five others didn't?

Summer 2013 was certainly a boggling case, for we had two big hits with Monsters University and Despicable Me 2, yet there was also this hyperbole when Turbo, The Smurfs 2 and Planes didn't crack the $100 million mark domestically. Audiences didn't get tired of animation after two movies, a lot of audiences just didn't have any desire to see those three films. We know that, many don't. People are still saying that animation ran into a wall last summer… No, three rather unanticipated films ran into a wall last summer…

But I'm not going to re-iterate what I think of people who say "too much?"/"will the bubble soon burst?"/"glut!" I've said it many times before, people will just see good films no matter what genre or what medium… Or will they? We'll get to that…

Then there's the argument that an animated movie will cannibalize another if they are released too close to each other… It isn't the movies that cannibalize each other. Almost every wide-release mainstream animated film in North America is projected in 3D, and when a new 3D film comes along, it siphons a chunk of the 3D screens away. Also, many audiences would prefer to check out the brand new animated film if it looks good, but what happens after that? The previous animated movie still hangs on. Sure, the gross will be a little lower without competition, but it still hangs on. Legs are still strong, so on and so forth. Brave surely didn't cause too much trouble for Madagascar 3 two summers ago, among other examples…

So I keep asking… When will animation become really commonplace?

It seems every year, we get at least one big animated movie a month. This is good, this is certainly a step up from the previous two decades. However, are animated movies still viewed as a sort of "special snowflake"? Something that's not quite the norm just yet?

What I mean by that is, there's a new live action movie… Scratch that, 3-5 new live action movies opening every week. No one ever says "are there too many live action movies?" "Is there a live action movie glut?"

That's because live action has a diverse range of films: Romcoms, action flicks, dramas, thrillers, mysteries, though oddly enough in the recent years, good live action family-friendly films are dime-a-dozen. Animation fills that void, for almost every big release is a family-friendly picture that's of good quality. When's the last time we got a bunch of "good" family live action films that are rated G and PG?

If there will be any glut, it'll be a glut of low-quality animated family films. Not animated films, not animated family films… No, low-quality animated family films / or films that audiences happen to not like or not want to see… Simple as that. (For the record, I thought something like Turbo was okay. Audiences just didn't really want to see it to begin with.) It also applies to superhero movies, there will be no over saturation by 2020 if Marvel and DC's movies are good and audiences like them, along with Fox's X-Men and Fantastic Four films… Or to a lesser extent, Sony's Spider-Man films.

But back to the main idea… Animation is still, I think, that sort of special once every month thing. Little by little we're seeing more big/wide release animated films open every month… We may see two animated films share a month (i.e. this November's Big Hero 6 and Penguins) from time to time, but what will happen when we get two every month? What about three every month?

Will the films cannibalize each other? Or will animation become so commonplace (but still unique due to the fact that it's not live action) that all of the three films in question opening in a single month do successful business? Will audiences just see animation as a more mundane-but-popular/routine thing? Get audiences used to the "yucky cartoons", and they may end up just seeing them more and more than ever before. Animation still has a battle to fight in North America, for it's still looked at by many in a negative light: "Kiddie stuff", "meh, live action is better - it's real people", "Ewww, a cartoon."

I think this can be achieved… But diversity has to come first. You wouldn't release three live action family pics in a row in the same month, or on the same day… That shouldn't be done with animation either. Right now we need to see animation take on different tones and aim at a different audience for a change…

Let's take a look at some live action movies that came out this year. The likes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy are the big "event" blockbusters of the year, along with the likes of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Godzilla, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and so on. Movies pretty much every demographic goes to. Kids love these blockbusters, teens love them since a chunk of them aim more at them than anyone else (*cough*Transformers*cough*), young adults enjoy them, sometimes they even get some of the older crowd in if there are really good.

What does the older crowd turn to when they don't want to see tons of blow-em-up/action&fx-heavy films? Well, maybe a spy film or a small-scale thriller. Look at films like Non-Stop, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (saw this in theaters, most of the audience members were older than 35), and for other year examples the likes of The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless, Unknown, The Debt, and so on… Then there's dramas that can they turn to, or comedies… All of which are done on lower budgets.

For those willing to just laugh and have a good time, there's a comedy movie every month. Some prefer to watch a drama and get something different out of it. See, live action is littered with all these different kinds of films with different tones, ideas and styles. Feature animation in North American mostly delivers the family-friendly film with a little something in it for everyone: Laughs, tears, action… There are some variations, Disney and Pixar hit a sweet spot and can be differentiated from the rest. Phil Lord and Chris Miller breathe quirkiness mixed with heart into their films, as seen in their Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Lego Movie. Once in a while something almost completely different like Rango comes along, LAIKA's two films splashed in quirkiness and horror…

But what if we saw a smaller-scale animated comedy that didn't have much drama or overly-heartfelt stuff in it? Or what if we saw an animated drama that doesn't have much of a comedic bone in its body? Or how about a shallow, guts-and-no-brains animated horror film for the teen crowd? And so on…

This is where the big question comes in… Say there are a bunch of animated films like this that arrive. How will the American audiences react? What will - say - a group of teens do when they see a trailer for an animated film that resembles something like The Purge or The Devil Inside? How will the comedy crowd react when they see a trailer for an animated movie that feels a lot like Ride Along or The Other Woman or heck, Bridesmaids? What will the drama fans say when an animated film trailer evoking the likes of The Butler or The Fault in our Stars unspools?

Will they ignore these films because they aren't "real people" movies? Will the absence of onscreen celebrities or familiar faces hurt these films? (Just imagine an animated Fault in our Stars where Shailene Woodley voices the character… Would that be viewed as okay? Or an outrage?)

Or will audiences embrace them?

Maybe the likes of the R-rated animated comedy Sausage Party will show signs of a change. That 2016 release could create a market for adults-only animated comedy films… Then a couple years later, something that's just as risky could create a market for something like PG-13 animated dramas, or not-for-kids animated horror films, the list goes on and on…

Something to ponder…

1 comment:

  1. While I think the scenario you describe at the end is a bit wishful and unlikely, it's probably the best shot we have for more diversity in animated films. That said, I think this would make a good poll for your site: How soon will a major studio make a financially successful non-comedy animated film with a rating of PG-13 or higher?

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