Thursday, January 22, 2015

DreamWorks Directions: PDI Shut Down, Slate Changes

DreamWorks has had it rough for a couple years, and now they are making tough decisions... All in an attempt to reshape the company and its future...

The avalanche began in early 2013 with the expensive but well-received Rise of the Guardians losing money at the box office, followed by the temporary shelving of Me and My Shadow which led to over 350 people losing their jobs. Turbo opened in the summer of that year and also lost money, followed by another money-loser, Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Penguins of Madagascar is also currently not meeting expectations, despite what was going for it.

Those rumors of layoffs are true. DreamWorks is shutting down the Redwood-based Pacific Data Images/DreamWorks studio. PDI was to turn 35 this year, too, and they are of course respected as pioneers in CGI. It's certainly the end of an era now that the studio is done for. Around 500 people are now out of a job, and I wish nothing but the best for them. Hopefully they can get into other studios as soon as possible. It's painful that the real masterminds behind such films are looked at as disposable cogs, nothing more. However, it's possible that some of them can relocate to the Glendale studio and still work for DreamWorks...

Also leaving are marketing chief Dawn Taubin, vice chairman Lewis Coleman, and COO Mark Zoradi.

The release slate has also been radically changed, something I was expecting since the day Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria were named the studio's new presidents. The current plan is to now release an original film and a sequel every calendar year, no more than two films. The three-a-year plan is now a no-go, and I'm honestly satisfied with this decision. I'm a very "more the merrier" type person, but the strategy clearly wasn't working, business-wise and quality-wise. In my opinion, for every Dragon and Rise of the Guardians, we got a Croods or Turbo. The quality wasn't always consistent.

So... The new slate...

Home - March 27, 2015
Kung Fu Panda 3 - March 18, 2016
Trolls - November 4, 2016
Boss Baby - January 13, 2017
The Croods 2 - December 22, 2017
Larrikins - February 16, 2018
How To Train Your Dragon 3 - June 29, 2018

Whoa... Talk about change... Trolls and The Croods 2 still have problematic release dates (the former is going up against Doctor Strange, the latter will eventually find itself facing Star Wars Episode VIII), but right now the most important thing is that their slate has been whittled down. The two-a-year strategy has usually been kind to them in the past, and I feel this is a very, very smart move. In the process, we seemed to have lost quite a couple originals.

Monkeys of Mumbai was one I was really looking forward to, since Kevin Lima was tapped to direct and it was supposed to be a musical set in an exotic location. B.O.O. was one I have been on the fence about, but according to DreamWorks the movie is back in development. Not canned. I hope the same applies to everything else that was moved off of the slate. Also, how far along was B.O.O. in production? Some merchandise was even prepared!

Madagascar 4 and Puss in Boots 2: Nine Lives & 40 Thieves are also currently off the slate. I'm guessing they'll be released in 2019/2010. Madagascar 4 is certainly a high priority and should easily pocket some money given the series' international appeal. Puss in Boots 2 is riskier, its predecessor is going to be seven years old by late 2018.

Captain Underpants? According to the studio, Captain Underpants is being produced elsewhere for a "significantly lower cost" and will eventually be a 2017 release. This makes me wonder, will certain future projects be given this lower budget treatment as well? Will Captain Underpants have a more minimalistic CG style? Will it be a traditionally animated film? So many questions...

The other worrying news concerns Jeffrey Katzenberg...

Katzenberg plans to be more hands-on with future films, which makes me nervous. I feel that the guy is at his best when he's not too involved with films. And yes, I feel that way about the Disney Renaissance films that he was heavily involved with. I think there are some little things in those beloved films that hurt them a bit, and Pocahontas - the last Disney animated film he oversaw - ended up being a misguided film that wasn't well-received. To say nothing of the notes he gave to Pixar that almost destroyed Toy Story and Pixar's feature film future. The pre-Kung Fu Panda DreamWorks films, with the exceptions of Shrek (the good, non-"eff you Disney" half), Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and a good chunk of Madagascar, are films I'm not overtly fond of either. I just hope he lets the filmmakers do the magic, and that he doesn't pull any "my way or the highway" business.

He said:

"My time and my focus needs to be on making blockbuster films. We have the people to do it. That’s where my energy is going to be focused. Feature animation is the core of our company. Getting our feature film business back on track is our number one priority."

Again, I hope this doesn't mean he'll meddle with future projects. Just make sure they're going along well, make sure they are of good quality, don't butcher them, etc., etc. Don't try to be a Lasseter type or anything, let the filmmakers make their films. People change, maybe he's seeing things a different way. Maybe he has a better idea of what makes a good animated film. Who knows...

One last thing. Budgets will go down to $120 million. In my opinion, that is still too much! If the films have to make around 2.5x their budgets, they'll each need to make $300 million worldwide.

In all, I'm pleased about the slate change, very upset about the studio being shut down, very upset about those talented folks being laid off, and very skeptical of Katzenberg's plans. I like that they are somewhat reducing budgets and lowering the amount of films they churn out, but I'm not thrilled about Katzenberg thinking he needs to be more involved (apparently he wants to be more involved because he thinks his lack of involvement lead to the flop films failing). Arnold and Soria may be presidents now, but Katzenberg's the boss.

I'm hoping all goes well for this studio. I really do.

(via Variety and Cartoon Brew)


  1. wow this speechless.......i feel bad for the people who worked in redwood...the slate is better.....but why am i so depressed?.....?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. 500 people lost their jobs and a respected studio closed down but "serves them right"? You may not like DWA but those are unfortunate news and nothing to be happy about.

    1. I second that. Respect the artists/animators even if you don't care for the overall product.