Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Who Will Be DreamWorks' New Distribution Partner?

DreamWorks is almost three years into their 5-year distribution deal with 20th Century Fox... So far, the results have been rather mixed.

I get the feeling that DreamWorks doesn't plan to stay with 20th Century Fox, especially after how Fox's marketing blunders lead to over budgeted films like Turbo, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and Penguins of Madagascar to underperform. Yes, DreamWorks spent too much on those films, but Fox could've done better in marketing them so they'd make normal Pixar numbers. (i.e. $60 million opening weekends.) Flops that lead to 500+ animators being put out of a job, and a pioneering CGI studio being shut down.

Usually DreamWorks maps out slates well in advance. They haven't in a while, as they are probably pacing themselves following the layoffs and subsequent slate cuts. At the same time, they probably can't slate anything for after 2018 until it is determined who they will be with. I get the sense that they won't stay with Fox, because if they were, by this time they'd probably have an idea of what to get out in 2019, because they can't delay. 2019 animation dates are being scooped by Disney, Pixar, Illumination, Warner Animation, Paramount Animation even!

So nothing has been slated for 2019, not even a sequel like Shrek 5 or Madagascar 4. (The plan is to release an original and a sequel every calendar year.) Again, in order to slate something, they probably would have to have a distributor to be with.

If they intend to leave Fox, who will they turn to?

Prior to Fox, DreamWorks' films were distributed by Paramount. They did a steady job with them, as few of the DWA titles distributed by the mountain people flopped, but only few of them (Shrek the Third, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar 3) did spectacular domestic numbers. The films mostly did good domestically, while soaring worldwide. I suspect that DreamWorks left them because the marketing could've been better. Good films like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots should've opened higher than they did, and something like Megamind could've done better on opening weekend.

Fox's track record on the other hand isn't so hot. Home is the only Fox-released DWA film to touch $50 million on opening weekend. How To Train Your Dragon 2, which should've easily crashed $60 million on opening weekend, settled for $49 million. Solid, but Fox clearly didn't put the oomph into it, relying on critic quotes like "Braver than Brave, more fun than Frozen!" How about "show me why it's better than both of those movies"? Oh, and revealing the twist against the studio's wishes? Great job, guys. (Trolls' teaser was recently denounced by a story artist, and she had choice words.) Croods was marketed alright, as it opened good and had time to make a lot of money stateside... But the blunders, ohhhhh the blunders.

One could argue that movies like Turbo and Mr. Peabody & Sherman maybe weren't meant to be movies that make $150 million+ domestically. Maybe both should've been done on tiny budgets, and they would've been hits, who knows. But still, DreamWorks made them for huge amounts of money, and Fox marketing didn't help. Penguins of Madagascar, being an entry in a popular franchise, is also pretty inexcusable. Home worked out somehow. As an outsider, maybe it is hard to gauge what audiences will react to, but if you're in that position... Shouldn't you know??

Marketing rants aside, DreamWorks needs to find a distributor that knows how to market animated movies. And when I say that, I mean... Create blockbusters. Let's look at Universal.

Universal took Despicable Me back in 2010 and outdid themselves, and they worked the same magic with the mediocre Lorax. The Secret Life of Pets' marketing seems great, don't be surprised if the movie opens with $50 million+. The only Illumination non-sequel they tripped up on was Hop, but then again, why would any adult want to see a movie about a CG bunny in a live-action movie that craps jellybeans? And I'm sorry I reminded you of that sterling moment that took several hours to animate.

Other than that, Universal knows what's up. Maybe they should have DreamWorks, should the moon boy studio leave Fox. Fox, outside of DreamWorks, doesn't score the king-size, $50m+ openings. Blue Sky's biggest post-2008 non-sequel opener is The Peanuts Movie with $44 million. Luckily that feature cost $99 million, and not a whopping $145 million to make like Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Whether it's a loss or not, I'm not sure. It did double the budget, but not by much, shockingly.

Universal already makes quite the killing with Illumination, it doesn't hurt to have... *gasp* MORE!

If not Universal, then maybe Sony Pictures? Sony has one animation studio under their belt, and at times will distribute other animated movies. Rovio/SonyImageworks' The Angry Birds Movie is literally a placeholder for this year, as Sony Pictures Animation proper isn't releasing anything until Get Smurfy next year. When searching for a distribution partner before settling on Fox, it was reported that DreamWorks was looking into joining forces with Sony. At this rate, however, I don't think it's a great idea. Sony seems to be losing it, under management like Tom Rothman and such.

Then there's Warner Bros., who already has a lot. A whole group, not a studio. Warner Animation Group has its name for a reason. The Lego Movie was mostly done at Animal Logic in Australia, while Storks is being made by, surprisingly, Sony Imageworks. I'm not sure if they'd be willing to take in DreamWorks, or if taking them in would work.

If no one else, then... Self-distribute like they did in the early-to-mid 2000s? Worked out fine for them for a little while. Hey, Jeffrey Katzenberg is kind of following Walt's footsteps in a business sense, expanding his company beyond animated features (theme park deals, Netflix/TV shows, consumer products, acquisitions like Classic Media/Awesomeness TV, deals with companies like DHX)... So why not self-distribution. That was one of Walt Disney's final steps. RKO gave him trouble, so what did he do with brother Roy? Created Buena Vista. Perhaps Katzenberg and co can do the same with DreamWorks?

Or... Go back to Paramount? It sounds weird because Paramount jumpstarted Paramount Animation partially because of their contract with DWA coming to an end in 2012. That, and also because of how proud they were of the offbeat Rango. It'd be a bit ironic to see DreamWorks going back to them.

What say you? Cast your vote in the poll!

UPDATE: February 25th

The results are in!

Seems like a good chunk of the voters want DreamWorks to go back to self-distributing. 18 votes...

17 of the 60 voters say they should partner up with Universal. This is the choice I myself agree with...

10 said go back to Paramount.

8 said to stay with Fox.

5 say Warner Bros.

2 say Sony Pictures.

Thanks for voting, folks!


  1. You know, one of my old ideas back in 2013 was to have Lionsgate distribute DWA films from 2019 to (possibly) 2024. I'm actually laughing at myself now that I read this article. Not to mention the fact that Shaun the Sheep Movie (and to a lesser extent, Norm of the North) both failed at the box office. But it could still happen. Maybe The My Little Pony Movie (if not Robinson Crusoe) will be a big financial turn-around for Lionsgate's animated features that not only could them being in a deal with DreamWorks happen come 2019, but Aardman might just give them another chance by lending them the US rights to both Early Man & Shaun the Sheep 2.

    Also, I just uploaded a little fan logo on my YouTube account depicting what would happen if Sony became DreamWorks' partner in 2019.