Thursday, November 17, 2016

Beyond the Sky: Fox Animation Stacks Up on Animation

I normally don't talk much about 20th Century Fox Animation as a whole...

Blue Sky is pretty much their main animation house, who makes all of their releases. Before that, things were different.

20th Century Fox really got into the animation game in the mid-1990s, establishing a house of their own - Fox Animation Studios - to compete with Disney. Their main weapon at the time was Don Bluth and his partner Gary Goldman. Don Bluth had struggled after he and Steven Spielberg split up in 1989, the films he put out afterwards were heavily compromised by the powers-that-be. His studio, Sullivan-Bluth, went out of business in 1995, the year their final picture came out: The Pebble and the Penguin. Bluth and Goldman Alan Smithee'd themselves out of it.

Instead of challenging Disney by coming up with something unique that could stack up against the mouse giant, Fox Animation Studios simply made a Disney-esque film with two guys who used to work for Disney... The result was Anastasia, a film that some of the general public mistake for a Disney film. That film did fine, so what did Fox, Bluth, and Goldman fire up next? Titan A.E. It was a bomb, and should be a cautionary tale. A film aimed squarely at the preteen boy crowd, who unsurprisingly rejected it. Bluth knew it would happen, but the heads did not listen. Fox Animation Studios was shut down shortly after the sci-fi adventure opened nationwide.

That's where Blue Sky stepped in, who actually animated a sequence for Titan A.E. Blue Sky's first feature was all-CG, and it came out at the right time. 2002 when was computer animation was super-hot, so audiences ate up Ice Age. Thankfully for them, Ice Age was a pretty good comedy that kept people coming back. The following Blue Sky features did good to some degree. While the Ice Age sequels always tore up the overseas box office, non-sequels like Rio did quite well, others like Epic did decently enough.

20th Century Fox Animation, for a long while, has tried to firestart more projects - some that will be done at Blue Sky, others? Elsewhere. Technically, the likes of The Simpsons Movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Book of Life fall under the 20th Century Fox Animation umbrella. Movie one was done by Gracie Films/Rough Draft (obviously), film two was done by Wes Anderson and various studios, film three was a Reel FX production.

Recently, it was announced that Frogkisser! - an upcoming Frog Prince-inspired book - was picked up and will be done at Blue Sky. It'll be a live-action/CG hybrid, I'm assuming the CG part will be caricature animation and not the hyper-real Jungle Book kind of CG. Nate Hopper, longtime exec, was put in charge of future hybrid flicks.

Now, it looks like Fox Animation has locked up some more things...

Recent pick-ups include...

Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters - Based on a novel series that draws from the stories of Japanese folk hero Momotaro, it's described as a sort of Percy Jackson-esque story. I think this one has potential, being about magic and monsters and such, doesn't sound dissimilar to Blue Sky's Anubis. That one works off of Ancient Egyptian stuff.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon - This will be a hybrid, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This one - based on the book by Kelly Barnhill - pretty interesting, it's about a town that sacrifices newborns to a forest witch who is actually friendly. She raises them and feeds them starlight, but one is accidentally given moonlight and as a result she gains magical powers.

Zita the Spacegirl - Based on a more child-friendly comic book series about a girl taking on weirdo creatures on another planet in order to save her friend from being sacrificed (wow, two in a row about sacrifice!), this one could be fun. This one appears to be an all-animated pic, so I think they could match the books' colorful style with stylized CG.

The Littlest Bigfoot - Yet another bigfoot story in animation, this one sounds like it could be pretty resonant. It's about a lonely girl whose ignored by her parents and is sent to boarding school, and befriends a bigfoot who is part of a whole clan of bigfoots.

Lastly, is a big one...

The Dam Keeper.

Yes, a full-length feature based on ex-Pixarians Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo's short of the same name, one they produced through that Pixar co-op program that made Borrowed Time happen. Tonko House will be doing it, Tsutsumi and Kondo will direct, but it'll be in CG. That being said, they could probably get the CG to resemble 2D or the moving painting-like feel of the short. If Disney Animation could do it with Feast, I can think Tonko could as well.

20th Century Fox is going to bunker down on animation. Two months ago, Fox's chairman Stacey Snider moved up to CEO position, and she's going to be instrumental in really re-launching Fox Animation as a real competitor. Some of these pictures in development will be Blue Sky works, others won't, so it's good to see Fox reaching out to other animation houses rather than just one mainline studio.

Now, what does this mean for several other projects that Fox Animation announced in the past? You know, things like Nimona, Welcome to the Jungle, Fortunately, the Milk, Cardboard, A Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, and Confessions of an Imaginary Friend... Studios these days typically announce a boatload of projects, only to announce another boatload that seem like they'll move ahead.

That all being said, it makes sense... Fox is losing DreamWorks after the summer 2017 release of Captain Underpants, so they want to expand. While part of me is skeptical about the whole hybrid thing (again, will these be Jungle Book-esque? Or not?), I am interested to see what direction they'll go in. The Dam Keeper news is certainly super-exciting, and if it is to take off, I can only imagine what Fox could scoop up after that. Will they ever team up with Reel FX again? So many questions...

What say you?

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