Sunday, July 30, 2017

Recap: Another Pixar Original / Simpsons Sequel / Box Office Results


Emeryville, Springfield, the box office... Some stuff happened...

Tucked away in an interview was a significant update on Pixar...


Do you remember when their president Jim Morris said last year that four originals are slated to be released in a row after the summer 2019 release of Toy Story 4? Well, up until now, we knew of three. One of which is the wonderfully outlandish Suburban Fantasy World (not the title, for those of you who are new here, it's just half of the working title), an inventive feature that Monsters University director Dan Scanlon has been developing for a long while. We also know that Mark Andrews, who has been with Pixar for a while and finished Brave after its original director departed, has something in the works. A five-year-old report said his project was going to be a science fiction film, I don't know if that's still the case. The third picture in question is from Pete Docter, the powerhouse director of Monsters, Inc., Up, and Inside Out. Said to be just as wacky and weird as his mind movie, he will re-team with producer Jonas Rivera for this project.

These three currently cover three slots on Pixar's slate. Nowadays, Pixar claims dates for upcoming pictures, but doesn't assign any specific movie to each slot until said movie happens to be ready. So right now, the 3/13/2020 slot has not been filled by the just announced Suburban Fantasy World project. In about a year or so, should everything go as planned, it'll be officially named the studio's 3/13/2020 release. The other two dates they snatched were 6/19/2020 and 6/18/2021. Theoretically, the former could go to Mark Andrews' film, and the latter could go to Pete Docter's film. Again, it all depends on how things are going on each of these films.

So, the fourth original... Who is directing that?

It turns out, the director of Cars 3 is doing that one... Brian Fee.

Fee confirmed to Empire in a podcast that his next film for the Emeryville studio is indeed going to be an original. Fee also happened to make his directorial debut with the anthropomorphic autos threequel. His story is quite something, out of nowhere John Lasseter just straight up told him he was going to the director's chair because of his strong storyboarding work on the first two Cars films. Fee did a good job, for his Cars entry didn't get the scorn the previous film got (also the work of a first-time director who ultimately ended up having to be removed) and some even regard it as the best one in the series. I liked it a great deal, myself.

I feel that Fee showed his strengths with Cars 3, though he was following guidelines and was basically making sure that the picture aligned with the tone and style of the first Cars movie. Now that he's doing his own thing, we'll see what he's really made of. The same could be said about Scanlon, who actually had directed a live-action film (called Tracy) before tackling Monsters University. He took over that project from another director, too, but that was during early development.

So that's four for four: Scanlon, Andrews, Docter, Fee. In some form of development, if we are to believe an older report, is a new project from Pixar veteran Bob Peterson. So in a way, that's five originals. And they said the studio sold their souls to satanic call of the sequel...

Speaking of sequels...


A few days ago was the tenth anniversary of The Simpsons Movie, which happened to debut 20 years after the first Simpsons short films were shown on The Tracy Ullman Show. Of course, that film took an awfully long time to become a thing, and numerous changes were made to it after animation production began. According to reports, hours of finished animation was left on the cutting room floor, some of this footage even showed up in trailers! The Blu-ray only has a handful of snipped scenes, though. I remember hoping back in the day that we'd get a full disc with all the deleted scenes, but alas no cigar.

The Simpsons Movie came on like an event back in the summer of 2007, the hype was seemingly through-the-roof. At last, a movie based on one of the world's most iconic shows! Its early marketing even took potshots at CGI, happily touting itself as an "ugly" 2D movie. At the same time, however, there was the mindset that The Simpsons took a real dive around the late 1990s. Perhaps if The Simpsons Movie had been readied sometime around 1997, it would've had a shot at becoming the biggest animated film of all time? Reviews were mostly positive, and some felt the writing channeled the show's heyday. I remember a whole other crowd dismissing it as schlock, not dissimilar to where the show was at that point and now.


Me? I found it to be pretty good, maybe not a "great" Simpsons movie per se, but a very solid animated feature on its own. Plus, a much-needed adult-oriented, 2D (!) film in a family-friendly CGI landscape. 2007 was like an awkward bridge year for animation, for 2006 pelted us (and I mean *pelted*) with so many tossaway movies while 2008 packed some real surprise punches. In 2006, nearly everyone who had wanted in on the game that Pixar and DreamWorks dominated found themselves floundering. 2007 saw some more of that shovelware come around, but mixed in with some genuinely good-to-great films: This, Sony Animation's Surf's Up (proof that they *are* capable of making good films), Pixar's Ratatouille, Disney's Enchanted, and Disney Animation's Meet The Robinsons.

The Simpsons Movie opened with a strong $74 million domestically, but had rather weak legs and didn't cross $200 million domestically. Worldwide was a different story, it cracked $527 million. For many years, we heard rumblings of a sequel. It has been in the show-runners' interests, for sure. Heck, even the movie itself hinted at one in a not-so-subtle way.

Director and Simpsons veteran David Silverman said in an interview...

"I’d love for there to be another one. We’re still a ways away from it. We talk about this and that. We’re thinking it over, but nothing’s happening just yet.…. It’s still daunting because it really knocked the stuffing out of us to do the movie and the show at the same time."
Al Jean, Simpsons longtimer, stated that the film is in "the very earliest stages." Over time, various ideas for a movie ended up becoming episodes.

I'm sure another film will happen somewhere down the line... Maybe another 20 years later, in 2037! They waited long enough to do the first one, so who knows. I think more than anything, a second Simpsons would come out near the series' end, or it would close the whole series. The latter option would be ideal, but of course, if they want to get it right, I say let them wait.

Now, onto the box office!


'Tis the weekend... The Emoji Movie has been out for three days. How has it done? Has it proven that audiences all around the country will shell out their money for shovelware? Or did audiences do the "right" thing by avoiding it?

Estimates have it at $25 million, as it narrowly lost the top spot to Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, which miraculously pulled ahead despite Emoji winning on Friday. In terms of opening weekend grosses, the $25 million take is halfway up the Sony Animation ladder. Certainly better than what Smurfs: The Lost Village pulled in back in April, but it certainly was no Hotel Transylvania. No worldwide grosses are in just yet, but since the thing cost about $50 million, The Emoji Movie might make it through. That being said, Sony Animation's heads deemed the $195 million-grossing Lost Village to be a failure, despite the fact that it made triple its small budget.

Sony Animation's chief, Kristine Belson, made it clear a few weeks back at Annecy that the studio is searching for a smash hit. Something on the order of, say, Despicable Me. Sony Animation's highest grossing film is actually the first hybrid Smurfs movie, which took in around $563 million worldwide nearly 6 years ago. I think that says quite a bit, because the other studios have scored biggies that each grossed more than $750 million worldwide. Blue Sky has the Ice Age sequels, DreamWorks has had a couple franchise films that scored those kinds of numbers, Illumination racks up hits and makes it look easy. Disney and Pixar, no need to even say. Sony's behind in that race...

It looks like The Emoji Movie won't be that goal-meeting movie for Sony Animation. Maybe, just maybe, if they don't alienate their talented artists, they'll get a huge blockbuster-sized movie in the near-future that also collects very positive reviews. I know Sony Pictures Animation is capable of that, because this is the same studio that made Surf's Up and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Yes, yes I know, the same management did not make those movies, but still... There was a time when Walt Disney Feature Animation, operating under a long-gone management team, made films like Home on the Range and Chicken Little, now they're making movies like Zootopia and Moana. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, my friends...

Outside of the emojis, the Minions remain in the Top 10. Despicable Me 3 continues to ease, weekend-to-weekend. Falling 40% this weekend, it sits at $230 million here and $819 million everywhere. At this point in their runs, Despicable Me 2 and Minions were at $326 million and $302 million respectively. It looks like this installment will make somewhere around $260-270 million when all is said and done, tickets-wise that's going to be the lowest for the series. Unlike the two mainline Despicable Me films, this looks to score below the 4x multiplier as well. Shows how more front loaded the series is getting, and it also shows that Despicable Me isn't quite a long-lasting flavor. Again, it all makes me curious... How will Minions 2 perform in less than 3 years from now?

The trajectory is similar to that of Shrek's. See more on that, here.

Nevertheless, Illumination isn't fretting. $819 million against an $80 million budget is what you'd call a ridiculous success.

Beyond the Top 10, we have Pixar's Cars 3, which hasn't been experiencing intense drops since its first few weekends. Cars 3 looks to finish somewhere in the low-to-mid 150s at this point, which isn't horrible, but it is a (excepting the Disneytoon-made Planes movies) franchise low for sure, and a Pixar low as well.


Like Despicable Me 3, the opening weekend numbers seemed to indicate that this one was front loaded as well. Most sequels and franchise entries aren't doing boffo business this summer, even acclaimed ones like Spider-Man: Homecoming and War for the Planet of the Apes. I feel it's because of ticket prices and how things are going in general. Since I work at a movie theater, I tend to see it happening... Complaints about prices, families not settling for 3D showings of these things, and other issues. IMAX recently announced that regular IMAX screenings will ultimately supplant IMAX 3D screenings. In fact, when I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming, that's the first time my nearest IMAX Digital theater (aka Lie-MAX) showed a 3D movie in IMAX 2D. Up until that point, their IMAX screenings of movies that happened to have 3D versions were always shown in 3D. I never liked IMAX 3D glasses to begin with, so that news makes me happy.

The pundits and the press wonder why sequels are having trouble this summer. I feel it's a combination of things: Yes, some franchises - as 2016 proved - are rather one-and-done things. People flock to the first, but don't bother with the second one. We saw this with the sequels to Alice in Wonderland, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Now You See Me. Second, like I said, it's the ticket prices and how things are going. I hear the average American family only hits the flicks four times a year, so choices are narrowed, especially during summers loaded with many choices. Third, some particular franchises happened overstay their welcome.

I think it's more complicated than just "audiences all of a sudden got tired of sequels and franchise entries." Wonder Woman, coming off of three DC films that got mixed reception, is pulling a rare 3.9-4.0x multiplier for a live-action superhero blockbuster... And that's also extremely rare for a movie that opened with over $100 million! Transformers and Pirates came up short domestically for painfully obvious reasons, War for the Planet of Apes is simply staying flat, because the previous movie in the current trilogy had so-so legs. Spider-Man: Homecoming is simmering after a few big drops, because it was front loaded as well. Most audiences who aren't in on Marvel's MCU timeline saw it as just another Spider-Man movie and backed off. (I've had to explain to a lot of people why Spider-Man got rebooted for the second time, and so quickly.)

Anyways, Cars 3 still isn't out everywhere around the world, so it currently sits at $268 million worldwide. The film needs to make roughly $440 million worldwide to break even, but I'm sure The Walt Disney Company and Pixar aren't worrying. Toy sales will still be strong, as always, and they can just stop the mainline series and let other outlets continue it in some way or another so that Pixar doesn't have to. I mean, that's what we want, right? Maybe Disneytoon's spacecraft spin-off will be the series' future, who knows. I think that's the logical way to go, honestly. Pixar doesn't have to have the "responsibility" of making more Cars movies to satisfy Disney's bean counters.

Still lingering is DreamWorks' micro-budgeted Captain Underpants, which is up to $72 million here and $82 million everywhere. Like I've said before, once the picture opens in the last couple of territories in the late summer/early fall, it'll get up to $100 million worldwide. A little over 2 1/2x the $38 million budget. If not, crow's on the menu in late October. It'll be my Halloween dinner.

The next box office report will come when we get an idea of how The Emoji Movie will hold up on subsequent weekends. Animated films typically score strong "A" CinemaScore grades, this one pulled in a "B," indicating that legs won't be great for the new Sony Animation film. Analysts say this one may top out at $60-70 million domestically, worldwide may or may not come to the rescue...

One thing is for certain, animated movies aren't enjoying the usual 3.5x multipliers these days, many of them just miss it by a hair or fall even further. I still chalk that up to what I mentioned above.

What say you on the box office business, the Simpsons sequel, and the Brian Fee Pixar original?

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