Sunday, August 13, 2017

Recap: Ghibli Returns / 'Duck Duck Goose' / Box Office Results

Miyazaki returns, feathered pictures, and squirrel mishaps...

We animation fans can rejoice over this first bit of news...

Studio Ghibli is reopening to do Hayao Miyazaki's next feature film. Miyazaki makes it seem like he'll retire for good, but then out of nowhere... He shocks us all and says he has a new picture in the works. I have a feeling that this will be something of a pattern... I recall former Animation Guild representative and former Disney story man Steve Hulett saying something along the lines of... "In animation, people keep working till they kick the bucket."

Anyways, whatever is on the horizon from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, it's sure to be an event. Interestingly, The Walt Disney Company has pretty much given up on their US distribution rights of Ghibli's pictures. GKIDS now has them, and that's probably for the better, because Disney has been distancing itself from anything that isn't the size of Marvel/Star Wars/Frozen/[insert franchise here].

'Twas great while it lasted, and I'm sure it got Miyazaki and Ghibli some more prominence here in North America... Now we shall see what happens under GKIDS, especially now that the Academy has changed the game for the Best Animated Feature race. New rules that will most likely stomp anything that isn't a big American-commissioned CGI piece-o-product from getting a nomination.

Speaking of CGI...

A while back, it was reported that Chinese fx house Original Force was looking to get into feature animation. With a unit set up in Los Angeles, those plans have become a reality. Their first picture, Duck Duck Goose recently landed a release date (4/20/2018) and an American distributor. (Open Road Films, distributors of ToonBox's animated movies.) Now, the Christopher Jenkins-directed comedy romp has a teaser...

The film looks pretty nice for a debut picture, and presumably this thing is going to be pretty low-budget. That being said, I don't get much confidence when a trailer decides to make toilet humor front-and-center. That, and the umpteenth "from the so-and-so of Shrek" tag. I can probably make an arm's-long list of animated movies whose trailers touted a producer or writer that had something to do with DreamWorks' 2001 film. As for the choice of jokes to show? Like, there's a little snippet where they're in a cave full of fireflies. It's a very pretty-looking moment with neat colors, reminding me of similar scenes from movies like The Good Dinosaur. Then we cut to one of the ducklings farting a firefly... Like... Why? And then we climax the trailer with the goose protagonist getting his head slammed into a pig's bum.

(Okay, to be fair, Madagascar 3 did something similar that was actually kind of funny... But I don't really think it worked here.)

Trailers are trailers, though. Duck Duck Goose could turn out to be a surprisingly fun romp with just a few box-checking moments. Perhaps the trailer uses the film's most childish jokes to get audiences interested, because that sometimes works. Remember how everyone screamed and cried about the first teaser for Frozen that had Olaf and Sven performing wacky ice antics? One can only wonder how much of a role that had in the film's opening weekend gross. I remember my audience cracked up at it.

Anyways, I do like some of the shots in the trailer, some of the lighting's nice, again it looks very polished for a small up-and-coming animation studio. I just hope the writing and comedy is above some of the scenes presented here. Being a Chinese-American co-production, you can also see some Chinese elements in this, too. The character's names, for one, but also the setting. This could've been some regular talking bird story set in the American wilderness, but I think it's pretty unique that they're sticking to the Chinese setting. The poster for the movie also shows a Pallas cat, which are native to East Asia.

So a little too early to say, but visually it looks nice. Not groundbreaking or anything, but still nice to look at. I wonder what's going on with the other two animated movies Open Road picked up: The seemingly-in-limbo Blazing Samurai and Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad.

Also, speaking of small-scale animation made outside of the US that's distributed by Open Road...

The Nut Job 2 apparently didn't make much of a splash at the domestic box office.

ToonBox's third theatrical picture, the sequel to the profitable 2014 squirrel flick, collected an estimated $8 million for the three-day. That's way down from the $19 million opening weekend gross of the first Nut Job, and that was a January release... Just mere weeks after Frozen fever broke out.

Critically, it didn't fare any better than its maligned predecessor. Oddly enough, friends of mine and fellow writers are telling me that the film itself is actually not only a significant improvement over the first one, but that it's also a solid critter comedy romp on its own. Some of the crew behind it outright said that they had listened to the criticisms leveled at the first movie, and worked hard to make numero due a better picture. Who to believe? The parts of it I saw at work didn't seem half-bad, but perhaps critics - after suffering through The Emoji Movie - are breaking their mold and finally putting their foot down at ho-hum non-Pixar animated movies?

The average rating is much higher than that of Emoji's, but 3.5/10 is still very negative. With what I'm hearing from folks in my circles, I would've thought critics would've said "It's cute enough, pass." Like they do with middle-of-the-road Illumination movies, but no... A pile of squirrel crap it is.

Anyways, yes, $8 million. What happened? I just chalk it up to families narrowing their choices more so than ever before, and other audiences as well. Several blockbuster movies opened high this year, only to have so-so legs, even critically acclaimed films like War for the Planet of the Apes. That film's performance is like below last year's mid-July trilogy-closer release Star Trek Beyond, which also underperformed. That, too, was critically well-liked... Sadly, quality moviemaking isn't always the answer to box office woes. Wonder Woman held on like no other, but most movies - good or bad - just haven't been getting strong multipliers.

I expect The Nut Job 2, however, to leg it up a bit since August and early-to-mid September will be relatively dry. Leap! will probably perform like every other Weinsteinized animated film, and Animal Crackers is apparently no longer circling the Labor Day weekend. It makes me wonder if The Lego Ninjago Movie will perform more like Storks than, say, a film that tips $100 million domestically like The Angry Birds Movie.

Down 45% is The Emoji Movie. The film looks to finish up with around $75 million or less. If it hits $75 million, then it will have made roughly 3.1x its opening weekend gross. Just an alright multiplier for an animated family-friendly movie, nothing special. Worldwide, it sits at $97 million. Many good-sized markets, from Brazil to France, have yet to get the movie. A $125 million gross will make this thing profitable. While it may end up passing that, Sony Animation's chief recently deemed Smurfs: The Lost Village - which made over 3x its minuscule budget - a failure... So, who knows. If anything, it'll just get a direct-to-video sequel or two, and we can just call it day. I'm trying not to talk about it too much myself, because like all animated movie low-points, we just have to let it blow away. Like a fart in the wind. It's not making $100 million here, so no need to incessantly yell about how awful it is or how Sony Pictures Animation must be shut down (because putting hundred of hard-working artists out of a job will sure teach them, right?!) and blabberjabber like that. No need to keep making it into a conversation, let's just expect better of Sony with each new movie.

I will only provide box office updates and commentary on that movie.

Next up, Despicable Me 3 slipped 43% and currently sits at $247 million. It's coming up on the first Despicable Me film's domestic gross, but adjusted, it is significantly way below it. Like the Shrek series, Despicable Me's newest installments will sink and sink and sink. Nothing's touching Despicable Me 2's ticket sales, that's for darn sure. Not that anyone at Universal or Illumination is fretting, the movie has now collected $920 million worldwide. Our American box office barely matters when it comes these movies. I can imagine Minions 2 pulling a Puss in Boots at the domestic box office, but soaring worldwide.

Cars 3 had its softest drop yet, though it's only playing in 300+ theaters now. The film looks to finish up with $150 million stateside, and it'll have the worst multiplier for a Pixar film. Below that of Cars 2, even. Again, I chalk it up to the way box office has been this summer. If Pixar had readied this thing for last summer, or summer 2015, it would've fared better I think. I still do think that Cars 2 and Disney's decision to theatrically release the Disneytoon Planes spin-offs probably affected this one, regardless of the fact that this threequel went back to the series' roots and was pretty good. We still can't say on the worldwide gross, as it still has to open in a few more territories, but this flick will likely finish somewhere around $350 million.

That will make it the second-to-lowest grossing Pixar film, the lowest being The Good Dinosaur with $332 million. Toy sales will ultimately come to the rescue, but I think this is it for the mainline Cars series. The Disneytoon spin-offs will pick up the slack from there, till those start coming up short. Cars is also not a long-lasting flavor, but many franchises are not as well. It's hard to compare other Pixar franchises to this series, because Cars follow a rather weird sequel timeframe. Cars 2 opened five years after the first one, and Cars 3 opened six years later. Other studios usually belt 'em out 3-4 years after the original hits.

Compare that to something like Toy Story. Toy Story 2 followed Toy Story on time (4 years later) and was very big, but Toy Story 3 didn't debut until nearly 11 years after the second one. It was also very big, though one does wonder... If Toy Story 3 debuted in, say, 2005... Would it have made a little less than the first two? The long gap and (as hard as it is for me to admit it) nostalgia certainly helped the third one sell the most tickets, along with Pixar's then-continuing goodwill. Finding Dory and Monsters University arrived looooong after their predecessors came out.

DreamWorks didn't update us on Captain Underpants yet, the best-reviewed animated movie of the summer. (Who would've thought?!) $73 million so far, $94 million around the globe, still not out in a few key markets. Fox botched this one, but it didn't cost much to make, so I'm sure DreamWorks is fine. Comcast/Universal has them, so I'm sure no one's ringing the death bell anymore. It's just a little weird having to wait for a new DreamWorks feature, since we've been so used to them releasing 2 films every year. Their next, How To Train Your Dragon 3, is not out till 3/1/2019.

Updates will come when the actual numbers are posted tomorrow afternoon...

1 comment:

  1. -Well, I may not be an anime nut, but I'm happy to see that Miyazaki is still getting work.

    -Duck Duck Goose looks terrible imo! I saw the trailer with Nut Job 2 yesterday, and I must say, the goose is even more hateable than Adam Sandler's character from Eight Crazy Nights!

    -Only thing I have to say about the box office is that I'm happy for Universal/Illumination, especially now that Despicable Me is the most successful animated franchise.

    (Now when do you suppose we'll get the inevitable fourth film?)