Friday, August 25, 2017

Recap: 'Zootopia' Sequel / Olaf Options / 'The Star' Moves

Two Disney Animation bits, and something concerning Sony Animation...

Rumblings out there imply that Walt Disney Animation Studios is going to make a sequel to a recent smash...

Zootopia Sequel Confirmed?

That's right... Zootopia 2... Might've been confirmed. Might've...

In speaking with the UK gossip chain The Sun, a certain minor character's voice actor said a little something. The man in question is Mark Smith, who voiced the rhino Officer McHorn. According to the reporter, "[Smith] confirmed he will reprise his role of Officer McHorn in the upcoming Zootopia sequel."

Now, this could mean anything. It's more of a case of they said, rather than he said. They could've misheard him, he could've been talking about an upcoming short, special/featurette, or some kind of project. That being said, we can't be too naive either... Zootopia grossed $1 billion at the worldwide box office, being one of the rare films not based on a pre-existing IP to achieve that goal. $340 million+ of that gross of that total came from the domestic box office. On top of that, it was a deserved critical darling and winner of this past year's animated Oscar. (I'm the radical who thinks it should've been up for Best Picture.)

I know it's a little strange for some folks out there. Walt Disney Animation Studios is unique amongst other big American animation powerhouses, in that they don't have too many sequels. They're the oldest one running, coming up on 95 years in 2018, yet they have few sequels and films that are debatable. It's argued that The Three Caballeros is a sequel to Saludos Amigos, and it can indeed be considered one. Not a direct sequel per se, but I just see two goodwill films exploring the same ideas and sharing some characters. Disney usually billed 1990's The Rescuers Down Under as their first-ever sequel, some argue that Melody Time is a sequel to Make Mine Music. Me? I just think they're two films using a similar concept, and you can even argue they're continuations of Fantasia in some way, but with actual songs as opposed to classical compositions.

Walt Disney mostly swore off sequels, mostly because of how the follow-up cartoons to 1933's The Three Little Pigs performed: "You can't top pigs with pigs." Snow White and Bambi sequels were proposed, Walt wisely dumped them. Walt instead adapted two other fairy tales - Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty - that were similar to Snow White, and revisited talking animals dramas with Lady and the Tramp. He oversaw a few sequels for his live-action division. The post-Walt studio toyed around with a Fantasia follow-up called Musicana at one point, one iteration of The Rescuers had Cruella de Vil as its antagonist. (Note the similarities between Medusa and her, especially her car.) That wasn't dissimilar to one of Walt's original plans for Bongo, which would inhabit the same timeline as Dumbo and even feature some of its characters - that was until it was turned into a segment for the package feature Fun & Fancy Free, which Jiminy Cricket and Cleo appear in.

We all know the story. The Rescuers Down Under underperformed at the box office, Disney executives put the kibosh on theatrical sequels and then realized that they could make huge grosses (and bigger profits) off of cheaper direct-to-video sequels instead. Didn't Lion King II make somewhere around $185 million in video sales back in 1998? That was significantly more than a lot of the features being made at the time, if true! Of course, the direct-to-video sequel strategy - which started out with the harmless Aladdin TV show pilot/first-5-episodes-mashed-together film The Return of Jafar - went overboard and hurt the mainline animation in many ways. It even got to a point where some of them were even theatrically released!

The only upside to the direct-to-video sequels is that Walt Disney Feature Animation wasn't obliged to crank out a theatrical Lion King 2 or a theatrical Aladdin 2, and continued to focus on new projects, whether they ended up being compromised films or not. No animated movie sequel performed spectacularly in theaters until Pixar's Toy Story 2, which ironically began life as a DTV sequel. Pixar wanted a theatrical A-grade project, they fought to make it a great movie, they won, but inadvertently started a sequel-heavy age for theatrical feature animation. DreamWorks opened the gap even wider with the monolithic success of Shrek 2, and Shrek the Third's massive gross.

Pixar - after finishing Toy Story 2 in 1999 - held off on sequels for a long while for similar reasons, in that big Disney was going to give them contractual agita if they were to start production on a third Toy Story in say, 2003. That got ugly (Circle 7, anyone?), but the feathers were smoothed after Michael Eisner stepped down as Disney's CEO. Now, Pixar makes more sequels to ever before (and legally had to make three of the current ones, anyways), which caught many off-guard and lead folk to believe that they've "sold out" or whatever. Other animation studios from DreamWorks to Sony to Blue Sky to Illumination... They never had these kind of hang-ups! Throughout the last decade, you saw Shrek sequels, Ice Age sequels, Madagascar sequels, and so on.

It's ironic that Disney of all studios is the one catching up to this. 2011's Winnie the Pooh could be seen as a sequel to the package feature The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Disney continues to claim that Walt's plan was to release 3 featurettes first, then cobble them into a feature - that wasn't his plan at all), Fantasia 2000 was an attempt to do what Walt really wanted to do with Fantasia, before executives had their way. Only one segment from the original is in F2K, 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice.'

So now there's two official sequels on the studio's docket... Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, and the tentatively-titled Frozen 2. I guess Disney doesn't care for straight up "2" titles, which is nice I think, even if I may not entirely dig Ralph 2's title. No official word on whether Big Hero 6 will get a sequel or not, but a follow-up does seem inevitable. No executive walks away from a film that grosses over $500 million at the worldwide box office, the only blockbuster titan that you don't make a sequel to is something like Titanic. Almost everything else? Fair game! That's just the way it is these days.

Zootopia Deux is probably a matter of when, than if, as much as some of us don't want to admit it. If one wasn't coming at all, I wouldn't mind too much, for I think it should - being an artist myself - ultimately be the filmmakers' decision. That being said, Zootopia was made for and released by a major entertainment conglomerate, not a scrappy little studio run by a man with a vision. I'm sure Disney's executives are going to demand a sequel at some point in time, but Disney - unlike some companies out there - doesn't fret over wait times. Pixar does their sequels when they're ready (for the most part, re: Cars 2), Walt Disney Animation Studios hasn't rushed Frozen 2 out. If they were like everyone else, Frozen 2 would be on Blu-ray right now. Frozen itself turned six when the sequel hits. Wreck-It Ralph will also be a six-year-old movie when its sequel debuts.

Anyways, it wouldn't be for a long while. Director and conceiver of the project Byron Howard is developing a new movie with Lin-Manuel Miranda, while director Rich Moore is hard at work on Ralph Breaks the Internet, which he put aside because of Zootopia. Other directors have their own projects in the works, and many of those are likely to debut before a theoretical Zootopia sequel. Things like Gigantic, Stephen Anderson's film, and whatever Dean Wellins is working on.

Would I want one? Only if the creators themselves wanted it... Though I do want to see more of the city itself, for Disney Animation's team really created a compelling world of animals that I'd love to explore in a future installment, be it a sequel or a short or a spin-off.

Olaf's Frozen Adventure Update...

Are you still sick and tired Frozen mania? Do you want to see Pixar's newest original while dreading the new 22-minute Frozen featurette? Fear not... You can skip the Olaf mini-movie without having to leave the theater...

You'll just have to wait a few weeks...

The new poster for Olaf's Frozen Adventure confirms that the featurette will be attached to Coco in theaters for a limited time. In fine print.

Then, it'll be pulled and shown on ABC sometime in the winter... Which to me says "somewhere between December 21st-25th." Then you can go and see Coco without this thing attached. As a lot of you may know, this thing was originally intended to be shown on television, hence the 22-minute running time. The typical running time for a half-hour program, making room for 8 minutes of commercials.

Certainly an interesting move, because the last time Disney attached a 20-minute+ featurette to a main attraction (which was in 1990), they didn't offer this option. When Disney attached featurettes to movies, that was also the event, not just the movie in question. I suspect the inclusion of the Frozen special is just their way of trying to help Coco, in case that movie has trouble on its own. I'm hearing some rumblings that imply that big ol' Disney isn't confident in Pixar's upcoming original picture. The marketing on that one started well, but I feel it's kind of dry now... There's less than three months to go, so they better get the ball rolling. We don't want another Good Dinosaur situation.

Are you going to stick it out? Or are you going to wait till Disney pulls the featurette? I'm there opening day, I don't mind having to sit through 22 minutes of Frozen stuff... Heck, it might be very good for all I care!

Speaking of Coco, Sony Animation now intends to go... Well... Head-to-head with them.

Sony Pushes The Star Back a Week...

Sony Pictures Animation's next film, the outsourced Nativity story retelling The Star, is now set to open on November 17, 2017...

The previous date - Nov. 10th - gave it some breathing room, for Pixar's Coco will open on the 22nd, and is likely to be the more successful film. Why is Sony doing this? I have no idea, though The Star did end up costing $19 million to make, so I doubt it'll have much trouble at the box office. I'm also sure that Sony wasn't expecting a blockbuster out of this, but rather a niche Christian film... And we've seen how those have done. They're leggy little things. Add in the Christmas angle, yeah... I can see this thing making 4-5x its opening weekend gross.

This year, we've seen a few animated family movies open very, very close to each other.

Usually, animated family films are spaced out from each other, so that they get the best performance possible. Analysts and pundits tend to natter about things like "cannibalization," asking if there's "too many animated movies" being made, or some such nonsense... But I do believe that these films, since they are all family-friendly films, should be given enough breathing room. Legs tend to get cut off a bit, for the currently-playing film does lose some screens to the new flick on the block.

This year, we saw DreamWorks' The Boss Baby open a week before Sony Animation's Smurfs: The Lost Village. Who would've known that The Boss Baby would've made as much as it did? Smurfs could've gone either way, the new direction could've attracted audiences, or audiences would've said "skip" because of the last two movies. Boss Baby made bank, Smurfs just came and went. No cannibalization there, audiences chose what they wanted to see. If Smurfs was a must-see to many Americans, it would've performed well against Boss Baby. If Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3 came out in 2011, they wouldn't have affected each other much. Thing is, these days in particular, average moviegoers are getting choosier and choosier.

We're hearing of record box office lows right now, we're having the worst summer since the early 90s! But let's put that aside for a second and look into this whole "cannibalization" thing...

Next year, Warner Animation Group intends to release Smallfoot the week before Goosebumps 2, a live-action family film wearing the Sony Animation badge. Release date chess has been played frequently these days. At one point, Hotel Transylvania 3 and Warner's Scooby-Doo movie shared the same spot. Paramount/Nickelodeon's Loud House movie is set to open the week before Fox/Blue Sky's Nimona, and plenty of other clusters are on the schedule.

Now this wasn't much of a concern nearly 30 years ago, when there were fewer movies and certainly less forms of visual entertainment competing aggressively for your attention: Netflix, Hulu, streaming services, everything. In 1987, you had what? Some TV channels, maybe an 8-bit gaming system, radio, books?

In them olden dayes, animated competition was seemingly going to be continue being a thing as the animation industry was in the early stages of a 2nd Golden Age...

After a lull 1987, two major studios went head to head during the holiday season of 1988, and both came out as winners... Disney and Universal/Don Bluth.

It's a strange scenario nowadays, but in 1988, it just happened. It's even weirder when you consider that Disney's feature animation was just barely breaking out of a box office lull at the time. The Black Cauldron failed to recoup its costs in 1985, The Great Mouse Detective made around the same amount but wasn't a failure because it cost less than half of Black Cauldron's budget. Don Bluth and Universal proved to the industry that animation could still make big money, for their An American Tail broke records and did quite well in late 1986. So well that it made Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg re-think getting rid of feature animation at Disney altogether.

Disney didn't fire back with a picture in 1987, while Bluth and Steven Spielberg were already hard at work on their next big animated feature for Universal: The Land Before Time. Disney spent 1987 developing what would become Oliver & Company, and they slated it for a Thanksgiving 1988 release. The same date The Land Before Time was occupying. Consider... That was a huge risk. Disney was coming off of a flop and a rather come-and-go feature, and the hybrid movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit was distributed under the Touchstone banner and was - at the time - far removed from what was going on in feature animation. (Roger Rabbit appears to have finally been moved under the mainline Disney label, like The Nightmare Before Christmas a decade ago.)

Oliver & Company was hardly the work of the mouse on its game, as it was a gimmicky, hip film that would just be another generic 80s cartoon when you strip away all the pop star cast and attitude. Katzenberg was essentially overseeing a mid-aughts DreamWorks movie with this film, but its box office prospects were promising because of the more commercial elements. Here was a Disney animated film that touted contemporary 80s pop stars like Billy Joel, Bette Midler, and Ruth Pointer (of The Pointer Sisters, for any young'uns reading this), among others. It was modern, it was full of attitude, it was "with it." Nowadays, it's more of a kids' movie than a family movie, one that attempted to keep adults interested with elements that are now dated. You can say that applies to a lot of animated films being made today.

Bluth's film had An American Tail behind it, plus Spielberg was back to produce alongside George Lucas. Universal mounted a big campaign, and the movie boasted technical wizardry, dinosaurs, and Bluth's signature darkness. (Even if a lot of what he wanted in the film was killed at the hands of Universal executives.) So in short, the animation industry saw its first major head-to-head feature film competition nearly thirty years ago. Now I do know that back in 1982, Hanna-Barbera's Heidi's Song opened the same day as Looney Tunes clip-show movie Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales, but neither of those made a mark, so it's not really worth looking into in this context.

Domestically, despite slacking in the first couple of weeks, Oliver & Company narrowly beat Bluth and reclaimed the "highest grossing animated film on initial release" crown. This was, after all, back in the day when major theatrical re-releases of animated movies were much more common. In 1988, Snow White was still top of the box office mountain when you added all of its re-release totals: Around $150 million or so. The Land Before Time didn't walk away empty-handed, for it settled for being the second highest-grossing animated film (on initial release) ever. Worldwide is a mystery, Land Before Time scored $84 million everywhere, there are no records of Oliver's worldwide grosses, so no clear winner there.

In the end, the risks all paid off. Disney Feature Animation had a recent hit under their belt, their first since 1981's The Fox and the Hound. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a lovely bonus, and it more than helped re-ignite the public's interest in animation.

So that all worked out... Disney and Bluth would go head-to-head yet again. However, after The Land Before Time was completed, Bluth parted ways with Mr. Spielberg due to creative differences. Bluth would do his next film, All Dogs Go to Heaven, for the company that distributed his first film: MGM/United Artists. Disney was readying The Little Mermaid, their first fairy tale love story in 30 years. Was Oliver & Company a fluke, and that good ol' Don would get the upper hand next time? Katzenberg warned the studio that The Little Mermaid could've underperformed and made less than Oliver (!) because... The film was about a female. (!!!) Does THAT sound familiar to you?

Rest is history... The Little Mermaid not only steamrolled the Bluth film, it also broke the record and grossed over $84 million stateside. Was it cannibalization, though? Would All Dogs Go to Heaven have fared better if it was released in, say, spring 1990? I know All Dogs has its fans, but it seems that audiences and critics just didn't dig it back then. Bluth's previous two films hit it big, All Dogs could've despite opening against the mammoth-by-comparison Little Mermaid... It didn't. It failed to make American Tail and Land Before Time numbers, which it could've.

Thanksgiving 1990 saw a minor competition. Disney's The Rescuers Down Under opened the same day as Warner Bros.' first feature-length animated release (that didn't happen to be a Looney Tunes clip-show) in years, The Nutcracker Prince. The former had its legs cut off before it could even run (thanks, Katzenberg!), the latter... You could say that it was barely even in the horse race to begin with. Don Bluth's Rock-a-Doodle, completed earlier in the year, almost got released around this time, but various distribution complications held up its release.

1991 saw a truly major head-to-head battle... Disney's Beauty and the Beast vs. Universal's An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. Spielberg and a newly-formed studio called Amblimation pushed forward with the sequel to Bluth's smash hit without Bluth. They had serious guts scheduling it for Thanksgiving 1991, because American Tail II just seemed to be another upscaled cartoon and an inferior sequel to boot, and it looked like a barely-lit match next to the forest fire that was Beauty and the Beast.

Before that all went down, Amblimation actually had plans to go head-to-head with Disney every calendar year. At one point, their We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story was aiming to occupy the same date as Disney's Aladdin in 1992. (You guessed it, Thanksgiving week!) After Beauty and the Beast went on to become a barreling blockbuster smash, Amblimation's heads decided to not go up against the titan. If Bluth could lose, what made them think they could do it with a film that wasn't a sequel? We're Back! opened in Thanksgiving 1993, which Disney miraculously left open because of production difficulties with The Lion King. The film bombed. Balto tried to avoid Toy Story in late 1995, it still came up short. Amblimation closed, a chunk of its crew migrating to a newly-formed DreamWorks.

Sometimes, Disney barged in on others: The Lion King saw a little surprise re-release the same weekend as Nest's The Swan Princess, completely pummeling former Disney director Richard Rich's new feature. Don Bluth's Anastasia faced the re-release of The Little Mermaid, Bluth won, but his movie was no smash. Hemdale tried to get a word in before Disney, with the summer 1994 release of The Princess and the Goblin... But Lion King or no Lion King, it just didn't work out.

The ones behind competed with each other. Fox/Kroyer's Ferngully: The Last Rainforest - after evacuating Thanksgiving 1991 - opened a week before Don Bluth's Rock-a-Doodle, the former did okay, the latter flopped. Filmation's Happily Ever After released the same day as Miramax/Film Roman's Tom and Jerry: The Movie, both of them flopped. Disney got the MovieToons' picture A Goofy Movie out about a week before MGM released Bluth's Alan Smithee'd The Pebble and the Penguin, the penguins sunk while Goofy Movie did okay business. By around 1995, it was clear that most of the non-Disneys were being overseen by executives that just wanted that Disney money, cranking out malt-o-meal films that didn't have much in them for the adult audiences that flocked to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.

I'd say the last big battle of the 90s was A Bug's Life and The Rugrats Movie opening so close. Pixar's second-ever movie vs. the movie based on the smash hit Nickelodeon show. While the bugs won, the babies did quite fine - The Rugrats Movie was the first non-Disney/Pixar film to cross $100 million at the domestic box office. No cannibalization there, the two movies were bound to do well. Antz could count, but that opened nearly two months before A Bug's Life. That was different battle right there.

After that, most things were reasonably spaced out. Two weeks apart is pretty desirable. Flash-forward to now...

Boss Baby may've outgrossed Smurfs by a country mile, but the latter still tripled its budget... Sony views it as a failure, probably because it didn't make as much money as the last two films - $563m and $347m did.

Their expectations for The Star must be tempered, because moving it to the week before Coco could be seen as a risky move... Though it could attract certain audiences that don't have skeleton movies in their planners. Even if Disney themselves may not have much faith in Pixar's latest original movie, it seems certain that it'll easily beat The Star. In a way, Sony Animation is kind of doing something new here. They've made a family film with The Star, but a very niche one. Think of it as, say, the Miracles from Heaven/War Room of current animated movies. A movie meant for a small faction, it's not doing the 4-quadrant thing most other animated films vie for.

Add to that, their willingness to put it so close to the animated movie that's likely to get everyone in (that is, if it even does, or if Olaf has to come to the rescue), yeah... I think this is kind of new in a way. Now, remember last year? In August, Kubo and the Two Strings and Sausage Party opened a week apart. One was a family adventure story with bite, the other was a raunchy adults-only comedy. If Kubo had a marketing campaign that got more folks interested in seeing it, it wouldn't have had trouble at all, and it would've gone neck-and-neck with Sausage Party... Because both were different movies. Animation is not a genre.

So this November, a Christian film will open close to a family adventure. Now how long till an animated feature for a PG-13 crowd or a crowd that prefers a certain kind of movie opens next to a four-quadrant film? Instead of throwing kiddie-only movies in front of family features, why not... Counteract with an adults-only picture? Or something for a crowd not looking for an adventure-comedy?

Maybe we aren't so close to this scenario, but something in this release date change is making me think...


  1. Another case happened in March of 1996, when Disney re-released "Oliver & Company" on the same day MGM released "All Dogs Go To Heaven 2". Despite Oliver being considered one of Disney worst movies, the re-issue still did far better than All Dogs 2. I don't know which movie claimed the date first, but one interesting thing I remember was a TV spot for "All Dogs 2" saying it was the "only brand-new animated movie in theaters!" Obviously a not-so-subtle dig at Disney.

    Also, didn't Dreamworks release the DVDs of Shrek and Shrek 2 the same day Monsters, Inc and The Incredibles hit theaters? Not the same thing, obviously, but considering how rare it is for DVDs to get released on Friday, it definitely seemed like they were trying to steal some of Pixar's thunder.

    1. Oh wow, didn't know one of the commercials poked at Disney and 'Oliver & Co.'!

      As for DreamWorks, yes, I remember the 'Shrek 2' DVD arriving on 'The Incredibles'' opening day - Nov 5th. Don't remember about 'Shrek,' though, back then I wasn't tracking animation news, though I do remember the wait for the DVD/VHS being very, very long! I heard somewhere that this was indeed the plan, too. Who knows.

  2. You know, I am just not a fan of animated films being released so close to each other! It's like some studios think they're being cute, but it's just plain pathetic!

    I just hope that one day, these studios get back to their senses and realize that breathing room means everything.

    Gee, I might as well make my own animation schedule to show how I would do things...

    1. Type of animation doesn't matter, just as long as the film in question is good. Even if it's not, you still want to space it out from other releases in order to make the highest grosses possible.

  3. Maybe the Non-Disneys would've turned out better if they had better storytelling and weren't released close to Disney's! Though to be truthful, I like Balto, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and All Dogs Go to Heaven for what they are. In the case of AT II, there are times when I think the movie could've been a little better.

  4. Did you know that Don Bluth is making Dragon's Lair a movie?

    1. I've reported on it a couple of times, but I don't recall if he ever got the full funding he needed to make a presentation reel.