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Toon Tuesday: Will too much competition for DVD dollars eventually spell the end for today's CG boom?

Toon Tuesday: Will too much competition for DVD dollars eventually spell the end for today's CG boom?

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Okay. Now that we've established that "Cars" didn't exactly do as well as investment analysts and/or entertainment industry insiders had hoped it would, let's expand our horizons a bit.

So please join me now on JHM's observation deck. Which is the Internet's equivalent of 20,000 feet up.

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From this vantage point, we'll not only be able to see how Pixar's latest film has been doing at the box office. We'll also be able to scope out how Dreamworks Animation's "Over the Hedge" AND Sony Pictures Animation' "Monster House" AND Warner Bros. "The Ant Bully" AND Paramount Pictures' "Barnyard: The Original Party Animals" did, ticket sales-wise. As well as take a look back at how Universal Studios' "Curious George," 20th Century Fox's "Ice Age: The Meltdown," Disney's "The Wild" and the Weinstein Company's "Hoodwinked" & "Doogal" did earlier this year.

Hmmn ... Isn't that interesting? Please note that -- toward the start of the year -- things seemed fairly upbeat in Toontown. The press seemed rather impressed with how well "Hoodwinked" had done at the box office. They also seemed extremely pleased with how "Ice Age: The Meltdown" did in March, when this Blue Sky Studios production actually managed to out-do the worldwide gross of the original "Ice Age" by some $250 million.

Alright. So there were a few mis-steps along the way. "Curious George" (Which many animation vets had hoped would do extremely well. Thereby clearing the way for a revival of traditional animation) only did fair-to-middling during its February school vacation release. Pulling in little more than $58 million during its entire domestic run. Whereas "Doogal" ... Well, this Weinstein Company release basically rolled over and played dead once it hit theaters two weeks later.


Copyright 2006 Universal Studios

As for "The Wild" ... Well, clearly audiences weren't all that wild about this Disney Feature Animation experiment with CG out-sourcing. Though "The Wild" did almost twice as much business as WDFA's similiarly out-sourced "Valiant," it still didn't even come close to recovering its production costs. Never mind possibly turning a profit.


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises

But then came May and the arrival of the summer's first big budget / heavily hyped animated feature, "Over the Hedge." Given that this was Dreamworks Animation's best reviewed film since "Shrek 2" ("OVH" 's Rotten Tomatoes rating stood at 75%), the hope was that this Tim Johnson & Karey Kirkpatrick film would then do "Shrek" -sized business.

But that didn't happen. "Over the Hedge" actually did very solid business for a while, but eventually this Bonnie Arnold production just ran out of steam. With its domestic box office now topping out at $154.4 million, "OTH" didn't come close to making "Shrek" level money. Hell, Dreamworks Animation's latest couldn't even top that studio's earlier releases, "Shark Tale" and "Madagascar." And given the generally lackluster reviews that these two Dreamworks animated features had gotten ... Well, "OTH" 's soft box office performance really surprised a lot of animation insiders.


Copyright 2006 Dreamworks Animation

But, wait. When it came to the Summer of 2006, the animation-related surprises were only just beginning. As JHM readers already know far too well, Pixar's latest has proven to be a bit of a disappointment at the domestic box office. But when you compare "Cars" stateside earnings ($239.5 million to date) to what "Monster House" has pulled in ($67.3 million) or "Barnyard: The Original Party Animals" ($45.9 million) or "The Ant Bully" ($23.5 million) ... Well, that's the start of a pretty disturbing trend, don't you think?

To be specific: The grosses for CG features that were produced by established players in the animation industry (I.E. Pixar & Dreamworks Animation) have been noticably off this year. Whereas the grosses for CG features that were produced by studios that were just getting into the animation game ... Well, these guys are now struggling just to cover their initial marketing & production costs. Never mind turning a profit.


Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

And given this trend ... Well, you just know that the studios that still have CG features that are slated to be released later this year ...

Film Title
CG Feature Produced by
Release Date
20th Century Fox / IDT Productions
September 15
Sony Pictures Animation
September 29
Dreamworks Animation / Aardman
November 3
Warner Bros.
November 17

... have to be sweating bullets right about now. Given the tens of millions of dollars that all four of these studios now have tied up in these CG projects. Particularly when you've got industry insiders like News Corp president Peter Chernin making doom-and-gloom pronouncements like:

"You're just seeing too many [animated] movies in the market, and the average box office ... is coming down."

Which is why there's now a whiff of panic in the air. As the executives who actually put up all of the money necessary to make these rather expensive CG features are now beginning to ask: "Are we going to get a return on our initial investment?"


Copyright 2006 20th Century Fox

It used to be that you could at least count on your feature length cartoon making some money once it debuted on disc. But not any longer. To explain: Have you seen the list of recent CG films that are coming out on DVD in the next few months?

Release Date
Film Title
August 29
September 12
September 19
September 26
October 3
October 10
October 17
October 24
"Monster House"
November 7
November 14
"Mickey Mouse Playhouse: Mickey Saves Santa"
November 21

Over a single 13 week-long period, there are 12 different animated features coming out on DVD. And though each of these discs' releases will be supported by a hugely expensive, multi-media promotional campaign ... Well, with so much new product (which is aimed directly at the family audience) flooding into the marketplace within such a short period of time ... It's just not realistic to expect that each & every one of these films will then go on to become a DVD best seller.


Copyright 2006 20th Century Fox

Which means that the DVD safety net that so many of these studio execs had been counting on when they initially greenlit production of all of these CG animated features ... Well, it just isn't going to be there this time. Not for all of these films, anyway.

And while I'm not saying that Pixar, Disney or even Dreamworks Animation will be forced to go out of business if the DVD versions of "Cars," "The Wild" or "Over the Hedge" don't sell all that well ... For some of these other newer CG operations ... It could be a very different story.


Copyright 2006 Universal Studios

You want to know the really ironic part of this whole situation? Based on what I just saw at SIGGRAPH 2006, some of the strongest, most entertaining CG films of this year (I.E. "Flushed Away," "Happy Feet" & "Open Season") haven't made it into theaters yet. Hell, even "Everyone's Hero" (based on the footage that I got to see earlier this month in Boston, anyway) looks to be a real charmer.

And yet -- thanks to moviegoers' growing fatigue with CG films -- these new animated features may now never get their shot at achieving real box office success. And if that actually happens ... Well, look for this unfortunate development to have a real chilling effect on the animation industry going forward into 2007 & 2008.


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises

For -- as Disney CFO Thomas Staggs said in a recent interview with the "Financial Times" :

“We’ve seen episodes like this before where many, many people got into the animation business ... I don’t know if everyone will stay in.”

Which is why it will be really interesting to see who's still in the CG business come 2009 & 2010.


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises

Sooo ... Looking down from the JHM observation deck and off into the coming holiday shopping season, which of the DVDs that I've listed above will you be adding to your Xmas list? More importantly, which of these dics will you be taking a pass on?

Your thoughts?

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  • I totally agree and have been saying for awhile that there are just too many CGI films being made.  A CGI film just isn't the special movie event it used to be.  Now audiences and families have to pick and choose which CGI films they will see or buy.  For studios to stay in the CGI arena they'll have to be on top of their game.

    It is comparable to the 90's when Disney hand drawn animation took off.  Soon many studios (Fox, WB, Universal, Dreamworks) jumped on board hoping to make the money Disney films were.  Some of these had success financially (Fox's Anatasia, Dreamwork's The Prince of Egypt) others critically (Iron Giant) but in the end Disney and Dreamworks were really the only ones that hung on until Treasure Planet, Home on the Range, and Sinbad did so poorly at the box office.

    I think we'll see the same and even more with CGI films.  Many studios are making CGI films and many will exit in the next few years.  I only expect Disney/Pixar, Dreamworks, and possibly Fox to continue on this course in the future.  I'm really starting to doubt that any of the remaining CG films this year will cross the 100 million mark.

    I'm also glad to see Disney getting back into hand drawn animation because I strongly feel these films can still make lots of money if the proper time, money, and quality is there.  What I'm saying is I already can't wait for "The Frog Princess"!
  • Thank you, Jim for finally focusing on the bigger issue!  Hallelujah!
  • And in response to your question, the only DVD's vying for my dollars will be Little Mermaid, Cars, and The Fox & the Hound.  The others (that I haven't watched -- I hate to admit that I saw The Wild, but it was at the El Capitan, at least) are all patiently waiting in my Netflix queue.
  • Mickey_Hal said:
    It is comparable to the 90's when Disney hand drawn animation took off.  Soon many studios (Fox, WB, Universal, Dreamworks) jumped on board hoping to make the money Disney films were.  Some of these had success financially (Fox's Anatasia, Dreamwork's The Prince of Egypt) others critically (Iron Giant) but in the end Disney and Dreamworks were really the only ones that hung on until Treasure Planet, Home on the Range, and Sinbad did so poorly at the box office.
    ----
    A recent Variety article on "Ant Bully"'s disappearance asked the key question:
    "Remember back when 'Valiant' was the ONLY CGI flop?"

    Which, of course, as already pointed out in another thread, was incorrect: "Antz" was the first CGI flop, and even if you didn't think so, there was always "Final Fantasy"--
    But since this was the early days, critics and industry analysts called -anything- in CGI a "breakthrough hit", since there was only Pixar to compare it to--And because, being analysts, they thought one studio created every animated movie ever made and the exact same audiences went to both, and assumed it must have been some sort-of hit anyway on X vs. Y numbers.
    What wasn't around back then, and that we have today, is the IDEA that different studios can make different CGI pictures, and that, well, some of them can possibly stink.
    This is the crucial ingredient in any evolution of art or technology:  First the breakthrough, then the public acceptance, and then the critic.  And it took third-party CGI pretty darn longer than usual to reach that third stage--Even longer than it took the third-party 2D-animation flood in the 90's.

    As for the rest of the article:
    We've already reached that third stage with direct-to-DVD CGI movies, where an original title can open at Target-Mart and we don't have to care.  "Wild", "George", "Hedge", "Mermaid" and "Cars" [and should we be paranoid about how that one got into an article about "shaky DVD-sale competition"?] were all known quantities from their theater releases, and sink or swim on the reviews they got and how many were already wanting to take them home ahead of time.
    As for Barbie and Brother Bear, however, we've long since become numbed to seeing them as Toys-R-Us marketing, and stopped expecting any kind of story or character development.  They've got their own shelves now, apart from the "real" movies.
  • Oh, also:
    ---
    "You want to know the really ironic part of this whole situation? Based on what I just saw at SIGGRAPH 2006, some of the strongest, most entertaining CG films of this year (I.E. "Flushed Away," "Happy Feet" & "Open Season") have yet to actually open in theaters. Hell, even "Everyone's Hero" (based on the footage that I got to see earlier this month in Boston, anyway) looks to be a real charmer."
    ---
    The trailer's up at Apple, and my first reaction was, on paper, this was -exactly- the kind of story that Pixar--Brad "Iron Giant" Bird, even--could have made magic.  It just had all the ingredients, and you could see some of what Christopher Reeve had in mind going in at the beginning...But it wasn't, and as a result, we get Whoopi Goldberg as a jive-talking bat.
    I can't come up with a more perfect metaphor for What Goes Wrong when other studios do CGI movies.  And that's the hurt that's coming out of the glut, right now.

    And for "Open Season", everyone's already brought up the "critter flood", but I still say it'd be an interesting article to watch whether Roger Allers and the ex-Pixar people now at Sony ever get wooed back "home" to the new animation-friendly Disney/Pixar.
    Unlike the other commercial-FX companies who say "Hey, there's money in this!", they, at least, have a resume', training, and a career ahead of them.
  • OK, you asked for the titles I'd most likely buy. For the record I'm the 45-year-old male half of a married couple without children. Still, my wilfe and I are animation and film fans with a DVD library of more than 400 films and a half dozen TV series. We don't have cable ... just local TV stations and our DVDs.

    Here's our list:
    Little Mermaid
    Fox & The Hound -- although I'm interested in seeing if the bonus material is worth the $18 to $24 price.
    Over the Hedge ... good voice casting and an entertaining film.
    Monster House ... a pretty good story, although I don't really care for the motion capture animation and the soul-less eyes of its characters. If I see it on sale for under $20, it's a maybe at best.
    Cars -- most definitely. We own all of Pixar's films and know that they're worth rewatching and enjoying one or two times a year. Cars is not my favorite Pixar film; nor is it my least favorite. It's squarely in the middle of the pack ... but what an impressive pack it is. Even my least favorite Pixar film hits enough of the right notes to earn its place in our DVD library.
    Mickey Mouse Playhouse ... I'll wait to read/hear and see more info before adding this to the collection.
    Ice Age Meltdown ... We'll likely pick this one up as well ... didn't see it in the theater and it might be worth purchasing. We liked the first film and the trailers -- we simply let this pass us by at the multiplex.

    Finally, I also intend to purchase "Ant Bully" when it comes out ... As a member of the media, I saw an advance screening and had rather low expectations. But it surprised and entertained me more than Chicken Little -- which I also have on DVD (unopened though).  

    I only hope that when good films like "Ant Bully" fail ... that the talents who made them get another chance to create movie magic.  The creative team who put Ant Bully together did a superb job ... Producer Tom Hanks and the marketing department did an abysmal job of creating a buzz and selling it to the masses ... but maybe it was a bit of animation overload for the general public.

    Sometimes good movies take a while to find their audiences -- and some of the "classic films" we love and admire today were not successes when they were first released. Anyone ever heard of the films "It's a Wonderful Life," "The Wizard of Oz," "The Nightmare Before Christmas -- I'll bet you the digital 3D re-release this October will have a better domestic box office return than it did in its initial run -- and finally, Disney's own "Alice in Wonderland," "Fantasia" and others? In their day, they were judged as harshly as Wall Street judged "Cars," but I doubt anyone who has been entertained by any of those films would call them failures today.

    I have high hopes and expectations for "Open Season" and "Happy Feet," and I'm feeling just a tad better about "Meet the Robinsons," knowing that the brain trusts and creative talents at Pixar likely offered some really good suggestions to improve the film.  Will any or all three of these be hits? Time will tell. But, again, my expectations aren't exactly the same as those of the myopic analysts on Wall Street and curmudgeonly but lovable columnists.

     
  • mnmears, I agree with, in regards to TNBC, that it probably will have a higher box office this time around...if it'll be in enough theaters, meaning if it's not too limited in its release.  I didn't see it when it came out, but I'm so excited to see it on the big screen!

    "Which is why it will be really interesting to see who's still in the CG business come 2009 & 2010."
    What I'm curious about is how many traditionally animated films will come out by then; surely "Curious George" won't be the only traditionally animated film for a while...

    I'm going to buy "Brother Bear 2", "The Little Mermaid", "The Fox & the Hound" (probably...I mean, any bonus features will be better than the Gold Collection DVD...), "Cars", maybe "Mickey Saves Santa", but probably not, and then Dec. 12th, I believe, is when "The Fox & the Hound 2" comes out, and I'll get that...it takes me a while to actually watch them (still haven't even watched "Tarzan II", but I bought it), but I buy them.

  • I think the movie critics at Entertainment Weekly put it just right when they said that "this was the summer when CG movies jumped the shark."  Especially wiseacre talking animal CG movies.  Just as the hand-drawn animation binge of the early 90's ended up hurting everyone, it's not hard to imagine this glut not only wiping out the minor leaguers, but leaving viewers weary of all CG content, even the good stuff (yes, like "Cars").
  • Hmmm.  Seems like Business Monday's leaking into tuesday.  But that's being picky.  At least today has a different subject matter. (Although, Jim, you DID take another litle swipe at CARS) At any rate, I do agree with much of this.  We have a CG flood of lame crap. Studio heads seem to believe that as long as it's CG it wil sell. 2D is dead. Someone should slap these guys silly. It's all about STORY and CHARACTER.  I've seen most of these CG features as I have a four year old who loves going to the movies. Most of them left me somewhat cold. THE ANT BULLY was okay, but ultimately nothing to get REALLY excited about. OVER THE HEDGE same thing. Even CARS didn't grab me like THE INCREDIBLES, but it had terrific characters and story so it stood out in the crowd. Right now we just have too much mediocre product out there.  All or most of it looks pretty cool in trailers, but fall pretty flat. I find myself NOT going to as many movies at the theatre in general because too few of them are worth the price of admission.  Particularly when I realize I can buy the movie on DVD cheaper than  can take the family to see it.   And then when you get to the list...who can buy it all? And I hate to say it, but I won't be buying CARS. Nope.  Disney has decided to release a lame version and I won't buy it.  A few months from now they'll try to nail me with the special edition.  I'm not buying it twice. No. Although I waited and waited for LILO and STITCH's special edition which never showed up and finally bought the regular version. And now I won't buy that NEW version if it shows up. A couple years ago anything DISNEY was an immediate BUY. Not anymore.  Too many direct to video sequals that absolutely stink. So from your list I'll be buying...

    LITTLE MERMAID- Gotta have a nice DVD of that one.
    ICE AGE 2 -I enjoyed that almost as much as my daughter.
    CURIOUS GEORGE-Though it was definitely for little kids, I really enjoyed this one. And my daughter gigled all the way through.
    MONSTER HOUSE-missed it in theatre, so a buy here won't kill me.

    WILL NOT BUY:

    CARS- see above
    FOX AND THE HOUND-Already have a perfectly good version
    BROTHER BEAR 2- Why?

    And Jim, here's one I'd be interested in your take on.  The newest wave of DISNEY TREASURES.  One disc we'll all want is YOUR HOST WALT DISNEY.  Although, the word is two of the episode on it are already on DVD. "I CAPTURED THE KING OF THE LEPRECHAUNS" is on DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE  and the "TENTH ANNIVERSARY SHOW" is on a DISNEY TREASURES Disc. This is horrible double dipping on discs that should be truly special. Your thoughts?
  • Quite frankly, this year's major animated films sucked in my opinion. The one exception in my mind is Monster House. Although there were parts I didn't like, this was the only animated film (to me) that really stood out this year in a good way. Now I saw Hoodwinked earlier this month on DVD (from Blockbuster) and it had so much potential to it. Andy Dick & Patrick Warburton were great and I loved the whole detective/interrogation theme, but they just ruined it with all the modern references (and the annoying-as-hell squirrel). My sister rented Doogal (which I saw 5 minutes of and left), the Ant Bully looks like Antz 2, I won't touch Barnyard with a 10-foot stick and I won't even talk about Cars. With the Wild, although I though many of the clips were funny, had too little things going for it. But mainly, it had the unfortunate pleasure to premier after Madagscar (even though it was made first).

    As for the rest of this year, I still don't see many stand-outs. Open Season reaks of Dreamworks (even though it's made by Sony), Happy Feet seems like another crappy Robin Williams movie (ala Robots), Everyone's Hero looks okay (but the trailer gives away the whole story...Robin Williams also has an uncredited role here), & Flushed Away seems like when Dreamworks made Sharktale. The next good one in my opinion will likely be March's Meet the Robinsons.

    As for what DVDs I will get, well... I plan I getting Brother Bear 2 (which, [shameless plug] is being given away at TheAnimatedFilms.com[/shameless plug]) & maybe The Little Mermaid Platinum Edition . That's pretty much it on the animation front. I'm saving my dollars for Whose Line is it Anyway (September 27th), Lost Season 2 & Dead Man's Chest.
  • I have seen several of the CGI releases this year, while some of the others have looked terrible and almost insulting:
    Doogle--that was the worst thing I have seen in a long time, hands down! The only movie that I can think of that I wanted my money back!
    Ice Age 2-- Lame, slapped together follow-up that had none of the heart or fun of the orginal.
    OTH--Funny, funny stuff! Loved Hammy, but it had the standard Betrayal story-line!
    Cars--Saw it 3 times, loved it everytime! Can't wait for the DVD!
    Monster House--One of the funniest things I have seen as an adult! I think that this movie suffers from bad timing (a Halloween movie in the summer) and too many other movies released about the same time! It was very funny and my son and my wife all really enjoyed it.
    The others Barnyard, Ant Bully, and Open season all look like junk storytelling coupled with less than steller animation!
  • The market is definetly flooded. I even only bothered to see 2 of the animated films released this year (Over the Hedge and Cars, both of which I enjoyed). Animated films being released are certainly no longer fun events.

    As for what DVDs I'll be buying, probably the the Little Mermaid and Fox and the Hound DVDs, and the Cars DVD.
  • I've been worried about the CGI glut myself. The novelty of the process has lost a lot of its appeal now, and too many of the films had a paper-thin plot that frankly aren't worthy of a feature-length film. Ice Age 2 didn't have a single good laugh in it, Over The Hedge wasn't worth the theatre tickets (not a bad film, but story-wise it's not exactly "Lion King" level) and as for crap like "Doogal", well, when you have a Nicktoon producer like Butch Hartman (who ruined his own show "Fairly Oddparents") writing the script, you wind up with a film that smells like the source of much of its humor: farts. Monster House was okay, although I'm still not a fan of motion-capture animation, and I refuse to see Barnyard because 1. It's a Nickelodeon film, which means it's doubtless loaded with Nick "sensibilities" (see above reference to farts) and 2. Boy cows are STEERS or BULLS and do not have udders!!!!

    Now, having said all that, I might still see Open Season, because it does actually look funny. But yeah, I'm sick of the CGI glut and I wonder if computers have made the animation process a little TOO easy, since everybody and his brother seem to be getting into it...
  • This biggest problem most of the CGI movies have is that they don't play to kids. Is Monster House for kids?!? If you took you younger children to it, you should be ashamed of yourselves.
    Disney and Pixar have ALWAYS done well for TWO reasons.
    One (and MOST important) - trust. Disney/Pixar has made some lame movies, BUT they have NEVER made a movie that was inappropiate for children. I as a parent (and most other parents) KNOW that we can TRUST Disney/Pixar. I have taken my kids to Disney/Pixar movies sight unseen. I would NEVER do that for a Sony or Dreamworks! Pixar especially has the talent to play to adults by using harmless adult references (not sexual ones i.e. Shrek) kind of like the Looney Tunes used to.
    Two - kids. We can pretend as much as we want, but animation is and will probably always be seen (in the US) as for kids. Pixar has never forgot this and when Disney has (Treasure Planet, Atlantis) they have been "punished" at the box office.
  • "Hell, even "Everyone's Hero" (based on the footage that I got to see earlier this month in Boston, anyway) looks to be a real charmer."

    Unless that footage is EXCEEDINGLY better than what's on the trailer, I'd say I'm gonna disagree here. Everything about it smacks of pure cheesy formula. As DerekJ mentioned, we end up with Whoopi Goldberg as a jive-talking bat. Oh, and don't forget Raven-Symone, who portrays (and I quote from the official site) "a fun loving, energetic tomboy who exemplifies Girl Power. She becomes a good friend of Yankee's [the main character] who helps him through tough situatiuons and to acheive his goal." Blecch. As much as I don't like to judge from the trailer, I'm still gonna pass on this.

    Seems to me that the animation industry continuously hits these cycles where a genre / technique / trend becomes popular and immediately everyone starts shouting "Me Too!" Where we once had something unique, we now get a dozen mediocre products all pushing and shoving to try and get the public's attention. The problem is that this keeps on happening over and over and no one seems to be aware of it. It happened in the 90's. It's happening now, and not just in movie theatres. Just look at tv animation. For example, a few years ago the only anime you'd ever see was on Adult Swim at one in the morning. Now? Every other show is either an import or an American cartoon designed to look like an import. And you know what? Eventually, that'll burn out too. And all the analysts and studio heads will look around at each other with that dumbstruck gaze and say "How could this have happened?" and fire all their artists. And then they'll do it again in ten years.

    Man, I get riled up at this stuff.
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