Times certainly have changed in Toontown.
20 years ago, this was a particularly competitive &
cutthroat corner of Hollywood. Take - for example - the extraordinary lengths
that Disney went to back in November of 1997 in order to maintain its dominance
in feature animation. To deliberately undermine the November 21st
release of "Anastasia" (which was Fox Animation Studios' first foray into
features), the Mouse launched a multi-pronged attack.
The first thing Disney did was to send "The Little Mermaid"
back out into theaters on November 14, 1997 for a special limited-time run.
"How limited?," you ask. This Academy Award-winning animated feature would only
stay in the multiplexes for 17 days before Ariel then swam back into the Disney
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Part Two of Operation Undermine "Anastasia" was that - on
the exact same day that this Don Bluth film went into wide release - Disney
then sent its two hit films from the Summer of 1997, "Hercules" & "George
of the Jungle," back out into discount theaters as a double bill.
And then - as the final coup de grâce - just five days after
"Anastasia" debuted in theaters, Disney planned on releasing "Flubber," that
studio's CG-enhanced remake of its 1961 Fred MacMurray comedy, "The
So did Disney's plan to kneecap "Anastasia" ultimately pay
off? Given that Fox Animation Studios' premiere production cost $53 million to
make and then only earned $58 million during its initial domestic run, I'd say
that the Mouse's strategy was pretty successful.
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Which isn't to say that - given what Mickey did to her movie
- that the Grand Duchess Anastasia was completely down & out. In fact, the
stage version of this animated musical begins previewing at the Broadhurst
Theatre next week and will then officially open on Broadway on April 24th.
Getting back to how brutal things used to be in Toontown ...
Just one year after Disney went after "Anastasia," the Mouse found itself in a
similar sort of showdown with DreamWorks Animation. The only problem was that
Jeffrey Katzenberg (i.e., the former Chairman of Walt Disney Studios who was
first forced out of the Mouse House in August of 1994 by Michael Eisner and who
then went on to join forces with Steven Spielberg & David Geffen in October
of that same year to form DreamWorks SKG) was equally determined to win.
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Which is why - when Disney refused to change the release
date of "A Bug's Life" (which was Pixar Animation Studio's much anticipated
follow-up to its 1995 smash hit, "Toy Story." Which was the world's first
feature-length CG film) so that DreamWorks Animation's "The Prince of Egypt"
would then have the long Thanksgiving weekend (more importantly, that holiday's
lucrative box office) all to itself, Katzenberg did something that genuinely
shocked a lot of folks in Hollywood. He changed the release date for "Antz"
(which was DreamWorks Animation / PDI's own insect-inspired animated adventure)
from its previously announced March of 1999 to October 2, 1998. Which meant
that "Antz" would then make it into theaters a full seven weeks ahead of "A
This change-in-release-dates absolutely infuriated the folks
at Disney & Pixar. So much so that - even when DreamWorks Animation ultimately
decided to push back the release of "The Prince of Egypt" from Thanksgiving
1998 to December 18th of that same year - the Mouse deliberately
moved its "Mighty Joe Young" remake to December 25th. With the hope that their big ape would then
make it that much harder for DreamWorks' animated Moses musical to make bank
over the week between Christmas and New Year's.
And this sort of sniping continued between these two
animation studios over the next few years. One has to only look at 2001's
"Shrek" (which features numerous swipes at characters from Disney's animated
features as well as the Company's theme parks. Not to mention that this movie's
main villain - Lord Farquaad - was reportedly modeled after the Mouse House's
Big Cheese Michael Eisner) to realize that those who were in charge of these
companies at that time were still nursing some pretty serious grudges.
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But like I said, that was almost 20 years ago. And now that
Eisner & Katzenberg are no longer calling the shots at their respective
studios, Toontown seems to have entered a relatively peaceful period.
Don't believe me? Then check out this trailer that 20th
Century Fox released yesterday for "The Boss Baby." For the first time in Hollywood
history, a DreamWorks Animation character actually directly references a Walt
Disney Studios release.
In a trailer that's actually supposed to run in front of
screenings of Disney's live-action "Beauty & the Beast" reboot, we first
see stylized toy versions of Lumiere and Cogsworth. The candlestick says to the
mantle clock ""Come one step closer, and I'll illuminate you with a soft glow."
In response, Cogsworth snarls "And I'll clean your clock."
As the stylized versions of these "Beauty & the Beast"
characters begins to battle, the camera quickly pulls back - revealing the Boss
Baby in his high chair, bashing plastic squeaky toys of Cogsworth & Lumiere
together. Quickly realizing that the audience had now spotted him playing with
such juvenile items, the Baby Boss immediately tosses these "Beauty & the
Beast" toys aside and then speaks directly into the camera.
"Look, you've all made an excellent decision to see this
movie. You're clearly shrewd," says this suit-and-tie clad toddler as he sucks
up to the audience. "So let me lay this out for you: On March 31st,
my movie - DreamWork's 'The Boss Baby' - will be coming out. We don't have any
talking candlesticks. But if that's the deal breaker, we'll cram one in there
This is (obviously) a very clever trailer for "The Boss
Baby." One that will almost certainly go viral and then help build interest in
this Tom McGrath movie. But at the same time, one has to argue that this is an
incredibly smart move on Fox's promotional department. Given that Disney's
live-action reboot of "Beauty and the Beast" is already a box office behemoth (During
its first three days in domestic release, this Bill Condon film sold $170
million worth of tickets. Which is not only a record setter for the month of
March, but also makes this movie the seventh largest domestic opening of
all-time), it's clearly going to continue to do strong business for the next
couple of weeks. Which means that all of those people who now go to see Disney's
"Beauty & the Beast" reboot will also get to see this "Boss Baby" trailer
which then gently spoofs this hit motion picture. Which - the promotional team
at Fox clearly hopes - will then compel people to go check out this new
DreamWorks Animation production when it's actually released to theaters on
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Mind you, the marketeers at the Mouse House did something
similar when "Monsters, Inc." was first released back in early November of
2001. Only in this case, the concern was that - when the eagerly anticipated
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" finally opened in theaters on November
16th of that same year - people would then just stop going to that
Pete Docter picture.
But given that there were a lot of Pixar Animation Studios
employees who were Harry Potter fans and were also really looking forward to
seeing that Chris Columbus film ... Well, the attitude within the promotional
department was " ... if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
Which explains "Charades." This "Monsters, Inc." trailer was
deliberately designed to be placed in front of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone." With the hope that its message (i.e., "Now showing in a theater near
you. Really near you. Like, maybe, right next door") would then compel J.K. Rowling
fans to give Pixar's latest a try.
And given that "Monsters, Inc." 's box office actually went
up the weekend after "Charades" began playing in front of "Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone," this was clearly a pretty effective piece of promotion.
So now that Disney & DreamWorks Animation appear to have
buried the hatchet, will tranquility reign in Toontown? Well, you have to
remember that Hollywood's landscape has radically changed since 1997. These
days, there are all sorts of animation studios out there (Among them Blue Sky,
Illumination Entertainment, LAIKA, Sony Pictures Animation and Warner Animation
Group) that are producing acclaimed animated films that are seriously connecting
with audience around the globe.
So just because Disney & DreamWorks Animation have
entered a relatively peaceful period doesn't mean that the people who run all
of these other animation studios aren't then super-competitive / don't want to
dominate at the box office.
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Which brings us to April 8th. Which is when -
just one week after "The Boss Baby" opens in theaters - Sony Pictures
Animation's "Smurfs: The Lost Village" then goes into wide release. Will that
Alec-Baldwin-voiced travel-sized-CEO cause blue blood to be spilled at the box
office? Or will "The Lost Village" sell so many tickets that "The Boss Baby" 's
run in theaters will then be brought up short?
We'll know for certain in 20 days or so.
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on March 21, 2017