Saturday, June 15, 2019

Early Summer Box Office

Remakes of Disney animated hits continue to score; sequels to aliens and agents in dark suits don't.


1) Men In Black: Yet Again -- 4,224 -- $26.3M -- $26.3M (1st weekend)

2) Secret Life Of Pets 2 -- 4,564 (+3) -- $23.7M (-49%) -- $91.9M

3) Aladdin -- 3,556 (-249) -- $17.1M (-30%) -- $263.8M

4) Dark Phoenix -- 3,721 -- $8.3M (-74%) -- $51M

5) Rocketman -- 3,021 (-589) -- $8.3M (-40%) -- $65.6M

6) Godzilla: King of the Big Fat Lizards -- 3,207 (-901) -- $7.9M (-48%) -- $93.4M

7) Shaft -- 2,952 -- $7.1M -- $7.1M (1st weekend)

8) John Wick 3 -- 2,033 (-743) -- $5.6M (-25%) -- $148.1M

9) Late Night -- 2,218 (+2214) -- $4.7M (+1811%) -- $4.9M

10) Ma -- 1,794 (1,022) -- $3.8M (-51%) -- $40.5M

Aladdin (-30%) and John Wick 3 (-25%) have the two two smallest declines on the Big List. Secret Life of Pets 2 drops by half, while Men In Black fails to perform anywhere close to the level of its predecessors.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 had a domestic gross that was less than half the original's take when it opened domestically ($46.6 million vs. $104.3 million) so it's got a steep mountain to climb if it hopes to get anywhere near the worldwide gross of $875,457,937 that the first entry earned. (Just now it has a global take of approximately $140 million.)

Meantime, Toy Story 4 is tracking strongly ... with an opening weekend projection north of $130 million in the U.S. of A. and Canada when it'sreleased June 20th.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Women Working in Short and Long-Form Cartoons

Animation has been a boys' club for as long as I can remember (and it was a boys' club way before that. Cal Arts in Valencia now has more women enrolled than men. The animation industry itself? Not so much. ...

Only 3% of animated film directors over the last 12 years were women, while 13% of episodes evaluated across popular animated TV programs from 2018 had female directors. ...

Across 100 popular animated TV series, females comprised 16% of animation directors, 20% of lead animators, and 11% of lead storyboard artists. ...

Women comprise 27% (or thereabouts) of the Animation Guild's active membership. This would include color stylists nd animation checkers (both categories with a large proportion of women). Women in supervisory creative positions are few and far between. This has been true since the start of the industry.

There have been improvements in parts of Cartoonland, but change has been slow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Cartoon Development

All the big animation players are displaying their wares at Annecy. Where else would they show them this time of year?

Coming off the success of its Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, [Sony Pictures Animation] announced that China’s Tencent has boarded Jackie Chan’s Wish Dragon, and also revealed three projects in development – a reimagining of The Boondocks, horror series Hungry Ghosts, based on the Dark Horse Graphic Novel by the late Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose, and comedy Superbago, a collabortion with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios – along with two new adult-skewing animated features from Genndy Tartakovsky. ...

There's more and more production of cartoons because:

A) The costs are low* and the profit margins are large.

B) Theatrical animation is, after super-heroes, the most profitable type of feature out there.

C) As streaming media becomes more ubiquitous, entertainment conglomerates have come to realize that animated content has to play a large role in what gets distributed because kids and adults both watch ... and kids in particular are a highly desirable market because they continue viewing habits with brands that plant their flag early (when children are 3-7).

Add On: And now the trades have noted this:

Disney stock rose 4.4% Thursday, setting a record high closing price of $141.74, after a Wall Street analyst boosted his price target for the company on increased optimism about the company’s streaming prospects.

Benjamin Swinburne of Morgan Stanley, in a note to clients, said he is now forecasting that Disney will reach more than 130 million global subscribers by 2024 across its three streaming services, Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu. The analyst sees Disney+, which launches in November, accounting for 70 million of the total. ...

Animation, of course, is a large part of why Disney's future streaming business is supposed to be (per analysts) to potent ... and so profitable.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Letter From Lee Blair

Since I woke up extra early after going to bed extra late, and the brain is fried, I decided it would be a good day to perform a mindless task like getting the bric-a-brac cluttering the office into boxes and properly stored. In the course of doing that, I found this old letter from December, 1985:

LEE BLAIR* -- 3465 Crestline Way - Soquel CA.

Dear Steve:

There are several stories that come to mind regarding your search for after-dinner memories 'from way back when'. ...

One involves the great strength of Roy Williams** who used to be a friend of mine's assistant. Hardie Gramatky told me about him dumping over Ward Kimball's little Ford restored touring car, all on a bet. Another one about Roy was his car with the I-beam bumpers and bopping the guys out in Boyle Heights who cut in on him.

There was also a legendary guy at Harmon-Ising named Thurston Harper. He had been a soldier of fortune in Central America and other places and took no s*** from nobody. He was walking down Santa Monica Blvd. near the studio wearing his new Palm Beach suit. Some yoo yoos came around a corner and through a rain puddle and splashed dirty water all over Thurston. He was enraged. He took off down the middle of Santa Monica Blvd. and caught up with them at a red light at Highland Ave. He yanks out the driver and rolls him over and over in the water running down the street's gutter, then stuffed him back in the car. Wow!

Another involves Frank Thomas getting spit in the face in the Buenos Aires Zoo by a Llama. Webb Smith and I were standing there and Webb observed that Syphilis came from South America via Piaarro, started by llamas. Frank tore out on his way to the hotel to WASH UP.

There are others,

Lee Blair

* And if you're wondering who all these folks were, Lee Blair was a Disney animator, brother of Preston Blair and husband of Mary Blair. Roy Williams was a longtime Disney story artist and "Roy, the big Mooskeketeer" in the 1950s version of "The Mickey Mouse Club", and Frank Thomas was one of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men" and a long-time supervising animator at Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Thurston Harper, remarkably enough, was an animator on Walt Disney's "Alice In Cartoonland" series during the 1920s, and also an animator on the Fleischers' "Gulliver's Travels".

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pets and Hybrids

Secret Life of Pets 2 opens to middling numbers. And the big window won't be open very long, what with Toy Story 4 arriving in two weeks. ...


1) Secret Life Of Pets 2 -- 4,561 -- $47.1M -- $48M (1st weekend)

2) Dark Phoenix -- 3,721 -- $33M -- $33M (1st weekend)

3) Aladdin -- 3,805 (-671) -- $24.5M (-43%) -- $232.3M

4) Godzilla: King of the Big Lizards -- 4,108 -- $15.5M (-67%) -- $78.6M

5) Rocketman -- 3,610 -- $14M (-45%) -- $50.4M

6) Ma -- 2,816 (+8) -- $7.8M (-57%) -- $32.7M

7) John Wick 3 -- 2,776 (-828) -- $7.4M (-33%) -- $138.6M

8) Avengers: Endgame -- 2,121 (-984) -- $4.8M (-40%) -- $824.3M

9) Pokemon Detective Pikachu -- 2,161 (-986) -- $2.98M (-57%) -- $137.4M

10) Booksmart -- 1,134 (-1,384) -- $1.5M (-52%) -- $17.8M

Pets 2 has grossed $97 million on a worldwide basis, considerably below the original's numbers.

Aladdin has now taken in $604.9 million globally and continues to perform.

Pokemon Detective Pikachu has vacumed up $409.5 million around the world.

Finally, the hybrid reboot Dumbo has earned more than double overseas ($236.5 million) from what it's picked up domestically ($113.8 million).

Saturday, June 8, 2019


The trades explain a new animated series:

Amazon dropped a teaser trailer today for Undone, an animated series that aims for a mind-bending brand of adult sci-fi that ventures into a trippy head space that evokes the surreal pursuits of Philip K. Dick, Phillip Pullman, Inception, The Matrix, and Pink Floyd.

Undone will premiere later this year on Amazon Prime Video but the first two episodes of the Amazon Original series will get a big-screen audience this Saturday at the ATX TV Festival in Austin, Texas. ...

Undone is the first episodic television project to use rotoscoping animation, which has visual rhythms that are far removed from the mainstream CG aesthetic that dominates and largely defines contemporary Hollywood’s approach to animation. The best-know product of the rotoscoping approach to date is A Scanner Darkly ...

"Deadline" likes to reference A Scanner Darkly as a well-known "rotoscope" approach to filmmaking. I'm not disagreeing, but since I'm a geezer, you could also say Undone looks a lot like a Fleischer feature cartoon from 1939. And you wouldn't be wrong. The Fleischers were, after all, rotoscoping specialists going back to their Out of the Inkwell shorts in the 1920s. Rotos were a wee bit different technologically back then, but the underlying principle? Much the same.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Walls Around the Boys' Club

Variety points out* the long tradition:

When animation guru John Lasseter was ousted from his post at Pixar last year, trailed by a series of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, it seemed like a wake-up call for an animation industry that was slowly coming around to its own #MeToo moment. Yet Lasseter’s controversial hiring by Skydance Animation just months later highlighted the challenges of reshaping an industry that many women say has systematically worked against them. ...

Women hold just 27% of creative leadership roles in the animation biz, according to Women in Animation. In the past two decades, just two studio animated features have been helmed by female directors. ...

Twenty-seven percent is an improvement over where women were a doen years ago. Then, they were in t he 15% range.

As in live-action, women have long drawn short straws when it came to key creative positions. In the thirties, to be a woman in animation meant they were cell painters, inkers, maybe checkers. Walt Disney Productions sent out form letters informing aspiring female artists not to bother going after an animation, storyboard or layout position, because WDP would only consider them for a job in ink-and-paint.

Way it was.

And over the years, the culture didn't change very much. Women made up half the Animation Guild's membership, but the jobs they filled were inking, painting, and checking positions. In the 1970s and 1980s, a huge amount of ink-and-paint work was shipped overseas, and the percentage of women union members plunged.

In the 21st century, more women fought their way into creative positions, but it was a long, slow battle. Disney Television Animation was sometimes known to have questionable "Gag" cartoons posted in hallways. The culture, Neanderthal since the thirties, continued that way. (One animation exec half-jokingly told a male director: "You're a lawsuit waitning to happen.")

The culture began to change five years ago. Women pushed back against harassment and busy hands. Directors and executives who had been involnerable for years found themselves unemployed -- Les Moonves at CBS was pushed overboard, Weinstein lost his company. John Lasseter, whose bad behavior was an open secret for years, was cut loose by Disney. Various TV animation directors with records of abuse, found themselves unemployed.

Now, of course, John Lasseter has been named head of animation at Skydance, and his hiring hasn't been met with rapturous applause, especially among women. Some of the walls around the animation boys' club have come down, but parts of the ramparts still remain.

* Variety highlighted the current thinking and culture in animation a couple of weeks ago.

Add On: And now, Disney has contributed to a new Women in Animation global parity program. ...