Wednesday, March 20, 2019

21st Century Disney

The deal is done:

Walt Disney Co. completed its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox Inc.’s entertainments assets, and now must get to the task of squeezing out promised cost savings. ...

The deal is one of the most dramatic in the current wave of entertainment-industry mergers, shrinking the number of major Hollywood studios to five from six and putting the irreverent Homer Simpson and “Family Guy” in the same stable of cartoon characters as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. ...

The Fox film studios began in 1915 under the leadership of businessman William Fox. By the late 1920s, Fox Film Corporation was a dominant player in Hollywood, and William Fox came close to taking over M-G-M dominated the industry and its CEO came very close to taking over M-G-M. But then the stock market collapsed, William Fox lost most of his fortune AND control of the Fox Film Corporation, and five years later the Fox Film Corporation merged withan upstart film company called 20th Century Pictures, founded and led by the hard-charging Darryl F. Zanuck.

There were ups and downs for 20th Century Fox after the merger, what with sell-offs of backlots, the start of a TV network, the takeover by an Australian newspaper mogul named Murdoch. But today the 104-year-old company was officially eaten my an entertainment conglomerate who's company logo is a mouth.

And the fact that th Walt Disney Company swallowed a major 104-year-old film company ... and most of its subsidies ... whole is jaw-dropping when you focus on it. Because Disney started in a Hollywood garage, amost went bankrupt before World War II, was still a minor player in the 1970s and had to fight off a hostile takeover in the 1980s. And yet today it's the largest entertainment behemoth in the world, operating amusement parks, a half-dozen animation studios, multiple live-action facilities. It's two parts movies and television, one part tech, three parts real estate.

And now it's the Godzilla of all media.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Walt Lives!

It's kind of refreshing that somebody has made a film about the cyrogenic Walter Elias Disney (and high time) ...

This flick has been making the film festival rounds for the past half-year and (allegedly) making a favorable impression. Shot guerrilla-style, the Walt Disney Company did not authorize the shooting of this epic down at WDW, but the movie-makers went and made the feature there anyway.

Perhaps in five decades or so, enraptured audiences will be watching docu-dramas about the frozen heads of Robert Iger and/or Michael Eisner.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Animation and Super Heroes -- Foreign and Domestic Box Office

In the United States and Canada, there are three animated features in the Top Ten. But one live-action super hero (with, of course, lots of animated effects) dominates them all:


1) Captain Marvel -- 4,310 -- $69.3M (-55%) -- $266.2M

2) Wonder Park -- 3,838 -- $16M -- $16M (1st weekend) ...

4) How To Train Your Dragon 3 -- 3,727 (-315) -- $9.3M (-36%) --$135.6M ...

8) Lego Movie 2 -- 2,046 (-884) -- $2.1M (-45%) -- $101.3M

Worldwide, Captain Marvel and most animated features have run up comfortable tallies ...

Captain Marvel -- $760 million (On its way to the north side of a billion dollar gross.)

Wonder Park -- $20.4 million (Just getting started with its international release; B+ CinemaScore domestically.)

How To Train Your Dragon 3 -- $466.5 million (Many foreign markets remain for Dragon)

Lego Movie 2 -- $177.7 million (The majority of Lego's grosses come from the U.S. and Canada; to date, far less has come from overseas.)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse -- $368.2 million (Nearing the end of its run, but "Best Animated Feature" Oscar has iven it a boost.)

Ralph Breaks the Internet -- $526.2 million (Ralph is winding down domestically; the bulk of its worldwide gross has come from overseas.)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A Whole Throwback Movie

SO the new Aladdin trailer dropped today.

And the thing that leaps out while watching it? The trailer is glossy, and slambang, and has all the razzle dazzle that CG visual effects can offer. But there doesn't seem to be much that's new and inspired. And the small things that are new don't appear to be improvements.

Of course, I could be mistaken, blinded by my fondness for the '90s version with the glories of hand-drawn animation, Ron Clements' and John Musker's sure-handed direction, and Robin Williams' vocal pyrotechnics.

But I don't think so.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Cartoon Dominance

There's a good sampling of features of the animated persuasion in the box office list these days:

Total Domestic Box Office Grosses

1) How To Train Your Dragon 3 -- 4,286 theaters -- $102,103,860 (12 days of release)

8) The Lego Movie 2 -- 3,458 theaters -- $92,634,619 -- (26 days of release)

-) Spider-Man ... Spider-Verse -- 2,404 theaters -- $187,848,484 -- (82 days of release)

-) Ralph Breaks Internet -- 204 theaters -- $200,221,956 -- (105 days of release)

-) Mary Poppins Returns -- 245 theaters -- $171,265,234 -- (77 days of release)

There's a reason entertainment conglomerates and streaming services that produce movies are heavy into short and long-form animation: large numbers of people watch it. This wasn't always true. A generation-and-a-half ago, such was not the case. Animation was a small, sleepy side-show to live-action. Not a lot of money in it, not a lot of people working in it.

Cartoons were for kids. And their younger brothers and sisters.

Today, of course, reality is way different. Theatrical animation makes big money. (Those titles above? Dragon has already earned $383,003,860 globally. The Lego Movie has taken in $154,334,619; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is up to $363,812,385. Disney offering Ralph Breaks the Internet has made $520,348,903, while Mary Poppins Returns (with a sprinkling of hand-drawn animation) weighs in with $346,783,932.

Despite the tidal waves of cash and the higher esteem that animation now enjoys, cartoons will never garner full respect or the top industry awards. Best Picture Oscar? Not until pigs fly and Walter Elias Disney returns from the dead. Actors comprise the largest voting bloc of the Motion Picture Academy, and they aren't inclined to vote for movies where actors don't appear on screen.

If Silence of the Lambs can beat out Beauty and the Beast for the "Best Picture" Oscar, I don't think any long-form cartoon can be awarded the little gold man for Best Picture. It's a shame, but it's the reality. So I'm happy that the "Best Animated Feature" category was created as a consolation prize.

Add On: Feature director Mike Disa raises the issue: "What about residuals for people working on animated shows?" And a fine issue it is. The reason that animation workers don't get a piece of the action as some of their live-action counterparts do is, unions such as The Writers Guild, Directors Guild, and Screen Actors Guild successfully negotiated for re-use residuals sixty years ago, while other entertainment unions did not. (Both the Animation Guild and its predecessor the Screen Cartoonists Guild proposed re-use residuals during contract negotiations, but were unsuccessful in achieving them.)

And there is a larger point: while animation writers and directors receive "copyright royalties" from most European countries, Australia and New Zealand, places where authors have what's called "moral rights", U.S. law, practice and the Supreme Court have surgically removed the concept of authors' moral rights when the creator of the work is the employee of a corporation ("work for hire"), or has sold her (his) copyright on a book, screenplay or somesuch to a third party (which would usually be a company).

Royalties and re-use residuals are emotional, complicated issues that will likely be fought over as long as there are authors creating original works. (Case in point: the Writers Guild of America was sued by members and foreign writers over its handling and distribution of foreign copyright royalties. As a result of the lawsuit, the WGA changed the way it administered copyright royalties from overseas.)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

And Indeed, The Little Gold Man Went To ...

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse picks up the glittery trophy for Best Animated Feature ... to absolutely nobody's surprise.

Pixar wins "Best Animated Short" for Bao. This also did not cause faces to fall atop the floor.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

And The Little Gold Man Will Go To ...

One of the five "Best" Oscar nominees. But most the most likely winner (per a majority of the media)?

The Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars might as well be called the “Pixar Award.” The trophy has been handed out just 18 times, since the 2002 Oscars ceremony (which honored the films of 2001), when Shrek — yes, Shrek — won. At nine of those 18 ceremonies, Pixar took home the prize, including winning four years in a row, from 2008 to 2011 (for Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3). Pixar is also the most recent winner in this category, with Coco as the reigning champion.

But there’s a challenger on the horizon. Going into the 2019 Oscars, Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has won every major precursor award, including a clean sweep of the animation industry’s Annie Awards. ...

Yes, indeed. All indicators are that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will walk away with the Academy Award.

It's pretty to think that a candidate NOT created by an entertainment conglomerate will get the prize. But that's as likely to happen as the U.S. of A. going back on the gold standard.

So Spidey it will very likely be.