Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Goings And Goings

Some people leave Cartoonland voluntarily (we assume) ...

Animation veterans Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandra Rabins are departing Original Force Animation, two years after helping the Chinese digital animation studio expand into Hollywood.

The duo announced their departure Friday, noting that they wish to return to producing after overseeing Original Force’s animated comedy “Duck Duck Goose.” ...

Penney and Sandra have been in the game for a long time. They were executives at Disney back during the Eisner-Katzenberg era, then execs and DreamWorks, and then at Sony Pictures Animation. They were instrumental in setting up Original Force's Culver City studio twenty-four months ago.

But then there are other resident of CL who don't. ...

Two-time Emmy winner Alf Clausen has been fired from “The Simpsons” after 27 years of providing music for Bart, Lisa, and company.

Clausen told Variety that he received a call from “Simpsons” producer Richard Sakai that the company was seeking “a different kind of music” and that he would no longer be scoring the longtime Fox hit.

You betchya. The show supervisors want to go in a new direction ...and that direction is "cheaper".

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Four Out Of Twelve

As of yesterday, there were four animated titles among the top twelve movies at the American box office. Sure, theatrical activity is sleepy right now, but four out of twelve tells us something, doesn't it?

Animated Box Office Performers

#6 -- Leap -- $7,967,048 -- (world total: same)

#8 -- The Emoji Movie -- $76,882,866 (world total: $144,582,866)

#9 -- The Nut Job 2 -- $22,830,259 (world total: $25,686,749)

#12 -- Despicable Me 3 -- $254,812,180 (world total: $972,856,686)

And below those four in the Dandy Dozen:

Cars 3 -- $149,083,064 (world total: $325,296,867)

Captain Underpants -- $73,495,941 (world total: $101,049,074)

The Boss Baby -- $174,943,931 (world total: $498,079,122)

Sadly, the Weinstein brothers have yet to crack the code for a successful animated feature.

Chris Meledandri, on the other hand, figured it out long ago. (Despicable Me 3 is outperforming Cars 3 by a wee bit.)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Get Rich Slowly

People would ask, back in my biz rep days, "What should I invest in? HOW should I invest?" I told them to max out available IRAs and 401(k) plans, and do those things year in and year out. Here are some basic pieces of advice:


1) "Patience is the fund investor's single most powerful ally." -- Benjamin Graham (My thought: Set up your asset allocation, fund it, and don't mess with it.)

2) Don't mistake a low price-to-earnings ratio for a value stock. (It might be a going-out-of-business stock).

3) "Adopt simple rules and stick to them." -- Benjamin Graham

4) Know your risk tolerance. Pick an asset allocation (stocks and bonds) that lets you sleep at night, so you won't panic and sell at the bottom. (Hint: A 100% stock allocation might be a bad idea).

5) Be tax-savvy. Hold taxable bonds in a 401(k) or IRA. Put stocks in taxable accounts. (That way you can sell losers -- be they funds or single stocks -- to tax loss harvest).

6) Build an emergency fund (mainly cash and equivalents) outside your IRAs and 401(k).

7) Put alternative investments (such as real estate) in your IRA.

8) Keep an eye on mutual fund fees. (If you pay more than 1%, you're paying too much).

9) All index funds are not created equal. Some have unconscionably high fees.

10) Diversify globally to boost your portfolio's risk-adjusted returns.

11) "Time is your friend. Impulse is your enemy." -- John Bogle

12) Use salary increases to boost your 401(k).

13) Beware personal finance experts pitching products.

14) Don't roll your old 401(k) into an IRA if you might face a lawsuit. (401(k)s offer more legal protection).

15) "Big opportunities come infrequently. When it's raining gold, reach for a bucket, not a thimble." -- Warren Buffett

16) "The key to making money in stocks is to not get scared out of them." -- Peter Lynch

17) Buy a retirement annuity cheap by delaying Social Security until 70.

18) Buy no more house than you can afford.

19) "Diversification is a protection against ignorance." -- Warren Buffett

20) "If you can't save enough for retirement, be really nice to your kids." -- Dan Ariety

For most people, an asset allocation fund where stocks and bonds are in one handy spot, or a collection of broadly diversified index funds (Total Stock Market Index; Total International Index; Total Bond Fund; Total International Bond Fund, etc.) is about all that's needed. The more complicated investing is made, the better the chance to muck it up.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Disney Feature in Six Minutes

So Blizzard does a bit of promotion for one of its best-selling game Hearthstone and channels Frozen, Tangled, and a generous dollop of Sword in the Stone.

But the question is, how did Merlin time-travel from SITS to this? And does Milt Kahl know about his character showing up in a six-minute short to hype a computer game?

(Probably not).

Monday, August 21, 2017

Animated Features In The Marketplace

As of Sunday, there are a total of four animated features playing on some movie screen or other in the U.S. of A.


Nut Job 2 -- $17,696,923 (10 days of release - Global take: same)

The Emoji Movie -- $71,767,352 (24 days of release - Global take: $125.5 m)

Despicable Me 3 -- $251,740,230 (52 days of release - Global take: $949.6 m )

Cars 3 -- $148,790,767 (66 days of release - Global take: $309.1 m)

Animated features are now on the same plane as live-action features. Nobody any longer says, "Well, Ditzy the Whacky Hummingbird didn't perform on its opening weekend because other animated movies are crowding it out of the marketplace."

No, Ditzy didn't perform because people didn't want to go see it. Just as in the real world, Cars 3 didn't "crowd out" Despicable Me 3. (See above). It's about the "want to see" factor, not that the marketplace has no room for multiple animated features. The media and trade press have finally figured out that animation is a format, not a genre, just like live-action movies. People go to watch the motion pictures that catch their fancy, be they animated, live-action, or a hybrid of the two.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Reminder of Geezerhood

There's nothing that reminds a person how much time has whirled buy than some e-mail asking questions about long-ago events. Like for instance:

From: christian renaut

To: Steve Hulett

Sent: Saturday, August 19, 2017 11:02 AM

Subject: questions "Fox and the Hound"

Thank you so much for your quick answer, I'm so glad. Here are my questions, feel free to take your time.

1/ It seems you had such a hard time convincing the old timers in story to be more modern and daring. However, it seems Vance Gerry and Burny Mattinson were more on your side, weren’t they?

As I recall, Vance didn't take any position on the overall shape of the story. He was in and out of the studio during that period, working part-time, devoting a chunk of each week to his small business "Weatherbird Press" where he created limited edition books (printing, illustration and typesetting were passions of his. He had a house in Fallbrook that was three-fifths print shop).

Burny could have been involved, but my memory is that Ron Clements, then an animator, and Pete Young (a story artist) were pushing for changes. Pete would usually lie back in the weeds and wait until the directors were at a dead end and more open to suggestions. "You can't tell 'em anything until they're ready to hear it" was one of his mottos. Ron would be more pushy. I know that he and I raised the idea of having Chief killed. Pete? He could have been involved, but he was fighting his own little battles at the time, getting his story ideas put into the first half of the film.

2/ I know Larry Clemmons had written the dialogues that Frank and Ollie animated to launch the film, did he quit after that, or did he have an input on the whole film before retiring?

Larry retired up to Friday Harbor in '78. He was torn about leaving, but his wife had already retired and was pressing him to wrap things up, sell their Glendale house, and join her up in the Puget Sound. After he left, he had no further connection to the movie. He wrote on a lot of sequences before he retired, but many of them were changed after he left. The dialogue he wrote for young Tod and Copper was used. He penned a bunch of dialogue and Frank Thomas cherry-picked what he wanted to build his puppy sequence near the start of the movie. There were no storyboards on that, per se.

3/ Can you remember at what stage in the production Woolie was more or less dismissed from directing by Ron Miller? Early pre-production? Story-writing? Later?

Woolie was on the film for the first few years. He supervised lots of story sessions and storyboard reviews. The overall shape of the picture was his, but details and final results should be credited to others. Woolie was pushed out because Ron Miller kept asking him to step back and let the younger guys run with the picture, but Woolie found that difficult to do. Getting him off the picture was the only way to give everybody else air, I think.

4/ Would you say his famous sequence between Charo and Phil Harris that he planned was the last straw?

Woolie was pretty much gone from "Fox and Hound" at that point, then he asked Miller if he could develop the Charo sequence, and was given permission to do so. Art Stevens was upset about the sequence, felt it didn't fit. Art worked hard to make sure it wasn't used.

On the other hand, Woolie was right about the picture sagging in the middle, and that there needed to be SOMETHING besides what we had. It's just that dumping Charo into the proceedings was the wrong solution.

5/ (main question) Which sequences did you principally contribute to? Any anecdote? Difficulties?

I worked on most all of them, one way or the other. Sometimes I contributed bits, sometimes I wrote dialogue, or rewrote dialogue. Some stuff was used, other stuff not. The most interesting challenge was re-writing dialogue for one of the lead characters (I think it was Tod when he's a young fox but it was a long time ago and the mind plays tricks...) when Big Mama's dialogue had already been recorded and was locked in stone. I ran from story room to story room with multiple options for Tod's dialogue, getting directors Ted Berman's and Art Stevens' approval.

The long story sessions for the picture (of which there are many, and which I detail in MiT, is here (and there's nothing much to add):

6/ Can you remember sequences or scenes that were abandoned and you wished they hadn’t?

There weren't many sequences (if any) jettisoned. There were plenty of sequences that were changed, altered, beaten to death. Dave Michener worked on the burrow sequence -- where the hunter and Copper are attacking -- for a year, and Woolie dragged it this way and that. After a year, it was within 11 drawings of where it started out.

Oh. Ollie Johnston did some scenes of Chief in the cabin with a broken leg that never got past the pencil test stage (it was early in the project, was test footage, and didn't fit). I'm sure there were trims, exploratory animation I don't remember/know about, but I wasn't involved in that stuff very much.

7/ Finally, how useful was the novel by Mannix since so little is left of it?

Never read the book, was never asked to. (I think Woolie and maybe Larry read it, but I'm guessing). I don't know who else in the story department read the book but I never asked. If I'd had my wits about me I would have taken it on myself to read the thing, but I was too caught up in banging sequence scripts out in my office, pleasing Larry and Woolie, going to story meetings, etc. (I did read some of the "Catfish Bend" books when I worked with Ken Anderson on that project. It should have helped, but with Ken and his towering ego and paranoia, nothing helped.)

When Katzenberg got to the studio, he wanted everybody to read source material. But that was later.

Hope this helps. ...

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Your Weekend B.O.

And again two animated features roost in the Top Ten, though neither is setting turnstile whirling at a high rate of speed. ...


1.). Annabelle: Creation (NL/WB), 3,502 theaters / $15M Fri. (includes $4M previews) / 3-day cume: $36.7M /Wk 1

2.) Dunkirk (WB), 3,762 theaters (+252)/ $3.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $10.8M (-37%)/Total: $153.1M/Wk 4

3.). The Nut Job 2 (OR), 4,003 theaters / $3M Fri. (includes $330k previews) / 3-day cume: $8.7M /Wk 1

4.). The Dark Tower (SONY/MRC), 3,451 theaters (0)/ $2.3M Fri. (-70%) / 3-day cume: $7.5M (-61%)/Total: $33.9M/Wk 2

5). Girls Trip (UNI), 2,303 theaters (-279) / $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $6.4M (-44%)/Total: $97.1M/Wk 4

6.). The Emoji Movie (SONY), 3,219 theaters (-856) / $1.9M Fri./ 3-day cume: $6.1M (-49%) /Total: $63.1M/Wk 3

7). Spider-Man: Homecoming (SONY/MARVEL), 2,607 theaters (-509)/ $1.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.8M (-34%)/Total: $306.2M/Wk 6

8/9). Kidnap (AVR), 2,418 theaters (+40) / $1.47M Fri. (-61%) / 3-day cume: $5M (-50%)/ Total: $19.2M/Wk 2

The Glass Castle (LG), 3,502 theaters / $1.65M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5M /Wk 1

10). Atomic Blonde (FOC), 2,093 theaters (-1,233)/ $1.27M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.3M (-47%) /Total $42.5M/Wk 3

Why Nut Job 2? BecauseNut Job Number One grossed a hair under $121 million at the global box office on a budget of $42 million three-plus years ago. (The animation production dollar stretches a wee bit farther in South Korea, where it was made).

This is not major money in the Pixar/Disey/DreamWorks universe, but when you consider that Disney's Meet the Robinsons made $169 million ten years ago, and that Nut Job made triple its production cost, you can understand why they made a sequel. There's a lot of indie animated features out in the wider world, and many of them go into profits.

The original NJ grossed $19 million domestically on its opening weekend. The sequel will collect less than half that. Where its worldwide totals end up is an open question, but they will be lower in the U.S./Canadian market. Can the rest of the world make up the difference? We'll find out.


I get what they're doing here, but how many people will flock to theaters to see this come September 22?

And can we really call this an animated film, since there's lots of rotoscope (or whatever they're calling it now). You be the judge.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hits Keep Coming

Illumination Entertainment continues to fire on all cylinders:

Illumination’s Despicable Me series of films has surpassed the Shrek movies to become the highest-grossing animated franchise of all time worldwide. A $21.2M international weekend on Despicable Me 3 has pushed the franchise to a $3.528B global total for Gru and the Minions. That tops the Shrek stable of five pics (including Puss In Boots) at $3.51B global. ...

I met Chris Meledandri (IE's daddy) exactly once. He was a Fox exec at the time, and asked me about staffing for Fox Animation Phoenix. I gave him my input, which he didn't take (no doubt a wise move).

Mr. Meledandri was then at the beginning of a storied animation career, heading up Fox's new animation division. 20th Century Fox's initial foray into theatrical animated features began with faltering steps (Anastasia, Titan A.E.) but soon hit a muscular stride with the CG animated Ice Age franchise and the plethora of Blue Sky Studios animated features that followed. Mr. Meledandri was in charge of all that.

For the last several years Chris Meledandri has created blockbusters for Universal/Comcast. He rivals John Lasseter as the most successful producer of long-form cartoons in the history of animation.

Not too shabby, especially when you consider that he began his movie career in live-action, serving as President of Dawn Steel Pictures while it was housed at Disney.

August Box Office

It's become pretty typical to have two animated features simmering in the Top Ten, and that's the case this first weekend of August. (And then there's all the semi-animated movies, posing as live-action).


1.). The Dark Tower (SONY/MRC), 3,451 theaters / $7.7M Fri. (includes $1.8M previews) /$6.75M Sat/ $5M Sun/ 3-day cume: $19.5M /Wk 1

2.) Dunkirk (WB), 4,014 theaters (+266)/ $5M Fri. /$7.3M Sat/$5.3M Sun/ 3-day cume: $17.6M (-34%)/Total: $133.6M/Wk 3

3.). The Emoji Movie (SONY), 4,075 theaters (0) / $3.9M Fri. /$4.9M Sat/$3.6M Sun 3-day cume: $12.35M (-50%) /Total: $49.45M/Wk 2

4). Girls Trip (UNI), 2,582 theaters (-66) / $3.6M Fri. /$4.7M Sat/$3.1M Sun/ 3-day cume: $11.4M (-42%)/Total: $85.4M/Wk 3

5.). Kidnap (AVR), 2,378 theaters / $3.7M Fri. (includes $500K previews) /$3.6M Sat/ $2.9M Sun/ 3-day cume: $10.2M /Wk 1

6). Spider-Man: Homecoming (SONY/MARVEL), 3,116 theaters (-509)/ $2.6M Fri. /$3.6M Sat/$2.6M Sun/ 3-day cume: $8.8M (-34%)/Total: $294.9M/Wk 5

7). Atomic Blonde (FOC), 3,326 theaters (+22)/ $2.4M Fri. /$3.4M Sat/ $2.4M Sun/ 3-day cume: $8.2M (-55%) /Total $34.1M/Wk 2

8). Detroit (ANPA), 3007 theaters (+2987) / $2.6M Fri./$2.6M Sat/$2M Sun/n 3-day cume: $7.25M (+1971%)/Total: $7.8M/Wk 2

9.) War for the Planet of the Apes (FOX), 2,704 theaters (-670) / $1.7M Fri. /$2.5M Sat/$1.8M Sun/ 3-day cume: $6M (-43%) /Total: $130.3M/Wk 4

10). Despicable Me 3 (UNI/ILL), 2,445 theaters (-585) / $1.7M Fri. /$2.2M Sat/ Sun/ 3-day cume: $5.3M (-30%) /Total: $240.8M/ Wk 6

Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment has clearly found the master key to galactic success, since (once again), the Despicable Me franchise rakes in large amounts of bucks on it climbs to a $900+ million plateau. (It's always beneficial to bottom lines when cartoon producers insert lots of sight gags. Audiences like them).

Thursday, August 3, 2017


What's this??

A lot of time has gone by with no action taking place here, but there's a reason for that. I was in Florida, then in Switzerland, the land of lakes, chocolates, tall mountains and brown cows. And I didn't take a computer with me.

And thus ... blank space. For a month.

When I was pounding away on The Animation Guild Blog (now under different management), I never let a day go by without posting. Rain or shine, in illness and health, I broke out the laptop and did my stint on the blog. I typed when I was wide awake, and when I was semi-comatose, but I typed. In the decade I put TAG blog together I seldom if ever missed a day. (Hooray for me).

But I'm older now, and freaking retired. And I'm not going to be a slave to the keyboard anymore. I know it's slothful, but it's the way it will now be. (I'm sorry about it, though not a lot).