Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Reuben ...

... is not always a sandwich.

Glen Keane has been named the recipient of the 2017 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year by the National Cartoonists Society. The trophy was presented at the annual NCS Annual Reuben Awards Weekend. ...

As Tom Sito relates: Since 1946, I think, this is the first time an animator ever won Cartoonist of the Year, even though Chuck Jones, Walt Kelly, Ralph Bakshi, and a bunch of us have been long time members. There are categories for Theatrical and Broadcast Animation, but this is the cartoonist version of The Best Picture Oscar...."

Mr. Keane, of course, has had the most distinguished animation career of anyone this side of Disney's "Nine Old Men." He continues to work in animation, most of it hand-drawn.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Executive Shuffle

A recent Paramount Animation exec looks to be returning to old haunts:

Jared Mass has rejoined Reel FX Animation Studios after recently serving as Vice President at Paramount Animation. Mass, who worked as an executive during his initial stint at the company, will head up Reel FX’s Originals Unit as the organization looks to double down on its original content....

An alumnus of Penn State, Jared Mass has been a development exec for a couple of decades. He spent five years at Walden Media involved with various features, spent close to four years at Reel FX, then moved to Paramount Animation where, among other duties, he shepherded Sherlock Gnomes through production. (Paramount, unfortunately, has not had stellar success with big screen animation. SG collected $74 million against Gnomeo and Juliet's $194 million.)

Animated content has thrived on the internet, so it's not surprising that Reel FX is jumping into the platform with both feet. Being a job shop for entertainment conglomerates takes you only so far in the cash flow department, so it's unsurprising Reel FX is doing more original work, just as it's unsurprising that the studio is opening a facility in Montreal, where Free Money is abundant.

Good luck to Mr. Mass in his new job. May his successes be abundant.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Solo Sags

Based on the worldwide grosses of the new Star Wars flick, Harrison Ford is needed for the part of Han Solo in the same way that Clark Gable is a requirement for Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. And Disney has a misfire with Solo during the Memorial Day box office weekend.


1) Solo: A Star Wars Story -- 4,381 -- $83.3M -- $101M (1st weekend)

2) Deadpool 2 -- 4,349 -- $53.5M -- $218.2M

3) Avengers: Infinity War -- 3,768 (-234) -- $20.1M -- $625.2M

4) Book Club -- 2,810 (+29) -- $12M -- $34.2M

5) Life Of The Party -- 2,937 (-719) -- $6.5M -- $40.5M

6) Breaking In -- 1,985 (-552) $1.1M -- $5.3M -- $36.9M

7) Show Dogs -- 3,212 -- $4.1M -- $11.7M

8) Overboard -- 1,196 (-624) -- $4M -- $42.4M

9) A Quiet Place -- 1,524 (-803) -- $2.7M -- $180M

10) RBG -- 15 (+37) --$1.5M -- $5.6M

Among full-animated features (stop-motion division), Isle Of Dogs (#21) has now collected $31 million at the domestic box office and $57.5 million worldwide.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

New Feature

Their own fire-breathing reptile:

George R.R. Martin is making his first foray into family films with Warner Animation Group adapting his 1980 children’s book The Ice Dragon for the big screen. ...

The book is not set in the realm of Martin’s Seven Kingdoms, but rather in a world of medieval fantasy where warring kingdoms harness the power of fire breathing dragons. It’s the story of a young girl named Adara, who secretly befriends a rare Ice Dragon. ...

The Ice Dragon, categorized as Young Adult Fiction (if you want a category) was written in 1980 when Mr. Martin was in his early thirties and a new arrival to Santa Fe, New Mexico. At the time, he had left a teaching position at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa to take up writing full-time.

The author will be one of the movie's producers, and development is happening now. My guess is animation will be done by Animal Logic in Australia, which is Warner Animation Group's go-to overseas production house.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

May 18-20 Box Office

And whattayaknow? Another hybrid super-hero feature tops the Big List:


1) Deadpool 2 -- 4,349 -- $125M/$125M -- (1st Week)

2) Avengers: Infinity War -- 4,002 (-472) -- $28.6M (-54%) -- $595M

3) Book Club -- 2,781 -- $12.5M/$12.5M -- (1st Week)

4) Life Of The Party -- 3,656 -- $7.7M (-57%) -- $31M

5) Breaking In -- 2,537 -- $6.4M (-63%) -- $28.7M

6) Show Dogs -- 3,212 -- $6M/$6M -- (1st Week)

7) Overboard -- 1,820 (-186) -- $4.7M (-52%) -- $36.9M

8) A Quiet Place -- 2,327 (-817) -- $4M (-37%) -- $176.1M

9) Rampage -- 1,466 (-1,082) -- $1.5M (-57%) -- $92.4M

10) I Feel Pretty -- 1,505 (-1,353) -- $1.2M (-69%) -- $46.5M

Deadpool 2 isn't just doing well in the U.S. of A., it's frolicking overseas as well, taking in $176.3 million in various countries for a $301.3 million first-weekend accumulation.

Animation hybrid Rampage has made a lot more coin in foreign lands, making $314.5 million to date ($407 million world total). Though its U.S. and Canadian grosses have been weak, it's made sufficient money elsewhere to move into the "profitable" column.

The animated features Peter Rabbit ($335.6 million worldwide) and the sadly anemic Sherlock Gnomes ($73.6 million globally) are still in foreign release, but have pretty much disappeared from domestic screens. The next pure unadulterated, big-time animated feature to roll out is Incredibles 2 on June 15th.

(How Brad Bird's ode to super-heroes fares in the midst of a herd of (semi) live-action crime-fighters will be interesting to see. The original trailer has 25 million hits on YouTube, so that's encouraging.)

This one is the second...

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tenth Anniversary, The Writers Guild Strike

The Hollywood Reporter does a look-back at the WGA strike of '07-'08. So you know, the central issue was entertainment unions and guilds gaining jurisdiction over internet-delivered content:

BARRY MEYER, THEN CHAIRMAN OF WARNER BROS. These new-media models were beginning to emerge. We said, "Let's see what develops in three years. If there's something really there, we'll address it then." It sounded perfectly logical to us, but there was a credibility issue that we had with the guilds because we'd made that same speech related to home video, and they had to fight for years to achieve their goals. ...

Mr. Meyer is being a smidge disingenuous here. The "same speech" he refers to is this: the studios and the conglomerates who owned them were beginning to rake in lots of cash from the sale of these things called video-casettes, and the song-and-dance they gave the unions was, "Welll... we don't know how this 'movies on tape' thing will shake out, so we'll give you a cut of 20% of revenue. Once we know where this market is going, we'll come back and re-negotiate a bigger piece of the pie."

You'll be shocked to learn that there was no re-negotiation. Ever after, the studios said, "Hey, you made your [shitty] deal, now live with it." So it's understandable why the Writers Guild of America (and every other labor organization) was unwilling to boogie to that particular tune a second time.

The IATSE was not happy about the lengthy WGA strike. Almost every live-action production in L.A. (and many in New York) shut down, and I.A. membership was impacted big time. Thousands of IA members became unemployed. Animation Guild members who worked on Fox Animation prime-time shows (The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad) and under WGA jurisdiction also found themselves out of work, though artists working on daytime product were unaffected.

TAG, however, had another issue with the WGA. The Writers Guild initial strike guidelines demanded that no WGA members work on product in another union's jurisdiction. This was aimed at writers holding two union cards (WGA and TAG) who worked on animated TV shows and features under an Animation Guild contract, and TAG and the IATSE instantly protested. When legal action was threatened, the WGA revised its overly-restrictive (and illegal?) guidelines.

The strike went on for over three months. Toward the end, the Directors Guild negotiated a new contract deal that included "New Media". Many WGA members thought the DGA had negotiated on their backs, and that the directors' deal hemmed the Writers Guild in. When the strike finally settled after thirteen weeks, the Guild had jurisdiction of product on the internet, but many writing staffs were cut and lots of writers took financial hits. To this day, writers and strike veterans debate whether the time spent marching with picket signs during the winter of '07-'08 delivered a positive or negative result. Former WGA President Patric Verrone believes the outcome was bitter-sweet:

We absolutely didn't get everything we wanted, but getting the jurisdiction in new media completely changed the way writers, actors, directors and the entire industry are employed. If we hadn't done that, Netflix wouldn't be what it is today, which is the company that employs something like a third of our members now.

There's little question that internet jurisdiction has resulted in more employment opportunities for animation artists, writers and technicians. There is also little question that compensation and working conditions in New Media are far from ideal. Animation employees are underpaid and overworked, and until these issues are addressed contractually, work performed on internet properties will go on being double-edged sword.

Friday, May 18, 2018

"Thundercats" Second Reincarnation

A fine industry periodical tells us:

The ThunderCats are coming back. Cartoon Network has greenlighted ThunderCats Roar, an all-new series from Warner Bros Animation that’s set to premiere next year. Production is underway.

The logline: Staying true to the premise of the original series: Lion-O and the ThunderCats — Tygra, Panthro, Cheetara, Wilykat and Wilykit — barely escape the sudden destruction of their home world, Thundera, only to crash land on the mysterious and exotic planet of Third Earth....

The first incarnation of ThunderCats was, of course, the Japanese series in the last half of the 1980s. The second incarnation was the 2011 reboot, which was somewhat like its forebear but only somewhat.

The '11 version, which debuted with fanfare, received some good review and sizable things were expected of it. General scuttlebut was that the opus would run for 52 episodes.

But the 52 half-hours never came to pass. ThunderCats ('11) ran for only a season, and did only "okay" in the ratings. (Semi)-official word of its demise came a year-and-a-half after the show's October, 2011 launch.

So how many episodes will be created for the third version of ThunderCats? Warners and Cartoon Network are no doubt hoping for a bunch. But whether it's 13 or 24 or 52 will depend on how it performs out of the gate and down the stretch.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

John Lasseter Returns To House of Mouse?

A fine trade paper reports:

Disney has discussed bringing embattled Pixar boss John Lasseter back to the company in a new role, six months after the head of the studio’s animation division took a self-imposed sabbatical following reported complaints of workplace misconduct.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Disney executives are weighing a new role that would give Lasseter less managerial power but full creative influence over the studio’s considerable animated projects. The proposed new scenario would see Lasseter’s ability to hire or fire staff “removed or contained,” the report said.

I always leaned toward Mr. Lasseter coming back to the studio. I had my doubts for awhile after all the negative press reports kept spilling out, but the fact J.L. might come back in a changed capacity makes sense from the corporation's viewpoint. (If he couldn't hire and fire the way he used to, perhaps the fear of professional reprisals might go down among staff that feels threatened or intimidated. And the returning animation chief would have reasons to be on good behavior. How those things would work in day-to-day practice remains to be seen).

Let's face it: the Mouse always had incentives to bring Mr. Lasseter back into the Walt Disney Company. Diz Co. paid billions for Pixar back when Iger took the helm, and a lot of those billions were for securing the talents of John Lasseter and Ed Catmull. Short of Mr. Lasseter doing activities that rivaled Harvey Weinstein, the company probably always intended to have him return.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Mouse In Orbit

A few years back, I wrote about Disney Animation in the seventies and eighties. I did this because A) I was there at the time so it seemed like a good idea to pen a history, and B) I wanted to get my memories of the period down before they carted me off to a neighborhood senior facility.

That book was called "Mouse In Transition" and ended up (through blind, dumb luck) on Cartoon Brew.

Now, four years later, I've done the same thing about life in the Animation Guild and the major L.A. cartoon studios, from the depths of animation's recession in the late 1980s (when Filmation crashed and burned and there was minimal work around town and the animation union had 710 active members) to the towering heights of the 21st century: "Zootopia", "Moana", the roaring television industry, and the cutthroat corporatism of the big entertainment conglomerates. This effort ("Mouse in Orbit") is a little different, since I interviewed multiple artists and did research to paint a picture of the whole animation industry. (It's hard to be "inside" all the different cartoon factories when you're the union representative. You walk through studios, but you don't live in them eight ... or ten ... hours per day.)

Anyhow. If you want to know what contract negotiations were like back in the nineties, or what Disney artists went through creating the second "Golden Age" of hand-drawn features, they tell you here. Other artists relate what it was like working on "Fern Gully", "Space Jam", and all the other features and television series being created as the L.A. cartoon biz roared back from the doldrums.

(Final note: Professor Tom Sito was kind enough to write the foreword. I had an enjoyable time penning the rest. And a big THANK YOU to all the animation pros who sat down to talk about about their working lives in the biz; they're really the ones who made this book what it is.)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

First May Weekend Box Office

The gathering of super heroes continues to dominate domestic theater chains. And Dwayne's large, furry friend does better overseas than stateside.


1) Avengers: Infinity War -- 4,474 -- $120.2M (-53%) -- $458.5M

2) Overboard -- 1,623 -- $14.5M -- (1st weekend)

3) A Quiet Place -- 3,413 (-152) -- $7.7M (-30%) -- $160M

4) I Feel Pretty -- 3,232 (-208) -- $5.2M (-36%) -- $38.1M

5) Rampage -- 3,151 (-357) -- $4.5M (-38%) -- $84.6M

6) Tully -- 1,353 -- $3.5M -- (1st weekend)

7) Black Panther -- 1,641 (-9) -- $3M (-36%) -- $693M

8) Super Troopers 2 -- 2,118 (-7) -- $1.9M (-49%) -- $25.5M

9) Truth Or Dare -- 1,904 (-516) -- $1.85M (-42%) -- $38.1M

10) Blockers -- 1,672 (-652) -- $1.83M (-38%) -- $56.3M

Overseas, Avengers has collected over $713.2 million raising its global accumulation to $1,164.1 million. Dwayne Johnson and the animated ape George (Rampage) have made close to $300 million overseas (77% of gross) and now command a world total of $377,893,100. (In other words, the two muscled specimens have done less well domestically than Dwayne's previous hybrid feature Jumanji.)

The stop-motion Isle of Dogs, currently #13 in the U.S. and Canada, has made $22.5 million abroad for a worldwide total of $51 million. Peter Rabbit continues its rollout and now has earned $212.1 million in foreign markets. And Sherlock Gnomes (remember that one?) has made $23.1 million abroad ($64.3 worldwide).

Friday, May 4, 2018

Cartoon Reup (Or ... Addiction to Sequels)

Here's a non-surprise, given the box office numbers turned in:

Sony said late this afternoon that it has greenlighted Peter Rabbit 2, which will be hopping in on February 7, 2020, nearly two years to the date after the James Corden-led original bowed. ...

Peter Rabbit grossed $115M domestically. ... The live-action/animation hybrid scored an impressive 4.5x multiple off of its $25M bow. It took in an additional $210M overseas, reaching No. 1 in 22 territories.

When you earn $323,063,505 on a $50 million budget, the wheels start turning for the sequel before all the money is counted from the original.

The first prediction was shot and animated in and around Sydney, Australia, where the government provides subsidies for movie production. No doubt there will be a Peter Rabbit 3 and Peter Rabbit 4 if receipts hold up for the second installment.