Sunday, December 29, 2019

Festival of Animation

The big box office list is many things, but what the top-most winners show more than anything else is animation in its varied glories: live action visual effects (Star Wars! Jumanji!) and character animation (Frozen; Spies In Disguise).

Three Days of Grosses

1.) Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker -- 4,406 theaters -- $76M -- $365.8M

2.) Jumanji: Next Level -- 4,227 theaters -- $33.2M (+25%) -- $173.3M

3.) Frozen 2 -- 3265 theaters (-600) -- $16.8M (+29%) -- $421.5M

4.) Little Women -- 3,308 theaters -- $16.5M -- $29M (1st weekend)

5.) Spies in Disguise -- 3,502 theaters -- $13.4M -- $22.3M (1st weekend)

6.) Uncut Gems -- 2,341 theaters (+2336) -- 9.3M -- $19.7M

7.) Knives Out -- 2022 theaters (-513), -- $10M (+54%) -- $110.5M

8.) Cats -- 3,380 theaters -- $5M -- $18M

9.) Bombshell -- 1480 theaters (+1476), -- $4.8M (-6%) -- $15.8M

10.) Richard Jewell -- 2502 theaters -- $3M (+16%) -- $16.1M/Wk

The old adage of never expect much from a "message picture" sometimes holds true and sometimes does not. This season, the old wisdom appears to have some teeth as Bombshell and Eastwood's Richard Jewell have failed to find much of an audience.

Meanwhile around the world, Disney has a large claim on box office, but there are are (also, too) a few other players in the game:

Worldwide Grosses

Star Wars: RoS -- $724.8M

Jumanji: NL -- $472M

Frozen 2 --$1.218B

Spies in Disguise -- $34,294,856

Abominable -- $176,829,840

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Lee Mendelson, RIP

Lee Mendelson was a young man in a hurry. He broke into television while still in his twenties (it was a local station in San Francisco, but still ...), and he formed his own production company at thirty. At first Mendelson Films did documentaries, but that quickly segued into animated cartoons.

The glide path was simple. Mendelson Films had done a documentary on Charles Schulz, which led to Coca-Cola approaching Lee M. about doing an animated Christmas special using "Peanuts" characters. Mendelson contacted Schulz; Schulz contacted an animator named Bill Melendez with whom he had worked on commercials. Lee M. thought some jazz music would be good for the show, and went looking for a musician who could lay down some tasteful tracks. Two referrals later, he was given the name Vince Guaraldi and he filled the bill.

The project came together quickly, but Lee Mendelson had doubts that the resulting half-hour was very good. As he explains below (along with other things) two high-level CBS execs dampened his spirits further ...

It isn't dwelled on much, but Lee Mendelson had a long, golden career as an animation producer. Dozens upon dozens of "Peanuts" half-hours. Garfield specials and then a long-running series. Four Peanuts animated features. And a partnership with the Film Roman resulted in the production of a multi-season run of Bobby's World.

And on top of all that, Mr. Mendelson was the co-writer of the holiday standard Christmas Time Is Here (Guaraldi the music; Mendelson the lyrics). And you know how it is with Christmas standards. Every twelve months, they make boatloads of money.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Short, Chaotic Life of a Miami Cartoon Studio

Two years after "Snow White" (when Walt Disney "opened his own mint*") the Fleischer brothers and Paramount Pictures bring forth "Gulliver's Travels".

The nation's second full-length animated feature premiered in 50 theaters one day after "Gone With the Wind" began showing at reserved seat prices. It went on to make Paramount a substantial sum of money, earning a domestic gross of $3,270,000 against a million dollar budget.

For Max and Dave Fleischer, making "Gulliver" was a dream come true. Max had wanted to make a feature since the early thirties, but getting the flick done was like running an obstacle course up a rock-strewn mountain. Their parent company Paramount was steadfast in its refusal to let them make a long-form cartoon. Adolph Zukor, the head man, thought that making eighty minute cartoons was an "iffy" proposition, at best. Plus, he'd been through a few corporate reorganizations with Paramount and had no stomach for losing big money. Or even medium-size money. So the answer was "No".

And then "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" came out and made RKO (Disney's distributor) a tidy fortune. Whereupon Paramount gave the Fleischer studio a hearty "Yes!" to a feature cartoon. They also gave the Fleischers a production schedule of eighteen months and a $500k budget to do "a picture like Disney".

This greenlight came as the brothers were shifting work from New York City to a new studio in Miami to get away from the Commercial Artists and Designers Union. The CADU had organized its New York artists, and Max and Dave believed it would be cheaper and quicker to make their first feature in corporate-friendly Florida.

Wrong on both counts. The Fleischers made the deadline (barely), but overshot their feature budget by a wide margin, as they were forced to pay assistants and journey animators three and four times their New York or L.A. salaries to get them to relocate to the land of palm trees and alligators. Plus, Miami was way the hell and gone from any motion picture center. Inconvenient, to say the least.

Despite "Gulliver's" success, Walt Disney was quoted as saying "we could have done better with our second-string animators". (Ooh. SNAP!) To be fair, however, the Fleischer house style was not ... and isn't ... particularly close to what their west coast competitor was doing, even when Paramount Pictures wanted it to be. The rotoscoping of Gulliver is certainly better than the prince in "Snow White" and most of the rest of the cast is broad and cartoony in the classic Fleischer tradition.

But even with the success of "GT", things were not rosy in Fleischerland. The brothers had to pay Paramount Pictures a penalty for being over-budget on "Gulliver". The Florida studio was split into union and anti-union factions. And Miami at the end of the thirties was little more than a small, humid town at the edge of the Gulf Stream, bereft of any cultural amenities other than sun bathing and 'gator wrestling. The New York animators missed the restaurants and theaters of the Big Apple, the occasional snowstorm. There was also the small problem of Max and Dave Fleischer hardly speaking to one another.

In other words, morale was a trifle ... saggy.

But work continued on the usual program of shorts, also a new feature that Paramount had okayed. Artists were happy to be making higher wages that they'd earn in New York or on the West Coast. And twenty-four months later on the eve of Pearl Harbor, Max's and Dave's "Mr. Bug Goes To Town" was released. Hopes were high for the picture's success, but the onset of war buried "Mr. Bug". The trade papers declared the new cartoon to be stillborn at the box office, and Paramount, seldom slow on the uptake, quickly laid off both Fleischers and shut the Florida studio down. (Never mind that artists were doing sterling work with a new, flossy series of "Superman" shorts.) Walt rode out World War II making films for the military, but for the brothers who'd been in business since bobbed hair and flappers were in vogue, two decades of cartoon creation were at an end.

(Happily, many of the artists relocated back to New York, where Paramount sat up and ran Famous Studios for another quarter century.)

* "If we'd released that picture, we could open our own mint." -- Producer Darryl Zanuck's rote analysis of a competitor's high grossing film...

Friday, December 20, 2019

Making the First Animated Feature

The animated movie shown above premiered at the long-gone Carthay Circle on December 21 in 1937 Los Angeles. How the time flies.

In the second decade of the 21st century, the movie industry knows only two types of sure-fire, high-profit theatrical motion pictures. The first is a movie starring comic-book super heroes. The second is an animated feature that highlights animals, comical humans, despicable villains, and occasionally (surprise!) super heroes.

It was not always so. For decades, animated features were the province of Walt Disney Productions and a handful of small independent studios which released the occasional low-budget cartoon feature. Profits were thin. Most major movie studios avoided long-form animation as though it was a dumpster generating strange aromas. “Disney can make money with animated features,” went the refrain, “but nobody else can”. Entanglements with eighty-five minute cartoons were carefully avoided.

But with the advent of “The Little Mermaid”, “The Lion King”, “Toy Story”, “Ice Age” and several other features, movie executives reassessed their positions. Today, animated CG blockbusters are regular commercial occurrences. And what all of them have in common, each and every one, is direct lineage from the first American animated feature titled “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. Like that first long-form cartoon, the descendants are labor intensive, take years to prepare and produce, and feature animals, comical humans, and diabolical villains.

“Snow White”, however, was not the first feature film that Walt Disney considered making. That honor falls to a live-action/animation hybrid feature based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland”. The plan was to make a Technicolor film with Mary Pickford as Alice, and cartoon characters as everybody else. Pickford, of course, was a co-owner of Disney’s distributor United Artists, and as Disney explained to a reporter years after the fact:

“Mary was going to put up the money. I can still remember how awed we were when we figured it would take four to five hundred thousand dollars to do a good job. I worked out a plan, and we shot some test live-action footage.”

Test footage, however, was as far as “Alice” got. The project was cancelled when Paramount Pictures obtained rights to the Carroll books and produced its own version of “Alice in Wonderland” with its roster of stars in featured roles. (Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle? Really?) A short while later, development on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” got underway.

“What interested Walt was striving for new things,” remembered Disney art director Ken Anderson. “He was always aiming at exceeding the limitations of the medium, though we never heard it addressed in so many words.”

And what better way to burst through those limitations than to change the very nature of animated cartoons? To transform them from eight-minute program fillers to the main event?

“When you analyze Mickey Mouse,” said Disney director and animator Ward Kimball, “he was two circles connected with two lines … what we call ‘rubber hose animation’ because Mickey’s and Minnie’s legs both look like black rubber hoses. As we got into more realistic approaches, beginning with the little fairy in ‘The Flying Mouse’ [1934], those were the beginnings and we learned how difficult they could be.”

Disney began early story work on “Snow White” in 1934. He knew he had to move past the crudities of his early shorts if he was to hold an audience’s attention for eighty-plus minutes, especially with a story that involved a beautiful girl escaping from a wicked queen, that girl’s discovery of a forest cottage and gang of short, unruly men, and finally those men’s epic failure to protect her from harm. Ideas were explored and discarded: a fat, more comical female monarch was discussed and ruled out; opening the film with Snow White discovering the dwarfs' cottage was determined not to work; a sequence with the evil queen capturing the prince was found to be a dead end.

Another early obstacle? The quality of the animation.

“No one had ever animated a realistic girl,” said Wolfgang Reitherman, then a young animator but later a producer-director in charge of Disney Feature Animation. “Cartoons had always been flat, with caricatures rather than real-looking people in them.”

“Snow White” sequence director Wilfred Jackson remembered the studio’s early attempts animating females as failures:

“When the animators tried moving the female figure [in “The Goddess of Spring” - 1934], the only thing they had to rely on was their experience with broad, cartoon action. They’d never had to animate in a realistic way before, and the result was a girl who moved stiffly and awkwardly. She was unconvincing as a human figure.”

Story work on “Snow White” went on hiatus for part of 1935, then Walt pushed the feature back into development. His working methods became the template for the animated features that followed: Story and gag ideas were spit-balled by board artists. Characters were fleshed out, then changed, then tossed away as plot strands that didn’t mesh with the main thrust of the film’s narrative morphed into something else, or were dropped altogether. With “Snow White”, the look of the wicked queen became beautiful, her personality sinister and evil; the names and personalities of the dwarfs changed. And the first act of the picture — Snow White discovering the dwarf’s cottage — was replaced with the introduction of the queen, and Snow White’s escape from the castle.

By 1936, much of the continuity for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was nailed down. Work on the usual output of shorts continued, but late one night, key staff came back after dinner for a story presentation from the boss regarding the studio’s major new project:

“Walt called forty of us onto the small recording stage,” art director Ken Anderson recalled. “We all sat in folding chairs, the lights went down, and Walt spent the next four hours telling us the story of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. He didn’t just tell the story, he acted out each character, and when he got done he told us that was going to be our first feature.”

Key animators commenced working on character designs and exploratory animation. Employee art classes were expanded, and a push for new personnel with art backgrounds stepped up. (The studio had earlier hired seasoned animators Art Babbitt and Bill Tytla, both of whom hailed from studios on the east coast. Grim Natwick, an illustrator, animator and creator of Betty Boop, came aboard a little while later.)

Story work went on as animation ramped up. Wilfred Jackson, who’d been with the studio almost ten years, noted how Disney kept refining the plot and adding gags:

“He would tell the story to anyone who’d listen. … He’d pick the brains of animators, story men, and janitors, not always to get their ideas, but to see how they’d react to a new twist he’d thought up. He’d watch their reactions and store it away in that marvelous brain of his, revise the story, and try it out again on somebody else. I don’t think he ever forgot anything.”

Eric Larson, an animator on “Snow White” (and known as “the animal specialist”), remembered: “We all had egos, but Walt had a way of taking those egos and making them work together as a team. … This guy had the ability to take you into a story meeting, or three or four animators into a sweat box [a small projection room] with a reel of film, with a thing they’d been working on, and in ten minutes he could tear the whole damn thing apart. And in another forty minutes he could completely rebuild it so you had something concrete and solid.”

The bulk of “Snow White’s” production occurred in 1937, the year of the film's release. Like every cartoon feature that came after it, the picture was broken into sequences of five to eight minutes each. Animation was overseen by five sequence directors and supervising director Dave Hand, all of whom reported to Disney:

“Absolutely nothing happened without Walt being in on it,” Wilfred Jackson remembered. “All the color models he saw before they got okayed. All the rough animation. We ran it for him before anything moved into cleanup, and ink and paint.”

Live-action reference was shot to help artists with the animation of the human characters. Individual frames of film were enlarged onto hole-punched photostats for ease of use by animators: “With the queen they used rotoscope for starters, rotoscoping a play called ‘The Drunkard’ as sort of inspiration for the witch,” Ward Kimball said. “But we never did trace them like we did for Snow White. There we actually went over [the girl] with rotoscope prints. We changed the head and the proportions.”

Walt Disney assigned key animators to various characters as carefully as any studio mogul cast actors in movie roles. The young animator Frank Thomas joined supervising animators Fred Moore and Bill Tytla in animating the dwarfs. Eric Larson, Milt Kahl and Jim Algar brought the forest animals to life. Norm Ferguson supervised the witch. And studio veteran Hamilton Luske teamed with Grim Natwick (at 46 the senior citizen of the animation crew) on Snow White.

“Animating the dwarfs represented the first time we’d ever had to delineate seven distinct individuals at one time,” recalled Thomas. “If you had to do even a simple thing like backing the dwarfs up, you had to do each one differently. And how many ways are there of backing up? You do the first four … then you get to Sneezy and you’ve run out of ideas. It got to be a problem.”

Dwarfs aside, if Snow White hadn’t been believable, the feature wouldn’t have worked. And everybody knew it. “One of the reasons Ham [Luske] was so successful [with the character] was that he had great powers of analysis,” Wolfgang Reitherman related. “He knew what poses to hit and to hold. Snow White had a china-doll look to her, but in many ways I think she’s the most successful girl we ever animated at the studio.”

Forty-five years after the picture wrapped, Grim Natwick remembered: “You couldn’t take any liberty [with Snow White]. You had to make her interesting, but you couldn’t open her eyes too wide. You couldn’t distort her physical form. You had to keep her straight and yet try to make her move enough so she was still animated. With the dwarfs, you could tie the eyes to the bulbous nose, you could stretch them out and bring them back, and it all worked. You couldn’t do that with Snow White. But it was a lot of fun drawing her.”

The boss’s inexhaustible quest for perfection resulted in elaborate preproduction work with thousands of inspirational sketches, many of them supplied by artists Albert Hurter and Gustaf Tenggren. The two men visualized castle interiors and forest glades, exteriors and interiors of the dwarf’s cottage, and the shadowy depths of the dwarfs’ diamond mine. “Snow White” had more complex backgrounds, visual effects, and characters than the studio had ever before attempted. Animator Reitherman, the principle talent working on the queen’s magic mirror scenes, related:

“I spent months on that mirror character, folding the animation paper in half to get an elliptical face, going over and over the animation. I was pretty proud of what I came up with, but then the mirror scene comes back in color and I see that they’ve put a damn distortion glass over my animation. I wasn’t happy.”

Extensive use of a photographic platform known as the multiplane camera, designed to provide Disney’s shorts and first feature with three-dimensional depth, was hugely expensive to operate. It took a three-man crew days and often weeks to photograph a scene. The added costs, however, didn’t phase Disney.

“It was always my ambition to have a swell camera,” Walt enthused to Time magazine, “and now I’ve got one. I get a kick just watching the boys operating it, and remembering how I used to make ‘em out of baling wire.”

The tempo of production steadily increased throughout 1937. So did the picture’s costs. “Snow White’s” initial five hundred thousand dollar budget increased to seven hundred and fifty thousand, then rose to well over a million. Walt’s brother and business partner Roy Disney told his younger sibling that an additional quarter million dollars would be needed to finish the picture. Joseph Rosenberg of Bank of America would have to be shown their closely-held work-in-progress before a loan could be secured.

Walt wasn’t thrilled with the arrangement (industry wags were calling the feature “Disney’s folly”), but the studio had few other options. On the appointed day Disney sat nervously in a projection room with the bank executive, watching the color footage and pencil tests strung together in rough continuity. When the film came to an end, Rosenberg walked out of the projection room, remarked it was a nice day, and yawned. At which point he turned to Walt Disney and said, “That picture will make a pot full of money.”

The studio received the loan. (And the feature’s final cost came in at 1.5 million dollars.)

Getting “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” into theaters before Christmas became not just desirable, but a necessity. As production deadlines loomed up, studio personnel found themselves putting in twelve and fourteen hour days without overtime pay, seven days a week. Additional staff was being hired on a weekly basis.

Animator/director Don Lusk recalled, “Walt wanted me to teach the people they were sending from all over the country, so I was an extension of animator Eric Larson, training people. Eric got me back across the street to [animate] the animals, but the picture got so far behind I was put in charge of in-betweeners. I did cleanup and in-between work [the creation of drawings between key animation poses] just to help get the picture finished in time.”

“For months about all we did was wake up and go to the studio, work all day and go home to bed,” remembered animator Ollie Johnston. “Studio wives got together for company. They were ‘Disney widows’ the way some wives today are golf or football widows.”

After multiple internal screenings, Disney made the decision to cut two partially completed sequences: one in which the dwarfs eat soup; another where they build a bed for Snow White. Both sequences slowed the narrative drive of the film, and including them would have entailed additional costs from a company that was near the end of its financial tether. (Twenty years later, cleaned up animation of soup-eating dwarfs made its national debut on Disney’s hour-long anthology show on ABC.)

As Thanksgiving approached, the last few scenes of “Snow White” were pushed through ink-and-paint and photographed in color. A few staffers complained that the prince moved stiffly, that live-action photostats had been relied on too heavily. But the reality was, Walt Disney Productions had run out of time and resources to make the character any better.

The first week of December 1937, Technicolor delivered an answer print of the feature into the studio’s hands. Film cans and key employees were then loaded onto a bus and driven to the agricultural town of Pomona, where a surprise screening took place.

“That first preview was unsettling,” Wilfred Jackson said. “The audience seemed to be enjoying the film, but three quarters of the way through, one third of them walked out. … Later we found out they were local college kids who had to get back for their ten o’clock dormitory curfew.”

Two-and-a-half weeks later, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater in West Los Angeles, The opening night attracted a wide swath of Hollywood royalty that included Charlie Chaplin, Shirley Temple, Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, among numerous other stars. Almost everyone laughed and applauded throughout the screening.

“They even applauded backgrounds and layouts when no animation was on the screen,” said art director Kendall O’Connor. “I was sitting near John Barrymore when the shot of the queen’s castle above the mist came on, with the queen poling across the marsh in a little boat. He was bouncing up and down in his seat, he was so excited. Barrymore was an artist as well as an actor. And he hew the kind of work that went into something like that.”

For Disney artists who were in attendance, opening night was nerve-wracking. “All I could see was the mistakes in our animation,” animator Ollie Johnston remembered. “But the audience was caught up by Snow White and the birds right away, and I relaxed.”

Frank Thomas added: “Some of the first animation of the girl … never looked good to me. Her eyes squeegee all over her face … she moves badly. But by the time we did the last stuff, for instance where she’s baking the pie at the dwarfs’ cottage, the animation’s great.”

But the luminaries in attendance that first night saw none of the flaws of Walt Disney’s first feature. For them, the film was an entertainment that worked, and an unalloyed triumph.

“Snow White” rolled into general release on February 4, 1938. From the get-go, it was a critical and box office smash: “A classic, as important cinematically as “The Birth of a Nation” or the birth of Mickey Mouse …” (New York Times) “… absorbingly interesting and, at times, thrilling entertainment…” (Daily Variety) “… as charming as it is novel in conception…” (New York Daily News).

At the end of its first domestic release, the film had earned $3.5 million in the U.S. and Canada, and performed spectacularly overseas, taking in almost twice what it earned domestically. It was the highest grossing motion picture in film history until “Gone With the Wind” assumed the mantle two years later. (Film historians believe the aforementioned “Birth of a Nation”, a Civil War epic of the silent era, grossed more money than “Snow White” did in 1938. But since “Birth” was released during the Bronze Age of motion picture distribution, reliable records are non-existent.)

And its first release was just the beginning. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was re-released in 1944 and again in 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1993. As of 2019, Disney's first animated feature has theatrically grossed $985,178,333, adjusted for inflation. Added to which, it sold 25.1 million home video units from 1994 to 2002, taking in more than half a billion dollars.

For Walt Disney, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was the vehicle that powered the company toward wider horizons: a new modern studio, more elaborate animated features, amusement parks, and ultimately a media empire. But “Snow White” is important for more than just establishing the name Disney as a global brand. The picture set the artistic mold for almost every mainstream animated feature that followed it, from “Gulliver’s Travels” to “Toy Story” to “Despicable Me”.

In its presentation of characters, its heady mix of comedy, drama and action, “Snow White” became the tap root from which all other long-form cartoons spring.

Want MORE insidey stuff on the Mouse Factory from the people who lived it? Try Mouse in Transition and Mouse In Orbit ...

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

New Blood at Guild

The Animation Guild, now 5000+ members strong, has new blood at the top ...

... including 10 new members of its executive board. Steve Kaplan, running unopposed, recently was elected business rep, and Jeanette Moreno King, the local’s former veep, was elected president. Jason MacLeod, the local’s former business rep, did not seek reelection.

A total of 912 ballots were cast, representing 24% of the guild’s eligible membership. Founded in 1952, the Animation Guild represents more than 5,000 artists, writers and technicians in the animation industry. ...

The Animation Guild has always covered a lot of ground in its representation of industry employees, everyone from animation checkers to directors to story artists, writers and animators.

In the late 1980s it had a grand total of 700 active members. It has evolved over almost seven decades of existence. It used to be a world apart from live-action guilds and locals under the IATSE umbrella; now it occupies a space that has steadily grown closer to other labor unions in the motion picture industry. The product its membership creates is among the most profitable that the entertainment business turns out (only "super hero" movies seriously compete).

Animation's technologies have changed radically since the Guild started in 1952, but at its core, it's pretty much the same: a story-driven medium that relies heavily on the visual to punch its content across.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Animation Biggies Talk

Directors and creative heads from Pixar, DWA, Disney and Netflix discuss lots of stuff, including their evolving workplaces:

Gotoh... We are pretty much close to 50-50 gender parity on Klaus, and it happened by accident. I am very proud about it. We didn't force it. It became that way. And we are about 260 people on the crew. We represent 22 countries and 15 languages. ...

Jennifer Lee: What we found [at Disney] is, particularly when I came in, the rooms were becoming more and more diverse. But creative leadership wasn't yet. Things take years. But we all started really talking about the effect it has to have a creative leader. If you are a woman in the room or you are diverse in the room and you see someone represented who is like you, you speak more. You contribute more. ...

The big change in 21st century animation? It is less and less a boy's club. When 75% of Cal Arts classes are female (as an interviewee points out), the status quo melts away. It really can't do anything else.

Mid December Box Office

And a Dwayne Johnson sequel loaded with animated visual effects roars to #1 on the Big List.

Three Days of Grosses

1) Jumanji: Next Level -- 4,227 -- $60.1M -- $60.1M (1st weekend)

2) Frozen 2 -- 4,078 (-270) -- $19.1M (-45%) -- $366.5M

3) Knives Out -- 3,413 (-48) -- $9.25M (-35%) -- $78.9M

4) Richard Jewell -- 2,502 -- $5M -- $5M (1st weekend)

5) Black Christmas -- 2,625 -- $4.4M -- $4.4M (1st weekend)

6) Ford V Ferrari -- 2,895 (-851) -- $4.1M (-38%) -- $98.2M

7) Queen & Slim -- 1,560 (-155) -- $3.6M (-46%) -- $33.1M

8) Beautiful Day In the 'Hood -- 2,855 (-636) -- $3.35M (-35%) -- $49.3M

9) Dark Waters -- 2,112 (+100) -- $2M (-50%) -- $8.9M

10) 21 Bridges -- 1,533 (-932) -- $1.18M (-59%) -- $26.3M

And global box office for some animated and hybrid titles?

Worldwide Accumulations

Jumanji -- $213 million

Frozen 2 -- $1.033 billion

Abominable -- 176.6 million

Addams Family -- $213 million

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Sony Buys a Cartoon Studio?

The trade papers tell us:

Sony Pictures Television (SPT) has acquired Silvergate Media, a company that focuses on developing, producing and licensing children’s animation, for $195 million. ...

Sony was deep into television animation in the '90s, so I'm not sure what gives here.

Adelaide Productions was launched by Columbia Pictures Television (part of Sony) in the spring of 1993. It grew from a small division doing a couple of tv cartoon series to one of the biggest animation facilities in L.A. County.

By the turn of the century, they were headquartered in a large warehouse on what used to be the backlot of the Selznick studio. They were turning out lots of shows, everything from Godzilla, Channel Umptee 3, Jackie Chan Adventures, and Men In Black, to Dilbert, Starship Troopers, Dragon Tales,Max Steel and Sammy (among a number of others.)

For a few years, they were one of the biggest animation employers in town.

By and by, the studio fell on difficult times and shrank in size. Sony has no corporate-owned media outlets, so it doesn't have a ravenous distribution network to feed. That might be part of it. As of this year, Adelaide Productions hasn't made a new cartoon series since 2009, yet the company maintains it's active.

So if it's still an ongoing enterprise, why is the parent company buying anew animation company?

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Early December Box Office

Overall movie grosses are nothing to call home about, but Frozen 2 still prevails:

Three Days of Grosses

1) Frozen 2 -- 4,348 theaters (-92) -- $34.7M (-60%) -- $337.6M

2) Knives Out -- 3,461 theaters -- $14.1M (-47%) -- $63.4M

3) Ford v Ferrari -- 3,746 theaters (+161) -- $6.537M (-50%) -- $91.1M

3) Queen & Slim -- 1,715 theaters (+25) -- $6.53M (-45%) -- $26.8M

5) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood -- 3,491 theaters (+256) -- $5.2M (-56%) -- $43.1M

6) Dark Waters -- 2012 theaters (+1918) -- $4.1M (+560%) -- $5.2M

7) 21 Bridges -- 2,465 theaters (-200) -- $2.88M (-48%) -- $23.9M

8) Playing With Fire -- 2253 (-426) -- $2M (-53%) -- $42M

9) Midway -- 2100 (-277) -- $1.94M (-51%) -- $53.4M

10) Joker -- 956 theaters (-190) -- $1.04M (-47%) -- $332.1M

Meantime, Frozen 2 nudges up against a global billion buck gross with $919M, while the second Jumanji (Dwayne Johnson edition) collects $52.5M internationally.

Oh yeah. The other story is that The Walt Disney Company is about to cross the $10 billion world box office threshhold with seven (7) billion-dollar grosses.

A D.C. Fan's Garden of VFX Animation

So if you're not sure why there are so many people working in various categories of animation, here's a trailer that explains at least part of it.

In the 21st Century, there are CG animated features, hand-drawn small-screen animation (also CG offshoots) and visual effects for super hero movies ... lots of effects for lots of super heroes. Those things pretty much drive theatrical features these days.

Just sit through the end-credits of any of these movies, and you will see hundreds of designers, board artists, animators, modelers, technical directors and the rest at a wide variety of studios that occupy the screen. And they won't be diminishing or going away anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Big-Screen Shorts!

Variety tells us:

A record 92 animated short films have qualified for the 92nd Academy Awards, a list that will be winnowed to 10 contenders when shortlist is announced Dec. 16. Alongside entries such as Sony’s “Hair Love” and Magic Light Pictures’ “Zog,” challengers include lauded films from animators such as Tomek Popakul’s “Acid Rain,” Siqi Song’s “Sister” and Theodore Ushev’s “The Physics of Sorrow.” Ranging from studio darlings to festival gems, the diversity of projects in the category makes for a somewhat unpredictable race. ...

Walt Disney Productions stopped making shorts in 1958 or thereabouts. M-G-M stopped making new shorts in 1957 when it closed its animation department and set Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera adrift. (SPOILER ALERT: they started their own company the same year and ended up doing rather well.)

Warner Bros. Animation -- which concentrated on shorts -- limped along until 1963, when that studio breathed its last. (Of course, nothing is forever. Warner Bros. Animation started up again in a limited way in the 1970s, finally expanding in a way way in 1989 when it partnered with Steven Spielberg for Timy Toons, then launched other animated series.)

Walter Lantz, working under the Universal umbrella, made increasingly anemic theatrical shorts until 1972, and then gave up the seven-minute cartoon biz. Friz Freleng and Dave DePatie made Pink Panther theatrical shorts alongside dtelevision product until 1980. But for the most part, theatrical shorts in the latter part of the 20th century were as extinct as the T-Rex.

But that dynamic has changed. Shorts, lots of shorts, are being made again. The problem now is getting them shown in regular theaters with regular, main-stream live-action features. That's the final frontier.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Annie Nominees

And if you don't know, some of the reasons the Annie Awards from ASIFA are valued by filmmakers who create animation. 1) they are selected by peers, 2) they point toward (and influence) other awards the come later in the shiny-trophy sweepstakes.

Best Animated Feature

Frozen 2 -Walt Disney Animation Studios

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World – DreamWorks Animation

Klaus – Netflix Presents A Production of The Spa Studios and Atresmedia Cine

Missing Link – LAIKA, LLC

Toy Story 4 – Pixar Animation Studios ...

You will note: three of the five nominees come from entertainment conglomerates (and Netflix is certainly not some small indie, is it?).

The fact that there are five nominees ... and more animated features in the marketplace which haven't been nominated ... is a refreshing difference from the fifty years of film history where two animated features in a calendar year was unusual. So power on, Annie's. And may the best long-form cartoon win.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Thanksgiving Box Office

It appears that the House of Mouse continues to dominate with two out of the top three grossing movies ... to nobody's surprise.

Four Days of Box Office

1) Frozen 2 -- 4,440 -- $126.3M -- $290.1M

2) Knives Out -- 3,391 -- $42.4M -- $42.4M (1st weekend)

3) Ford V Ferrari -- 3,585 (+57) -- $19.8M -- $81.8M

4) Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood -- 3,325 (+90) -- $18.3M -- $35.3M

5) Queen & Slim -- 1,690 -- $14.9M -- $14.9M (1st weekend)

6) 21 Bridges -- 2,665 -- $7.7M -- $19.2M

7) Midway -- 2,377 (-250) -- $5.96M -- $50.4M

7) Playing With Fire -- 2,679 (-81) -- $5.96M -- $39.1M

9) Joker -- 1,146 (-264) -- $2.8M -- $330.5M

9) Last Christmas -- 1,852 (-559) -- $2.8M -- $31.6M

On the animated front, there is the new Frozen, then there are the other animated features, way off in the distance and beyond a snowy hill:

Worldwide Grosses

Frozen 2 -- $739 million

Abominable -- $175.3 million

Addams Family --$175.7 million

What's interesting are the constancies over time. For years, Disney was the only animation studio that was successful with cartoon features. Other corporate entities would, every once in a while, have some mild success. But the house of Walt was the place that did multiple features in the forites ... fifties ... sixties ... seventies (etc.)

So in a strange way, we're back where we began. There is Disney, and then there is the lacklustre competition. History does indeed rhyme.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Beyond Obvious

Business Insider has been reading entertainment data ...

[The Walt Disney Company], which has two animation studios, has vastly outperformed its competitors, luring audiences to theaters in droves to see new stories and sequels to franchise titles. Disney’s brand reputation, stellar storytelling and emotional resonance has kept it at the top of the box office.

The debut of “Frozen II” last weekend combined with the billion-dollar “Toy Story 4″ means Disney has now garnered more than $1.4 billion in ticket sales from its animated movies so far in 2019. And “Frozen II” still has plenty of room to grow ...

... but sadly, it doesn't read very well. Disney owns a lot more than two animation studios.

It owns Pixar (purchased from Steve Jobs). It owns Blue Sky Studios (purchased from Rupert Murdoch). It owns the Walt Disney Animation studios*.

Those are the studios that make theatrical animation, which focus on long-form features shown in multiplexes.

Then there are the TV animation studios: Walt Disney Television Animation and Fox Animation. These do pre-production on smaller screen fare slated for Disney+, the Disney Channel, broadcast television (remember that ancient distribution system?)

Disney dominates because Disney has put big money into animation, and also owns ... ahem ... some pretty potent brands.

Paramount-Viacom has never gotten much traction in theatrical animation, and its television outpost Nickeloden is a shadow of its former self. Warner Bros. had misfires in animation for years until its new division W.A.G. (warner Animation Group) struck gold with its Lego features. (Its television animation studio Warner Bros. Animation has been a force since the early nineties.) Sony makes has made some competitive cartoon features, and Universal-Comcast has found success with Illumination Entertainment and DreamWorks Animation.

But let's face it. Disney has been building synergy between its various divisions and production facilities forever. Uncle Walt was a master at having one part of his company boost and reinforce another, pretty much inventing the practice in the 1950s. And with Robert Iger, the practice has been super-charged to the point of near total dominance of the marketplace.

* Let's not forget DisneyToon Studios, which created direct-to-video and theatrical features for a quarter century, finally closing its doors the summer of 2018 when the dvd market was deader than a school of beached mackerel.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Brief History of Color Movies -- Live Action and Animated

This week in 1922, the Technicolor feature The Toll of the Sea premieres. The story of a Chinese girl in love with an American cad who deserts her, it goes into general release in February 1923, and stars the young Anna May Wong.

(Anna was a second-tier movie star in the '20s and '30s. She played Tiger Lily in the '23 version of "Peter Pan", the Mongol villainess in Douglas Fairbanks' "The Thief of Baghdad." She died in 1961.)

Toll was the first commercial live-action color feature that went into wide release. (There had been experiments previous to it, but nothing distributed nationwide that could run through a regular projector.) Two-Strip Technicolor didn't show the entire color spectrum, but was used in Hollywood through the 1920s and early 1930s, until full color/three-strip Technicolor replaced it.

Fairbanks's "The Black Pirate" was a sizable hit in 1926. At the time, Technicolor'scolor system used two strips of 35mm film fused together, which caused the twin problems of 1) keeping the image in focus and 2) jamming the projector with double-thick film. Technicolor soon figured out how to use one strip of film.

Surprisingly, there were a LOT of Technicolor features made in the decade after "Toll of the Sea". Douglas Fairbanks produced the big-budget "Black Pirate" in Technicolor, and Warners filmed many of its early sound musicals in color. Cecil B. DeMille used Technicolor for parts of 1923's "Ten Commandments" and the silent "King of Kings" (below). The '25 version of "Ben Hur" had a Technicolor sequence.

Sadly, a lot of two-strip Technicolor features have been lost. Most of Toll of the Sea survives due to the efforts of the UCLA Film Archive.


Walter Lantz created an animated color sequence for the Paul Whiteman two-strip Technicolor feature The King of Jazz in 1930. Universal was playing catch-up with Warners and M-G-M in the color feature department, and TKOJ was their big-budget attempt to catch up. Their Whiteman offering featured Bing Crosby before his movie career soared into the firmament.

But the first color short (mit sound!) was this Flip the Frog offering from Ub Iwerks in 1930. (Iwerks had turned in his 20% share of Walt Disney Productions and toddled off to form his own studio a bit earlier. Definitely a bad career move in retrospect. How much would 20% of the Walt Disney Company be worth now?):

Walter Elias Disney never did any two-strip color cartoons. When Technicolor developed its full color (three-strip) system a couple of years later, Walt gobbled up the exclusive rights to make full-color cartoons for three years. (No fool, he.) Disney's first offering was Flower and Trees.

Since everyone else was shut out of the full color Technicolor ball game, they all had to do the best they could. The Fleischers on the east coast made color cartoons with two-strip Technicolor. Their "Color Classics" weren't Disney "Silly Symphonies", but they were giving it the old college try.

Ub Iwerks in the years after his color "Flip the Frog", did a pretty fair Disney imitation with Balloon Land in glorious Cinecolor (which, as you can see, is another partial color system, much like Technicolor's two-strip system):

Disney had a five-year contract with Technicolor, but after three years his exclusivity ran out. Starting in 1936, any animation studio could use three-strip Technicolor, and many did. The Fleischers produced a Popeye featurette in three-strip technicolor, then another. By the late 1930s and early 1940s, most everybody's cartoons were in color.

A Popeye Color Special (1936) -- in the full and complete thrcee-strip color spectrum.

As for Walt Disney's former right-hand man Ub Iwerks, his series of ComiColor shorts ended in 1936. Thereafter, he subcontracted work from other cartoon studios before returning to Disney in 1940. (Minus, unfortunately, that 20% stake.) Iwerks died in 1971.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Reconsideration of An Action-Adventure Epic?

The Brew runs across video Ladyknightthebrave's analysis of the hand-drawn Disney feature Atlantis and gives her a shout-out:

... Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the curious 2001 flop from the tail end of Disney’s 1990s renaissance, is “the raddest gem in the Disney canon.” Or so argues Ladynightthebrave, a Youtube critic whose half-hour essay on the film, part of Filmjoy’s reliably absorbing Lessons Animation Taught Us series, is our video of the week.

Her fun, well-researched deep dive explains what sets Atlantis apart from other Disney features. She touches on the absence of cute sidekicks, lack of music, eccentric storyline — which draws on the writings of Plato and madcap philosopher Edgar Cayce — and hugely ambitious production. ...

Some of the reasons for Atlantis's under-performance almost twenty years ago?

It was a hand-drawn feature fighting against an incoming tide of computer generated animated cartoons that audiences loved.

It was darker than other Disney animated features of the time; Rourke, its central villain (played by usual Good Guy James Garner) is villainous without comedic redemption.

Atlantis was devoid of show-tunes.

In short, it went against the viewing public's expectations of wht a cartoon feature should be, and suffered accordingly. But there were reasons for this. Directors/creators Kirk Wise and Gary Trouysdale were flat out tired of doing animated musicals, as Gary Trousdale explains:

We kicked ideas around. ... [And] we want[ed] .. to do, like, an adventure thing. ... We wanted to get away from the musical. We were tired of musicals. That's one of the dirty secrets: I don't really like musicals, having directed two of them, they're not my favorite thing. I thought it would be really fun to do an action-adventure with monsters. ...

(Gary's comments about "Atlantis" start around the 21 minute mark.)

So maybe Atlantis is due for a fresh look and critical reconsideration. And we'll know those things have happened when the Walt Disney Company cues the picture up for a live-action/CGI reboot. (Stand by)

Monday, November 25, 2019

Frozen and More Frozen

A shocker.

Frozen 2, after massive marketing, social networking, and stratospheric global anticipation, comes in at #1. Who would have thought? ...

Three Days of Grosses

1) Frozen 2 -- 4,440 -- $130M -- $130M (1st weekend)

2) Ford V Ferrari -- 3,528 -- $16M (-50%) -- $57.9M

3) Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood -- 3,325 -- $13.5M -- $13.5M (1st weekend)

4) 21 Bridges -- 2,665 -- $9.3M -- $9.3M (1st weekend)

5) Midway -- 2,627 (-615) -- $4.7M (-45%) -- $43.1M

6) Playing With Fire -- 2,760 (-425) -- $4.6M (-45%) -- $31.6M

7) Good Liar -- 2,454 (+15) -- $3.37M (-40%) -- $11.8M

8) Charlie’s Angels -- 3,452 -- $3.175M (-62%) -- $13.9M

9) Last Christmas -- 2,411 (-1,043) -- $3M (-53%) -- $27.8M

10) Joker -- 1,410 (-927) -- $2.8M (-47%) -- $326.9M

Frozen 2 has earned $223.2M in its overseas debut and $353M globally. Meantime, Universal/Dreamworks Animation's Abominable has now collected a worldwide gross of $174.1M.

The trade press and others are nattering on about the "record breaking" opening of this Disney cartoon sequel, but it's only record-breaking -- as some note -- for the month of November. "Lion King 2019" opened with $191,770,759 (U.S. and Canada) in July. So that's the actual record-breaker. Of course, there's the ongoing fiction that "Lion King" isn't animated because the House of Mouse says it isn't, but we can ignore fiction, can't we?

Sunday, November 24, 2019


This day in film history ... 86 years ago.

At the bottom of the Depression, Warner Bros., Inc. was making a mint with its musicals, particularly "42nd Street". And M-G-M ... the Tiffany's of movie studios ... knew it had to get into the genre in a bigger way.

On this day in 1933, "Dancing Lady" is released, produced by David O. Seznick, a man with minimal expertise in making musicals but Louis B. Mayer's son-in-law, which counted for something.

"Dancing Lady" ended up a sizable hit, but "Lady" is notable for a bunch of reasons besides its profitable box office.

Reason the First: it introduced Fred Astaire to the motion picture screen. (Okay, SOUND motion pictures; Fred had appeared in one silent.)

Selznick, having just left RKO, knew that Astaire had signed a contract with that studio, and contrived to hire him away for a few weeks. Astaire had relatively little to do in "DL", but he danced with star Joan Crawford and got introduced on-camera by Clark Gable (which Fred considered a fine way to launch his movie career).

Astaire dances with Joan ... but then vanishes./p>

Sadly, since Crawford wasn't the most accomplished of hoofers (putting it mildly), Fred toned himself way down, and Crawford wore a long dress to cover her feet. (Smart move.) But Astaire made Crawford look as good as she was able to look. And at least Fred got seen by a LOT of moviegoers.

Reason the Second: it was the movie Clark Gable was making when he came close to dying.

Gable was a clean freak, showering a couple of times per day. But what Clark WASN'T meticulous about was taking care of his teeth. While "Lady" was in production, he developed a major case of pyorrhea and his entire mouth was infected, which meant his bloodstream and body were infected.

By mid-June, 1933, Gable was in a private hospital, tucked away from prying eyes, fighting for his life. The studio tried to keep the hospitalization secret, but the press found out. M-G-M publicity chief Howard Strickling announced that Gable was there for gall bladder surgery, an appendectomy, and tonsillitis (no mention of bad teeth).

When his infection finally receded, a studio dentist yanked out most of Clark's choppers, and a long period of convalescence, ending with a set of dentures, began. Gable finally returned to the studio on August 29, poorer by $25,000 since Louis Mayer suspended his salary while he was out. (That's Hollywood!)

Reason the Third: "Dancing Lady" featured Ted Healy and his Stooges.

Ted Healy, now mostly forgotten (he died in 1937), developed the Three Stooges -- Moe, Larry, Curly -- as part of his vaudeville act. They were popular stage performers, and were in the first months of a contract with M-G-M doing shorts and features. "Dancing Lady" was the highest-grossing feature in which Healy and the boys appeared. The four parted company the following year, and the Stooges began a looong career making two-reelers for Columbia.

"Dancing Lady" is today considered a lacklustre imitation of Warner musicals of the period, yet it made a profit of $744,000. (Production cost: $923k/theatrical gross: $2.4 million)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Up Is Really Down ... Red Is Really Green

The Walt Disney Company keeps saying; "Uh ... The Lion King (2019) isn't animation but live-action".

This is like saying that Germany won World War II. Both statements are false on their lying faces. Sad that a lot of the media isn't pointing this out.

... In an earlier piece on Deadline, D’Alessandro and Nancy Tartaglione, wrote that Frozen 2 would likely “rep a new global opening record for an animated film.” It’s a bizarre claim to make since there hasn’t been a single projection that Frozen 2 will come within even $100 million of The Lion King remake’s $467 million opening weekend. In the sentence that immediately follows, D’Alessandro and Tartaglione admit that the only way their reporting could be true is if they don’t count The Lion King as animated: “I understand that Disney considers Jon Favreau’s CGI reboot of The Lion King to be in the live-action category.” ...

I know damn well we live in a corporatist age, and that corporations often call the tune. But why the media knuckles under to the fiction that Favereau's feature-length, animated remake of the original The Lion King is a mystery known only to various weak-kneed publishers, editors, reporters.

One thing for a conglomerate to blow smoke up people's backsides. Conglomerates do that all the time. Quite another when news entities help them do it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Closing the Circle

The brief, unproductive life of the Circle 7 Studio ...

... [I]n early 2004 ... Steve Jobs announced to the staff at Pixar that they would not be renewing their deal with Disney. Jobs and Eisner couldn’t see eye to eye, and it didn’t appear that they ever would. So for about a year and a half, during which time the studio completed production on The Incredibles and went into overdrive on Cars, Pixar was an animation studio in search of a new home. And Circle 7 Animation was beginning to ramp up production of its own on sequels to Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo. ...

Let's remember what was going on way back when.

Disney topkick Mike Eisner was in a spitting match with Steve Jobs. And Mr. Jobs was far from happy. He announced his intention to pick up his fancy and very profitable marbles and go to an entertainment conglomerate not named Disney. Eisner then invoked Disney's right to make sequels of earlier Piar features. Michael E. commenced putting together a Disney-controlled sequel studio -- a sprawling, one and two-story building that sat across the street from Disney's ABC broadcast studio in Glendale, on Circle 7 Drive.

Steve Jobs, also John Lasseter, were enraged.

But Mr. Eisner, unbeknownst to everybody, was near the end of his Disney career. As Michael went about building a new animation division, he was fighting with Roy Disney (Walt's nephew, if you're keeping tabs on the players at home). Roy, pushed off the Diz Co. board by Eisner in the early oughts, was running a guerrilla campaign that aimed to make Michael E. the EX-Disney C.E.O., and as rapidly as possible.

Which was, ultimately, what happened. Roy Disney orchestrated a shareholder revolt against the Chairman, and within eighteen months Eisner was sliding down a greased corporate exit chute (wheee!).

Meanwhile, the Pixar "sequel studio" was still in ramp-up phase, with Pixar sequels -- one of them a new Toy Story feature -- in development. In fact, scads of new animation employees were hired, some from the states, some from Canada and overseas, and Disney executives were assuring the newbies that the work on which they were embarked would be long-term.

But such was not the case. Michael Eisner stepped down as chief exec, and new topkick Bob Iger soon brokered a $7.2 billion merger with Pixar. The Circle 7 studio was shuttered.

Most of Circle 7's employees were given their walking papers. Some of them found work in other divisions of the Walt Disney Company, and others returned to their home countries (losing a chunk of money in the process). The media theme at the time was "the House of Mouse has swallowed Pixar, and all's well that ends well." But one of the smaller realities were a goodly number of people lost their jobs and got burned. And were more than a teensy bit ticked off.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Nick Nick

The long-running hit "Adventure Time". Developed by Nickelodeon, but this IP was allowed to slip away to rival Cartoon Network. So are we surprised Nick's reach and standing have ... uh ... slipped?

The Los Angeles Times asks the question: "Can Nickelodeon [Viacom's Kid Cable Network] make a comeback?"

... Back in the 1990s, Nickelodeon’s competition was Cartoon Network, PBS and Disney Channel. Now, the network is struggling to fend off incursions from Netflix,, Hulu and Disney+, the just-launched streaming service that secured 10 million customers in its first day. ...

It's really easy to answer the Times' query: "No." And the reason the answer is effortless? Count the ways ...

1) Viacom has become a weak sister among entertainment conglomerates called the Walt Disney Company, Universal-NBC-Comcast, and Warner-A.T. & T.

2) The company sat on its corporate hands while Disney gobbled up IP makers Pixar, Marvel, and Lucas Film.

3) Bad decisions inside the division At one point Nick was eating Disney's lunch on the home cartoon front, prevailing in the contest to attract kids' eyeballs. But then Nick made a series of dubious choices, everything from letting Adventure Time slip away to Cartoon Network [see above], to deciding that CG cartoons were the future of TV animation (they weren't), to leasing its IP to Netflix (a mistake that helped drive its ratingsz down).

So now Nick struggles against Disney and Cartoon Network on the shrinking platforms known as cable networks, and has no presence at all in the streaming department. So will Nick do some kind of miracle rebound?

Don't think so.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Weekend Ford

A car race movie starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon sits atop the box office, with the big war movie Midway (studded with visual effects) slides to #2. The latest iteration of Charlie's Angels land with a sickening thud and is D.O.A. ...

Three Days of Grosses

1) Ford V Ferrari -- 3,528 -- $30M -- $30M (1st weekend)

2) Midway -- 3,242 -- $8.8M (-51%) -- $35.1M

3) Charlie’s Angels -- 3,452 -- $8.2M -- $8.2M (1st weekend)

4) Playing With Fire -- 3,185 (+60) -- $7.5M (-41%) -- $24.4M

5) Last Christmas -- 3,454 (+6) -- $6.6M (-42%) -- $22.4M

6) Doctor Sleep -- 3,855 -- $5.7M (-59%) -- $24.6M

7) Joker -- 2,337 (-469) -- $1.475M (-42%) -- $5.2M (-44%) -- $322.1M

8) The Good Liar -- 2,439 -- $5M --$5M (1st weekend)

9) Maleficent 2 -- 2,549 (-652) -- $4.8M (-42%) -- $105.6M

10) Harriet -- 2,011 (-175) -- $4.5M (-38%) -- $31.7M

There are no animated features embedded in the Box Office Top Ten, but that should change next week when Frozen II materializes on a gazillion multiplex screens. As for other long-form cartoons now in the marketplace?

The Addams Family has now collected $93 million domestically and $157,050,241 worldwide.

Abominable has earned $59,477,090 in the U.S. and Canada and now stands at $167,577,090 on a global basis.

And Arctic Dogs has collected $5,520,628 from around the globe, 97% of that $5 million coming from the United States.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Gravitational Pull

Netflix and Nick forge a new partnership...

... Nickelodeon and Netflix have entered a multiple-year output deal that will see the Viacom-owned cable network create and produce original animated feature films and TV series based on both new and existing IP.

The deal announced Wednesday expands Nickelodeon's relationship with Netflix, which was revived a few years ago with deals for a live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series and deals for Rocko's Modern Life, Invader Zim, The Loud House and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, among others. ...

There's a theme here: Netflix is losing many of its old animation providers and building its own cartoon studio turns out not to be enough. Nickelodeon doesn't have its own streaming service, and the power and reach of cable networks ... where it once dominated ... has declined. So supplying product to a distributor who needs it? And will pay well for it? That's a match made in corporate heaven.

This deal will no doubt increase L.A.-based animation production, which has been on a roll for years now. Why is Los Angeles getting so much of the work? The answer is straight-forward. As large universities act as magnets for brain-based industries like medical research and high tech (think Boston and its many colleges; the bay area with Stanford and Berkeley), so do large pools of animation talent attract companies setting up cartoon studios.

It's not for nothing that the east San Fernando Valley ... home of Disney, DreamWorks, and Universal Cartoon Studios ... and the beach towns of Culver City and Santa Monica ... where visual effects shops, video game studios, and cartoon houses are headquartered ... continue to attract new animation facilities. These are the areas where pencil-and-paper animation took root eighty and ninety years ago, where artist employees started families and raised kids. Today, generations of talent live and work in Southern California, making it a desirable place for newer cartoon studios (Netflix Animation and the like) to set up shop.

Stanford and Berkeley (and Hewlett-Packard?) helped incubate the Apples and Googles in Silicon Valley a half-century ago. The same kind of process has taken place in Los Angeles since the early days of talking pictures.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Explaining the Obvious

The Hollywood Reporter tells us:

Why the Animation [Oscar] Race Is the Most Competitive in Years ....

Why? Because a lot of product gets made. There were a record 32 submissions for the category, which the Reporter notes doesn't include the high-grossing animated feature The Lion King (2019), since the Walt Disney Company clings to the deranged fantasy that the picture isn't really animated but ... ah ... somehow a live-action vehicle, even though there's not a live-action character in it.

The reason there's thirty-two candidates for Best Animated Feature should be clear from the numbers: the commercial trajectory of theatrical, long-form animation these past few decades has been steadily up, so more and more cartoons get made. With the exception of super hero movies, theatrical animation performs better than any other kind of film shown in big-screen multiplexes. Sony makes them, Warner Bros. makes them, Universal anf Disney and Paramount mke them. And these movies are profitable at any number of budgetary tiers. The high priced product, entertainment such as "How To Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 4, Frozen 2 and budgeted at $120-$200 million, makes buckets of money because the grosses are in the billions of dollars.

And movies like The Addams Family and Sausage Party, produced on the other end of the scale for $20 to $40 million (when Canadian subsidies are factored in), earn nice cash due to worldwide grosses of $150 million or $250 million dollars. Clearly not Toy Story 4 territory, but with smaller budgets*, profit margins are still comfortable.

Both lower and higher budget* animated features designed for the U.S. and Canadian release have a shot at the "Best Animated Feature" Oscar. Technically, they also are eligible for the "Best Picture" trophy, classical cynics know that's as likely to happen as snow drifts in Palm Springs. Actors, who comprise the largest branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will never vote for a movie that features their voices but not their bodies.

So. It's good that there are 32 submissions in the long cartoon category, but there's no mystery to it. A lot of long-form cartoons get made because they earn their creators big dollars.

* Let's add one more wrinkle to the budget levels of animated features: besides those movies designed for the American market, there are really small budget productions coming out of Spain, South America and a few other geographical locations that cost a tiny fraction of the features released stateside. They play in markets like Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, and Thailand. Many of these productions also make money, due to their micro budgets.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Animation Guild Elections

There has been lots of labor activity in the past year - the U.A.W. struck General Motors in a lengthy strike, teachers in various states went on job actions in quest of higher wages, among others. But there has also been lots of internal changes inside the House of Labor. Entertainment unions have seen some hard-fought elections, and there has been dissent among the rank-and-file.

The Animation Guild, a sizable guild that's part of the I.A.T.S.E., has seen lots of changes in its officer ranks. In the span of thirty-six months, it has had three business representatives, and three presidents. This past weekend, the Guild completed elections that saw a large number of new officers elected to its board:


President - Jeanette Moreno King

Vice-President - Jack Thomas

Recording Secretary - Paula Spence

Animation Guild Executive Board

Karen Carnegie "KC" Johnson

Carrie Liao

Stephen Silver

Emily Walus

Jack Cusamano

Elisa Phillips

Brandon Jarrat

Laura Hohman

Danny Ducker

Crystal Kan

Mike Milo

Past Guild Presidents Karen Carnegie Johnson and Laura Hohman have won places on the new board, while several incumbents have departed.

President-elect King served as Vice-President during the 2016-2019 term; incoming Vice-President Thomas previously held the offices of executive board member, Vice-President and President. (Ms. King works as a board artist and director, while Mr. Thomas is a writer, show-runner, and executive producer.)

World War II/ Veterans Day Box Office

Midway gets re-booted for the second time and tops this week's box office list. (There was, of course, the 1976 version with Charlton Heston ... and the original in 1942, which most people think is superior because it had real effects, plus John Ford as director and cameraman.) One animated feature clings to the bottom rung of the Top Ten, slowly edging closer to $100 million in domestic grosses.

Three Days of Grosses

1) Midway -- 3,242 -- $17.5M -- $17.5M (1st weekend)

2) Doctor Sleep -- 3,855 -- $14.1M -- $14.1M (1st weekend

3) Playing With Fire -- 3,125 -- $12.8M -- $12.8M (1st weekend)

4) Last Christmas -- 3,448 -- $11.6M -- $11.6M (1st weekend)

5) Terminator: Dark Fate -- 4,086 -- $10.8M (-63%) -- $48.4M

6) Joker -- 2,806 (-713) -- $9.2M (-32%) -- $313.4M

7) Maleficent 2 -- 3,201 (-619 -- $8M (-38%) -- $97.3M

8) Harriet -- 2,186 (+127) -- $7.2M (-38%) -- $23.4M

9) Zombieland 2 -- 2,427 (-910) -- $4.3M (-42%) -- $66.6M

10) Addams Family -- 2,674 (-933) -- $4.18M (-50%) -- $91.4M

Arctic Dogs sits at #16 with a $4,837,728 domestic gross. Globally, The Addams Family has now grossed $155,527,967. On other animated fronts, The Lion King 2019 (second animated version masquerading as a "live action" feature) has grossed $1,655,125,301 worldwide. It now makes its money in other distribution channels.

* Multi-Academy Award winner J. Ford did, in fact, film the actual battle of Midway, and got wounded for his efforts. He later won an Academy Award for the resulting documentary made from his footage.

Monday, November 4, 2019

"Rocketeer" Re-Imagined

The Rocketeer launches in a new incarnation in a few days, this time in animated form. The person overseeing the production from start to finish is the multi-talented Nicole Dubuc, who on top of running one of the Mouse's newer shows, climbs mountains, horseback rides, teams up with her dog Crosby in various canine competitions, and (also, too) throws terrific parties.

And ... as far as I can tell ... she sleeps but little.

Ms. Dubuc offers this about the new show:

Disney ... approached me to develop the property and they kinda had an idea of what they wanted being in the Junior space and giving a new generation a chance to meet these characters in an entry-point level. And since I was a huge fan of The Rocketeer movie when it came out and [had] gone to discover the comic books as well, Disney thought I might be a good fit for that property. When they asked, I couldn't say no. ...

We have a lot of recurring antagonists, we've actually gone along the lines of the 60s Batman villains so they're very comical and they have over-the-top pieces they're trying to pull off. We've developed our own rogues' gallery for the show so that's been a lot of fun! ...

Nicole has worked in the entertainment industry for a long time, starting as a child actor, then (after college), moving into writing for both animation and live-action.

Oh, and one last thing. In addition to the pursuits listed above, she's found the time to climb mountains such as Whitney, Everest and other tall piles of rocks. (Her schedule exhausts me just thinking about it.)

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Subdued Box Office

Not so big, this time around ...

The Cameron-produced Terminator: DF opens with middling grosses. There are now two animated features in the Box Office Ten, but the newer of the two, Arctic Dogs, is still-born, entering the steeple-chase at #10. Meantime, The Addams Family retains a strong hold on moviegoers' imaginations.

Three Days of Grosses

1) Terminator: Dark Fate -- 4,086 -- $29M -- $29M (1st weekend)

2) Joker -- 3,519 (-417) -- $13.9M (-28%) -- $299.6M

3) Maleficent 2 -- 3,820 (+30) -- $12.1M (-37%) -- $84.3M

4) Harriet -- 2,059 -- $12M -- $12M (1st weekend

5) Addams Family -- 3,607 (-600) -- $8.5M (-29%) $85.3M

6) Zombieland 2 -- 3,337 (-131) -- $7.35M (-38%) -- $59.3M

7) Countdown -- 2,675 -- $5.9M (-34%) -- $17.8M

8) Black And Blue -- 2,062 -- $4M (-52%) -- $15.4M

9) Motherless Brooklyn -- 1,342 -- $3.65M -- $3.65M (1st weekend)

10) Arctic Dogs -- 2,844 -- $3.1M -- $3.1M (1st weekend)

As the calendar year winds to a close, there will be a spate of long-form cartoons hitting the marketplace. Here's how animation's worldwide box office has performed to date:

Global Grosses

#2: Lion King 2019 -- $1,653,390,649

#5: Toy Story 4 -- $1,071,425,549

#11: How To Train Your Dragon: Hidden World -- $519,896,648

#14: Secret Life of Pets 2 -- $429,434,163

#31: The Lego Movie 2 -- $191,306,508

#34: Abominable -- $159,650,855

#39: The Angry Birds Move 2 -- $142,548,210

#42: The Addams Family -- $129,295,007

#49 Wonder Park -- $119,559,110

Friday, November 1, 2019

Brit Cartoons

The Guardian speculates that British feature animation might soon revive from its coma...

... Could British animation be on the verge of a new golden age? Warner Bros appears to think so: it has announced a multi-picture deal with Locksmith Animation, co-founded by Elisabeth Murdoch with Arthur Christmas director Sarah Smith and Shaun the Sheep Movie producer Julie Lockhart.

Locksmith is a sought-after outfit: its first film, Ron’s Gone Wrong, is in production under a previous deal with 20th Century Fox; however, the takeover of the latter by Disney appears to have prompted the switch to Warner Bros.

The reality is, though, that British feature-length animated releases are rarities. Bristol-based Aardman Animations has long been the dominant – indeed, only – creative force. Its most recent offering, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, was released two weeks ago. Otherwise, the landscape looks pretty bleak. The British Council’s animation catalogue for 2018 has 32 pages dedicated to short films, born in part out of the success of outlets such as Channel 4’s Random Acts series. Animated features run to a meagre two and a half pages. ...

With the arrival of an ambitious new studio in Locksmith, as well as new possibilities offered by streaming outlets and continued affirmation of the “British” style, we may be in for big things – if all goes to plan. ...

British animation suffers from the same malaise that British live-action has long-suffered: the United States became dominant in film production during and after two world wars, and has never surrendered its position.

Part of this was (is) cultural and part of it was (and remains) economic: the U.S. successfully exported much of its culture through mu h of the twentieth century: Elvis and rock and roll; Disney fairy tales and animation; Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Mickey-Donald-Goofy. American studios became successful, attracted talent, then grew more successful. And today American entertainment conglomerates dominate world box office with the product they create.

Which isn't to say current America dominance will last forever. Nothing does. Elvis was supplanted by the Beatles and Rolling Stones, after all.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Animated Projects Keep Piling Up

The old, classic Jellystone ... (not to be confused with the new iteration).

What with cable ... and multiplexes and mushrooming streaming services, there are newer animated shows as far as the eye can see. There's DreamWorks and Disney and Universal, of course, but oh, so much more:

Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and other classic Looney Tunes characters are getting a new life on HBO Max.

The WarnerMedia streaming platform also will gather a host of Hanna-Barbera characters for a new series called Jellystone, along with a pair of shows from Cartoon Network Studios, as part of its kids and family lineup. They will live alongside classic Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and Hanna-Barbera cartoons on HBO Max.

A live-action/animated hybrid series from Robert Zemeckis is also in the works. ...

As previously stated, new animated product delivered over the worldwide web has been a boon to animation employment in Los Angeles and elsewhere. But it's been a double-edged meat axe: more people are working, but many salaries are below union minimums because "New Media" is the section of the contract under animation employees work. And "New Media" allows employers -- which are, let us face facts squarely -- mainly large billion-dollar entertainment conglomerates.

Contract terms have slowly improved since the Writers Guild of America went on strike a dozen years ago to get "New Media" product classified as "covered work" (meaning work within union jurisdiction.) Every show biz union, including the WGA, DGA, SAG-AFTRA and the IATSE, have endured lesser terms and conditions since New Media became part of their contracts. As a new cycle of contract negotiations begins, every guild and union will be pushing to close the gaps between features and series episodes delivered on-line, and those delivered by other means.

The days of New Media being "new" or "experimental" are long over.

Monday, October 28, 2019


Disney veteran Jack Kinney at the first Golden Awards banquet in 1984.

The Animation Guild's new "Golden Awards" ceremony takes place on November 2, as Cartoon Brew relates:

... The awards will honor 28 artists who have worked in the industry since at least 1969, the same year that Nixon became president, man walked on the moon, and The Beatles performed publicly for the last time.

The Golden Awards, which have been held intermittently since 1984, celebrate industry artists, writers and technicians who have dedicated more than 50 years to the craft. This year’s group has a combined 1,400-plus years of animation experience, and has worked on everything from The Yellow Submarine to Samurai Jack, Sleeping Beauty to The Emperor’s New Groove, and Family Guy to Spongebob Squarepants. ...

The Golden Awards had their maiden voyage in 1984 in Toluca Lake California, when old-timers from the 1930s (Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Chuck Jones among them) received statuettes for their years of service in the animation industry.

This year, artists like Robert Alvarez (Yellow Submarine, Samurai Jack, The Powerpuff Girls, Adventure Time, Animaniacs, and kajillions of other projects; also six Primetime Emmy Awards) and Floyd Norman (Sleeping Beauty, Jungle Book, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Toy Story 2, numerous others) will be picking up their trophies for decades of work in the field of cartoons.

But it isn't simply top-line talent that gets honored with Golden Awards, it's the animation checkers and cell painters and assistant animators, people who spend decades putting animated entertainment on television and theater screens, yet receive little recognition for their work. These folks are also honored because the Guild recognizes it takes more than just a director, story artist or writer to put entertainment onto screens around the globe.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Joker In the Deck

One hell of an app ...

Maleficent 2 slides by half in its second week of release as the DC Super-Villain retakes the lead. (Meanwhile, Addams Family has the smallest percentage decline of any talkie in the Top Ten.) ...

Three Days of Grosses

1) Joker -- 3,936 (-154) -- $18.9M (-35%) -- $277.6M

2) Maleficent 2 -- 3,790 -- $18.5M (-50%) -- $65.4M

3) The Addams Family -- 4,207 (+105) -- $11.7M (-28%) -- $72.8M

4) Zombieland 2 -- 3,468 -- $11.6 (-57%) -- $47M

5) Countdown -- 2,675 -- $9M -- $9M (1st weekend)

6) Black And Blue -- 2,062 -- $8.3M -- $8.3M (1st weekend)

7) Gemini Man -- 3,008 (-634) -- $4M (-52%) -- $43.3M

8) Lighthouse -- 586 (+578) -- $3.1M (+626%) -- $3.6M

9) The Current War -- 1,022 -- $2.73M -- $2.73M (1st weeked)

10) Abominable -- 2,196 (-451) -- $2M (-43%) -- $56.8M

DreamWorks Animation's Abominable has performed middlingly in the U.S. and Canada. But its international take weighs in at $87.8 million, $30 million north of what it's taken in across the fruited plain. The current global accumulation: $144,619,495.

As for The Addams Family, it's worldwide gross now sits at $84,000,705, but 87% of that comes from North America, as it is only now rolling out around the globe.

(Oh yes. "The Joker" now owns a grand total of 849.1 million globally, outstanding for an R-rated flick.)

Friday, October 25, 2019

Tom & Jerry in CG Land

Warners has moved the release of its forthcoming Tom and Jerry feature...

Tom and Jerry will liven up the festive season next year as Warner Bros moved the upcoming film to a Dec. 23, 2020 release Friday.

The live-action hybrid film of the beloved cat and mouse, directed by Tim Story, was initially slated for release in April 2021. Warner Bros will instead fill that slot with a yet-to-be titled event film.

The WB/AT&T entertainment conglomerate saw the writing glowing on the wall: better to launch a family flick at the holiday season when the kids are out of school for a considerable stretch than to go for the smaller Easter window.

Question: Will Warner Bros. insist the picture is live-action front to back, followin in the footsteps of the Disney fiction that Lion King 2019 is a "live-action" movie, because (illusory) prestige? Or will they just stare the obvious in the face and continue to call it a hybrid feature?

My guess is the latter.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Boglehead Investing

Years ago, I stumbled on an internet investing forum entitled "Bogleheads", named after Vanguard founder Jack Bogle . On it, physicians, government workers, tech specialists, lawyers, active duty military personnel and numerous others threw around their investing experience, and (most importantly) what they had learned.

Every year, Bogleheads hold an investing conference in Philadelphia and share the investing wisdom that they sling about on-line at panel discussions, power-point presentations, and one-on-ones in the hallways. Janette and I have attended a lot of them, but this year was the FIRST over which Jack Bogle didn't preside. He died early in '19, at age 89. Even so, the conference was one of the best that we have attended. Lots of good info, lots of good memories about Mr. Bogle. He died wealthy by most standards, but he didn't die a billionaire. He structured the world's largest mutual fund company so that its investors were (and are) also its owners, not him.

(This, in contrast to the Johnson family which started Fidelity Investments. Fidelity is a perfectly fine mutual fund company. But the Johnsons are billionaires several times over, since THEY are the owners of Fidelity, not the people who invest with them. Makes a difference.)

Jack Bogle had a clear-eyed view of investing. The core of it was: be diversified; keep costs as low as possible. Beyond that? ...

I have realized over the years that many individual investors regard the financial markets as enigmatic, occult, and driven by forces unseen. Mysterious though the markets may seem in the short run, in the long run it is the basic fundamentals of investing that determine the returns on financial assets.

For stocks, returns are driven by earnings and dividends; for bonds and money market instruments, by interest coupons over specified periods. It is the reality of underlying financial forces, not the illusion of superficial emotions -- optimism and pessimism, hope and fear, greed and satisfaction -- that is at the heart of intelligent investing.

-- Bogle on Mutual Funds -- 1993

And this:

My judgment and my long experience have persuaded me that complex investment strategies are, finally, doomed to failure. Investment success, it turns out, lies in simplicity as basic as the virtues of thrift, independence of thought, financial discipline, realistic expectations, and common sense. The one great secret of investment success is that there IS NO SECRET.

-- Jack Bogle -- 1999

As regards simple investing, you can't get much simpler than Jack B.'s advice: "Don't try to find the needle in the haystack, just buy the haystack." (meaning, buy Total Market funds, rather than funds that have parts of the market.)

One of the pillars of Boglehead investing is The Three Fund Portfolio, which consists of ...

Total Stock Market Fund

Total International Stock Fund

Total Bond Fund

If you invest in the above, you cover the entire global stock market and the U.S. bond market. Up to you what ratio of each you want to invest in. But if three funds is too complicated, there's Target Date funds, that manage and rebalance investments automatically from your earning years to your retirement.

Jack Bogle, until the end of his life, had a simple prescription for investment success: 1) Invest early and consistently, 2) Stay Diversified and low cost*, and stay the course.

*There are a number of investment companies (beside Vanguard) that can do this: Schwab, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price. Any number of firms can create low cost, broadly diversifed portfolios.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Re-Mining the Vault

So Disney goes back for another dose of an evil witch and discovers that audiences aren't so eager to revisit the property. Maybe exploiting old animated properties only takes a giant conglomerate so far ....

Three Days of Grosses

1) Maleficent 2 -- 3,790 -- $37.7M -- $37.7M (1st weekend)

2) Joker -- 4,090 (-284) -- $28.3M (-49%) -- $246.3M

3) Zombieland 2 -- 3,468 -- $26.5M -- $26.5M (1st weekend)

4) Addams Family -- 4,102 (+95) -- $14.2M (-53%) -- $55M

5) Gemini Man -- 3,642 -- $7.8M (-62%) -- $35.8M

6) Abominable -- 2,647 (-849) -- $3.37M (-44%) -- $53.8M

7) Downton Abbey -- 2,258 (-761) -- $2.9M (-41%) -- $88.4M

8) Hustlers -- 1,575 (-782) -- $2M (-48%) -- $101.8M

9) Judy -- 1,418 (-209) -- $1.95M (-39%) -- $18.9M

10) It Chapter 2 -- 1,528 (-775) -- $1.4M (-55%) -- $209.5M

Current animated features are doing only middling well. Happily, both The Addams Family and Abominable are lower budget productions, with global totals running at $112,485,070 for DWA's Abominable not yet showing an overseas tally.But if Addams does similar numbers to what it's earning domestically, it should be a profitable feature.

The next animated feature down the pike will be Netflix's hand-drawn Klaus, due out November 9th, and then Frozen 2 on November 22.

Friday, October 18, 2019

New Media??

A better description would be super-rich media.

... Comedy Central’s South Park is exploring the booming streaming marketplace for established shows. Bids for the series, now in its 23rd season, have approached $500 million, sources confirm. ...

I think we could agree that half a billion dollars is not chump change.

And throwing around that kind of money for a cartoon series knocks one more pillar from beneath the idiot idea that "New Media" is experimental, and so must pay bargain-basement rates to the folks who make cartoons* streamed out to an eager public.

* Kindly note: "South Park" works under no Animation Guild contract, and so can pay whatever salaries it wants, with whatever distribution pipeline to which it releases its shows.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Holy Grail?

One of our fine, entertainment journals thinks so ...

Netflix has secured the rights to Jeff Smith’s Bone, the whimsical fantasy epic that’s widely viewed as one of the Holy Grail properties among unadapted comic book classics. Netflix will develop the Bone shelf of international bestsellers as an animated kids series.

The writer, artist, and creator of Bone had an animated reaction to the Netflix acquisition and its ambitions.

“I’ve waited a long time for this,” Smith said. “Netflix is the perfect home for Bone. ... An animated series is exactly the way to do this! The team at Netflix understands Bone and is committed to doing something special — this is good news for kids and cartoon lovers all over the world.” ...

Put yourself in Netflix's place: you're a streaming service that needs content. Lots and lots of content. And Disney isn't available, and other cartoon catalogues are unavailable because various competitors control the rights and they wont be giving you permission to run them anymore.

So what the hell do you do?

You root around for other content. New content. And Warners has held this comic book epic about the Bone cousins and they haven't done squat with it. So you wheel, coax and pry the franchise away from them, and develop it yourself.

Because you need hours and hours of entertainment, family entertainment. And you are willing to pay to get it. My guess? Netflix will find a way to get Bone into brisk development, and get it to viewers. They're in a fight for eager, youthful eyeballs with Disney, Universal and others. And they intend (obviously) to stay in the game.