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.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Super Heroes!!

So Disney let's people know the raft of super heroes it's putting up on its streaming service in November (which is important I guess if you have a yen for the spandex and cape crowd...)

The official Disney+ Twitter account shared a click 12-second clip of the TV series and films debuting on Nov. 12, with the clip featuring art for X-Men (1992) and Fantastic Four (1994).

The account also started a thread revealing even more content, confirming more animated series like Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. (2013), Avengers Assemble (2013), Ultimate Spider-Man (2012), The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (2010), Wolverine and the X-Men (2009), Iron Man: Armored Adventures (2009), Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes (2006), X-Men: Evolution (2000), The Avengers: United They Stand (1999), Spider-Man: Unlimited (1999), Silver Surfer (1998), The Incredible Hulk (1996), Spider-Man (1994 and 1981 series), Iron Man (1994), Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1982) and Spider-Woman (1979) ...

When you're looking to push Netflix out of the streaming high-seat, it's important to have as many goodies up and ready to go on Day One as possible. (These thing will come from a bunch of supplying studios, yes? Not just Disney-owned Marvel Animation?)

Of course, with everyone and his uncle going with their own streaming service, the viewing public will have to spend $9/month here, $15/month there, and it's going to irritate a lot of them. (When people go from a one-stop shop to, say, a five-stop shop, they won't be pleased.)

So this streaming thing? Maybe a cornucopia, and maybe not. We'll just have to see how it shakes out. But I can't imagine it's a guaranteed slam-dunk. Even if you're Disney, or Warners-A.T.&T., or whomever.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Feature Animation Surge

While the new Ang Lee/Will Smith reboot sputters, The Addams Family surges to second place:

1) Joker -- 4,374 -- $55M (-43%) -- $192.7M

2) The Addams Family -- 4,007 -- $30.3M -- $30.3M (1st weekend)

3) Gemini Man -- 3,642 -- $20.5M -- $20.5M (1st weekend)

4) Abominable -- 3,496 (-752) -- $6.1M (-48%) -- $48M

5) Downton Abbey -- 3,019 (-529) -- $4.9M (-39%) -- $82.7M

6) Hustlers -- 2,357 (-673) -- $3.85M (-40%) -- $98M

7) Judy -- 1,627 (+169) -- $3.26M (-29%) -- $14.9M

8) It Chapter Two -- 2,303 (-860) -- $3.22M (-39%) -- $207.1M

9) Jexi -- 2,332 -- $3.1M -- $3.1M (1st weekend)

10) Ad Astra -- 1,678 (-1,232) -- $1.9M -- $47M

The Addams Family comes in at the top end of earlier projections, skating over mixed reviews and what many critics describe as a bland, by-the-numbers script. Even so, the movie goes back to Addams's original designs and triumphs commercially. (The pic cost a mere $40 million, subsidized by the usual boatload of Free Money from Canadian subsidies.) Addams will make M-G-M and its partners a tidy sum of money.

Next up: Maleficent II flies into the marketplace, with Klaus and Frozen 2 soon to follow.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Bulking Up On Cartoons

Another company has decided, what with animation being a lucrative corner of the entertainment biz, it might be wise to have an animation exec ...

... CBS TV Studios’ animation slate is expanding, with more series in development; the studio has promoted SVP Comedy Development Alec Botnick to SVP Comedy Development and Head of Animation. This is the first time CBS TV Studios has had a dedicated animation executive.

... [Botnick] will be supervising the studio’s current animated series, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Nickelodeon Star Trek and Our Cartoon President, as well as all future development. ...

CBS is doing what so many animation divisions do: make one of the suits with minimal experience in animation the "Head of Animation". It might not be the smartest move, but it's what most large corporations know and are comfortable with. So that what most do.

And sometimes this works out (Jeffrey Katzenberg from DreamWorks), but oftentimes not (Sharon Morrill and David Stainton from Disney. Egads.). Some non-creatives, of course, have been screaming successes. Both Chris Meledandri (Illumination Entertainment) and Margie Cohn of DreamWorks Animation have had years in the business and years to learn from their mistakes. But the question remains: why aren't more artists, writers and other creative types in charge of studios? Is it a lack of imagination? Or is it that old habits die hard?

Probably some of both.


The other animated feature soon to be released (the one that isn't Frozen 2) is an original from the creator of Despicable Me, centering on Old Saint Nick.

The piece is written and directed by Sergio Pablos, and Sergio P. is like 82.4% of everyone who's ever worked in cartoon features: he's got a Disney pedigree. In Mr. Pablos case, he was an animator on The Goofy Movie, Tarzan and other Disney projects that passed through Disney's Paris studio. A couple of years back, he pitched his Santa story to Netflix, and they shelled out some cash and told him to go make it.

And they were cool with Sergio P. doing the film as a hand-drawn feature, which is, frankly, astounding.

The flick comes out on November 8th, and gets released digitally a week later. I assume without knowing that because Netflix isn't overly concerned about running up big numbers at your neighborhood multiplex, the hand-drawn format wasn't an issue. I hope the picture does brisk business, but I won't be surprised if it doesn't. However, the feature looks outstanding.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Nit-Picking "Mulan"

The internet is a lot like TV the width and breadth of TV selections, what with broadcast, cable, streaming, etc.: You want to find biographical info on historical figures or movie stars, it's there. You want to find a rant from any point on the political spectrum, you can discover it. There are flame wars up the yingyang and criticism in abundance.

Which brings us to the YouTube video above, which nit-picks the animated feature Mulan.

Like, there were no rockets in the era the movie depicted, or explosives. And wealthy families had multiple children and favored sons (not just stopping, as in the movie, with a single daughter). Plus the movie isn't really progressive regarding female equality.

And so on and so forth.

All well and good (maybe). But Mulan is a cartoon, designed for children and their parents. Historical accuracy? When has a movie set in some time long past been true to its era? Pirates of the Caribbean? (ha!) The Adventures of Robin Hood?, with broad swords used like rapiers? Or any Western you can name where six shooters seem to have thirty-clip magazines because nobody ever troubles themselves to reload during gun battles.

So it's a little dicey to ding a cartoon for things that its live-action counterparts seldom if ever live up to. On the other hand, the internet and YouTube are hungry beasts, and when you are trying to build a viewer base, you've got to make an issue over something. You can't get more eyeballs without an angle, even if that angle is dubious.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

An Animated Conversation

Randy Myers is one of the movers and shakers of the L.A. animation biz. He's a two time Emmy Award winning Animator, Director and Producer, working on Animated Feature Films, Animated TV Shows and Video Games. Randy has made a fascinating live-action film with other high-powered artists talking about their highs and lows in the roller-coaster cartoon industry. He is now raising money to make more.

Click here to find out more about Mr. Myers' project!

... And Who's Randy Myers?

I'm delighted to tell you.

Randy is a Cal Arts grad who's worked on features and television shows as animator, director, producer, story artist for decades, including The Iron Giant, The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Johnny Bravo and numerous others. He created the round table discussion seen above. Some while ago I discussed his carrer in a wide ranging back-and-forth at the Animation Guild in Los Angeles ...

Monday, October 7, 2019

Staying Employable In Your Job

When I was involved in the cartoon biz (all of two years and ten months ago), one of the ongoing complaints from veteran artists was ...

"I've worked for thirty years straight with hardly any layoffs. But now I'm fifty-five and I get laid off all the time, and my unemployment is usually two or three months long. The last one was four months! What the hell is going on?"

What's going on is age bias and support networks withering away. It's falling behnd the skills curve. Lack of employment is less an issue during boom times (i.e., now), but it's a problem when shows end or the industry slows down. Believe it or not, slowdowns do happen from time to time). But the problem isn't industry specific. It's a national problem:

... A recent study by the Urban Institute and Propublica found that over half of workers over the age of 50 will at some point be jettisoned from their jobs (fired outright) or forced to resign (jumping before they’re pushed). Only 10% will ever again be compensated at the level of the jobs they left. ...

Given what the trends are, and that the older you get the harder it is to stay fully employed, what can you do to remain relevant and fully in the game?

1) Continually upgrade your skills. If you don't know the latest software, if you don't know what technology is coming down the pike, strive to find out ... and learn it. If you're, for instance, a board artist who mostly does "cartoony" shows, develop chops that encompass super heroes as well. The more styles you can handle, the more employable you'll be. (Final thought, slightly off topic: if you work at a computer all day -- and many do -- protect yourself ergonomically. Have a supportive chair, take breaks, rest your eyes, wear protective lenses. Stretch. You can't work, after all, if you're on disability. Note the video above.)

2) Learn to navigate studio politics. If your boss is an ignorant, surly toad, learn how to finesse the obnoxiousness. This doesn't mean accept abuse and harassment, but it does mean you'll need to figure out what work issues you want to do battle over. (If your boss makes a bad artistic choice, you need to figure out how energetically you want to argue about it.) An old-timer told me long ago: "When you're at work, go for the popularity contest. And be nice to the people you meet on your way up. Because you'll meet them again on the way down. And they might offer you a job."

3) Cultivate networks. When artists come into animation in their early to mid-twenties, they often develop long-term professional relationships with men and women in their thirties, artists who are a bit further up the studio ladder, experience-wise. This will work great for decades, but when you hit your mid-fifties it won't. Because your good old reliable network of supporters will now be in their sixties and likely retired, so remember to be helpful and supportive to people coming up behind you, because one day you'll need them.

4) Live below your means. In the go-go nineties (now twenty-plus years behind us) a lot of artists made a lot of money. And a lot of artists spent a lot of money, under the supposition that the good times would last forever. Sadly, the good times didn't, and a lot of animation employees had to endure unemployment, salary reductions, even different careers. The business changed and many retrained. Many found new jobs in animation but some ended up running cash registers at Trader Joe's. Stuff happens.

So it's always good to tuck money away. Have an emergency fund with six to twelve months living expenses. Fund IRAs, 401(k)s, and Roth-IRA accounts. Drive that old car a year longer. Housing in L.A. is pricey, so you either rent until you can buy on a market dip (the last one ran from 2009 to 2012) or search for something affordable in an outlying area that's near mass transit.

The information above might take exertion and focus to put in place, but it's useful to keep in mind when building a career.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Joker's Wild

The Super Villain movie breaks the October record for earning big money, while the DreamWorks cartoon has the smallest drop of any movie in the domestic Top Ten:

Three Days of Domestic Grosses

1) Joker -- 4,374 -- $93.5M -- $93.M (1st weekend)

2) Abominable -- 4,248 (+6) -- $12M (-42%) -- $37.8M

3) Downton Abbey -- 3,548 (+158) -- $8M (-44%) -- $73.6M

4) Hustlers -- 3,030 (-478) -- $6.3M (-45%) -- $91.3M

5) It Chapter Two -- 3,163 (-448) -- $5.4M (-48%) -- 202.2M

6) Ad Astra -- 2,910 (-550) -- $4.55M (-54%) -- $43.7M

7) Judy -- 1,458 (+997) -- $4.4M (+52%) -- $8.9M

8) Rambo: Last Blood -- 2,900 (-718) -- $3.55M (-59%) -- $39.8M

9) War -- -- $1.5M -- $2M (1st weekend)

10) Good Boys -- 1,006 --$900K -- $82M ...

12) Lion King -- 1,034 -- $693K -- $541.3M ...

20) Toy Story 4 -- 243 -- $248K -- $433.3M

Worldwide, Abominable has hit $76.3 million, while the weak-kneed Angry Birds 2 is at $131,177,035, while Toy Story 4 has pulled down $1,068,102,387.

These days, there are super hero flicks and animated features, then there is everybody else. (And of course, there's new animated features out for the holidays... which includes Frozen 2 and Spies in Disguise -- from Blue Sky/Disney, since Disney is now an all-encompassing octpus -- among them.)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Sony Stands Pat

Not, sadly, a powerhouse release.

Sony extends the contract of its DreamWorks Animation alum:

[SPA Prez] Kristine Belson has signed a new deal to remain president of Sony Pictures Animation, and will expand her purview to television.

Belson, who reports to Sony motion picture group chairman Tom Rothman, has been on the Culver City lot since 2015, and is largely credited with reviving the division thanks to hits like the “Hotel Transylvania” franchise and the recent, genre-bending “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

In her expanded role, Belson will tackle series projects for TV and streaming partners.

Sony was founded in 2002 and released its first animated feature, Open Season, in 2006. Sony's first execs were Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandra Rabins, who were also veterans of DreamWorks Animation. Unlike Ms. Belson, their stay at Sony was relatively short. Sony's animation staff was often unhappy because of erratic story development, and the films that came out of the studio had uneven box office performances. Open Season was a moderate success, but Surf's Up failed to do much box office. (It's always better be the first studio on the block to produce an animated feature starring penguins, rather than the last.) And Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, though ultimately successful, went though a multi-year rollercoaster ride as it lurched its way into production.

After Cox's and Rabin's departure, Sony went through a series of executive changes before hiring Kristine Belson. The studio's latest release, Angry Birds Movie 2 has been an underperformer, but the company has another Hotel Transylvania in development, and the HT series -- helmed by Genndy Tartakovsky -- has always been a powerful franchise.

But Sony has always been a smaller player in animation. The studio's parent company is prohibited from owning distribution outlets like every other entertainment conglomerate, which hasn't helped SPA in competing with DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Size and reach, of course, are only part of Sony Picture Animation's handicap with building powerhouse animation franchises. The studio also needs to develop powerhouse content.