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.