Wednesday, January 29, 2020

It Was "Beauty" ....

On this date in 1959, "Sleeping Beauty" is released by Walt Disney Productions, the studio's first animated fairy tale in eons.

The picture went into development in 1953 and took forever to reach completion. Walt was off building an amusement park, so newer animated features in the process of becoming didn't get the priority that happened in earlier times. Supervisors groused that Disney didn't hold story meetings often enough, so progress lagged. (Worth noting: Walt Disney had a pattern: he was fully focused on animated shorts until animated features gained his interest; he spent most of his time on animated features until live-action and an elaborate amusement park came along. And Walt would likely have devoted large amounts of his time on Disney World if he had lived longer.)

Another reason for the length of production? "Sleeping Beauty" was big (70 mm!) and complicated (intricate backgrounds, character designs!) Old timers said that doing a handful of cleanup drawings per week was a good result, what with the complexity of the designs. Joe Hale said: "When Iwo [Takamoto] was showing an assistant how to draw Aurora, he'd draw three inches of pencil line, crumple up the paper and start over." (Joe was perhaps being a teensy bit hyperbolic.)

Sleeping Beauty was the first feature on which Woolie Reitherman served as a sequence director. An action specialist during his decades as a supervising animator, Wolfgang oversaw the battle with the dragon that climaxes the film. Walt was well-pleased, and for the next twenty years, Woolie supervised every animated feature produced by WDP, heading up the animation division for a decade and a half.

The story that SB was a flop isn't exactly true. It had theatrical rentals of $5.3 million, but its $6 million cost was caused the pic to be a contributor to the studio's net loss in '59. (Darby O'Gill and the Little People, released the same year and now considered a classic, failed to make its costs back. The BIG Disney picture in 1959, profit-wise, was the black-and-white comedy The Shaggy Dog, which had started life as TV product.)

Beauty turned out to be the last hurrah for big, hand-inked, animated fairy tales during Walt Disney's lifetime. After Sleeping Beauty, the Disney studio laid off lots of animation staff. The next feature 101 Dalmatians was produced for a fraction of the cost and made almost a million dollars more in rental receipts. Today, with all its re-releases, Sleeping Beauty stands as the second highest-grossing film of its year, second only to "Ben-Hur."

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Last Weekend Of January Grosses

Sadly, the two animated features now in general release have fallen out of the Top Ten ... but not far out of the Top Ten. The strongest new release is low-budget thriller The Gentlemen, which managed a fourth place finish.

Three Days of Grosses

1) Bad Boys For Life -- 3,775 theaters -- $34M (-46%) -- $120.6M

2) 1917 -- 3,937 (+325) -- $15.8M (-28%) -- $103.9M

3) Dolittle -- 4,155 -- $12.5M (-43%) -- $44.6M

4) The Gentlemen -- 2,165 -- $11M -- $11M (1st weekend)

5) Jumanji: Next Level -- 3,121 (-202) -- $7.9M (-19%) -- $283.4M

6) The Turning -- 2,571 -- $7.3M -- $7.3M (1st weekend)

7) Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker -- 2,800 (-258) -- $5.1M (-38%) -- $501.5M

8) Little Women -- 2,528 (+25) -- $4.7M (-26%) -- $93.7M

9) Just Mercy -- 2,408 (-49) -- $4.1M (-30%) -- $27M

10) Knives Out -- 1,667 -- $3.65M (-15%) -- $151.9M

11) Frozen II -- 1,750 (-330) -- $2.55M (-33.1%) -- $470M ...

13) Spies in Disguise -- 1,323 (-438) --$1,790,000 (-33%) -- $62,049,741

Meantime, there is the rest of the world in play. Some worldwide totals for selected animated (and half-animated) flicks:

Global Box Office

Frozen II -- $1,419.3M

Spies In Disguise -- $147.8M

The Addams Family -- $200.2M

Jumanji: Next Level -- $738M

Dolittle -- $91.1M

Spies In Disguise and The Addams Family have (obviously?) not been record setters. Spies, with a budget of $100 million, may or may not end up in the black. The Addams Family, however, is already well into profits. Subsidized by Free Money in Canada, its reported cost is $24 million.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Animation Director To Live-Action Director

Talented people remain talented, even when their careers hit road bumps:

... Seven years after Brave won the Academy Award for animated feature and grossed $539 million at the worldwide box office, Chapman, 57, is set to unveil her follow-up at Sundance, a family fantasy called Come Away, which marks the filmmaker's live-action debut. Chapman's career turn comes as some of the same gender bias issues that cropped up at Pixar are resurfacing in an Oscar race devoid of female directors, and as Lasseter, who left Disney and Pixar in 2017 after admitting that he had committed unspecified behavioral "missteps," is ensconced in a new role at Skydance Animation. ...

Brenda Chapman has been a force in theatrical animation for decades. She broke into the business on the television side in the middle 1980s, when there were few women in the business. She moved to Disney Features soon thereafter, animating and assisting on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, then moving to the Mouse's story department where she contributed to The Little Mermaid, Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000. On the blockbuster hit The Lion King, Ms. Chapman served as story supervisor.

Disney exec Jeffrey Katzenberg departed the House of Mouse in 1994 and soon co-founded DreamWorks, SKG, where he led the animation division. Brenda finished up her contract with Disney and moved to DreamWorks where she became one of the lead artists at the new animation division. She co-directed DWA's first animated feature The Prince of Egypt

In the early oughts, Ms. Chapman was invited by Joe Ranft to come to Pixar, where she worked on Cars and developed the feature Brave. She was named director of the project, but after Ranft's premature death in a car accident, there were differences with creative top-kick John Lasseter and she finally stepped down as Brave's director. Story personnel reported the picture did not change in substantial ways after she exited, and Brenda was on stage as co-recipient of the 2013 Oscar for "Best Animated Feature".

(Mr. Lasseter, of course, was riding a wave of success at the time, being the creative chief at both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Half a decade later, however, he left the Disney Company under a cloud and currently leads the animation division at Skydance Animation.)

Brenda Chapman, says she won't be returning to Pixar ... even absent Mr. Lasseter ... and now has a live-action motion picture on her resume. How well this initial effort performs in the marketplace remains to be seen, but the force of Ms. Chapman's talents have propelled her a long way over the past thirty-five years, and she has a considerable distance yet to go.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Terry Jones, RIP

Terry Jones, co-creator of the comedy troupe that operated under the name Monty Python's Flying Circus, died on January 22, 2020 of primary progressive aphasia, a form of dementia that makes it difficult and finally impossible to communicate. He had been in decline for several years.

Before illness and mortality dragged him down, Mr. Jones had been an Oxford graduate, a scholar of Chaucer, a writer of books, poetry, newspaper columns and (most importantly?), a performer and director of some of the more sublime comedy of the late twentieth century.

There were three Python features and 45 episodes of the Monty Python television series; Mr. Jones participated in all of them, and also co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then directed solo Monty Python and the Life of Brian and Monty Python and the Meaning of Life. His final directorial effort was Absolutely Anything, featuring Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale and all surviving members of the Python troop.

And it would be negligent not to mention that Terry Jones created with novelist Gavin Scott the Canadian animated series Blazing Dragons (seen below); Dragons ran on Toon Disney for two seasons in the mid 90s. (The Mouse cut some of the cartoon's edgier material, but what you gonna do?)

Mr. Jones leaves a wife and three children.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Animated Satire

Various streamers continue to order animated series due to the high cost-benefit ratios ...

... HBO Max has greenlighted The Prince, a satirical animated comedy series from Family Guy producer Gary Janetti, who also voices the title character, and 20th Century Fox TV. ...

Written and executive produced by Janetti, the series will follow a cartooned 6-year-old Prince George, voiced by Janetti, spilling the royal “tea” on his family, followers and the British Monarchy. ...

Animated series of all types, adult satires, kids' adventure shows, straight-ahead comedies, are being produced in abundance and jobs for artists continue to multiply because these shows collect lots of eyeballs that boost streaming companies' bottom lines. Netflix discovered this truth when it partnered with DreamWorks Animation TV. It also found out that young viewers who watch cartoons on its platform stick around to become older viewers who watch Netflix live action.

In this competitive era of Disney-Plus vs. HBO Max vs. Netflix, any edge streaming companies can gain against one another counts for a lot. And streaming companies know that animation is a way to get an advantage. One Rick and Morty or Family Guy counts for a lot. And this is why streaming companies continue to underwrite the production of new animated half-hours.

"Dolittle" Does Little Box Office

So with a long holiday weekend and Oscar nominations to power some of the movies on the Big List (and in WIll Smith's case, a sequel that works) business is perky. But not, sadly, Robert Downey's live-action humans/animated animals entrant ...

MLK Weekend Grosses

1 Bad Boys For Life -- 3,775 theaters -- $73.4M -- $73.4M (1st weekend)

2) Dolittle -- 4,155 -- $29.5M -- $29.5M (1st weekend)

3) 1917 -- 3,612 (+178) -- $26.8M -- $81.4M

4) Jumanji: Next Level -- 3,323 (-581) -- $12.8M -- $273.7M

5) Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker -- 3,058 (-1,221) -- $10.5M -- $494.1M

6) Little Women -- 2,503 (-713) -- $8.2M -- $86.7M

7) Just Mercy -- 2,457 (+82) -- $7.5M -- $21.1M

8) Knives Out -- 1,667 (-393) -- $5.3M -- $147M

9) Frozen 2 -- 2,080 (-575) -- $5.3M -- $466.5M

10) Like A Boss -- 3,081 (+3) -- $4.8M -- $17.9M

Although there is only one full-on animated feature in the domestic Top Ten, Dolittle, Jumanji and Star Wars have lots of animated effects (much of it in the form of big animals). Jumanji and Star Wars are doing well around the globe, but newcomer Dolittle is, apparently, struggling:

WorldWide Box Office

Dolittle -- $56.8M

Frozen 2 -- $1.4B

Jumanji -- $709M

Star Wars -- $1.027B

Spies in Disguise -- $132.6M

Abominable -- $176.9m

For those keep track at home, Will Smith's animated feature Spies in Disguise now resides at #12 on the domestic box office list. (This is a Blue Sky/Disney project.) Meantime, Bad Boys For Life, Will's live-action outing (via Sony) sits at #1.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Apu? Or Not Apu ...

Racial stereotypes come ... racial stereotypes go.

... Hank Azaria said he will no longer provide the voice on “The Simpsons” for the convenience-store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, whose thick accent and penny-squeezing ways have led to criticism that the character was a racist stereotype.

It was not clear what Mr. Azaria’s decision, first reported on Friday by the website Slashfilm, meant for Apu, which Mr. Azaria had voiced since the character was created in 1990. The producers of “The Simpsons” and Fox, its network, would not comment on whether Apu would get a new voice or perhaps be retired from the show. ...

The way these things generally unfold is, an amusing character is created back in the writers' room; the amusing character gets used in an ongoing series. Over time the character gains acceptance in the culture or parts thereof and becomes part of the fabric of a television show.

So it was with Amos & Andy and various black characters on theater and television screens. So it was with native Americans, Chinese Americans, and the depiction of gay men in various motion pictures in the 1930s and 1940s. All those representations of different races and character types, which seemed so knee-slappingly funny in 1938, are discomforting to watch now. Cultures and the acceptable boundaries inside them change over time, and so Apu Nahasapeemapetilon finds himself outside the chalk lines, at least so far as Hank Azaria is concerned.

The lesson to be learned here? Nothing is immutable. Asians wearing thick round eye glasses and buck teeth become cringe-inducing. Women on interstellar craft in the Star Trek universe no longer wear miniskirts as they did in James T. Kirk's time. Just seems wrong. Because, like it or not, acceptable norms change. It's the way of the world.

Monday, January 13, 2020

World War I Box Office

The "single-take" wonder that is 1917 rides at the top of the box office. Two animated features occupy the lower tiers of the list.

Three Days of Grosses

1) 1917 -- 3,434 theaters -- $36.5M (+5809%) -- $39.2M

2) Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker -- 4,279 (-127) -- $15.05M (-56%) $478.1M 4

3) Jumanji: Next Level -- 3,904 (-230) -- $14M (-47%) -- $257.1M

4) Like A Boss -- 3,078 -- $10M -- $10M (1st weekend)

5) Just Mercy -- 2,375 (+2,371) -- $10M (+12952%) -- $10.4M

6) Little Women -- 3,216 (-92) -- $7.65M (-44%) -- $74M

7) Underwater -- 2,791 -- $7M -- $7M (1st weekend)

8) Frozen 2 -- 2,655 (-520) -- $5.76M (-51%) -- $459.3M

9) Knives Out -- 2,060 (-82) -- $5.73M (-36%) -- $139.6M

10) Spies In Disguise -- 2,671 (-831) -- $5.1M (-51%) -- $54.6M

Jumanji: Next Level is another Dwayne Johnson hit, but the sequel hasn't (yet) reached the level of the original release from two years ago. Jumanji #1 finished its global run at $962,077,546. To date, the second installment has made $671,130,112. (It still has a ways to run.)

Frozen I grossed $1,280,802,282 worldwide during its 2013 run. The sequel, now in release, has so far made $1,372,782,031 around the globe.

Disney/Fox's Spies in Disguise, now at the bottom of the domestic box office list, has a world gross of $115,809,021. The pic comes out of Blue Sky Animation on the east coast.

The Envelope, Please

Oscar nominees for "Best Animated Feature" were announced early this morning (as per usual):



Dean DeBlois, Bradford Lewis and Bonnie Arnold


Jérémy Clapin and Marc du Pontavice


Sergio Pablos, Jinko Gotoh and Marisa Román


Chris Butler, Arianne Sutner and Travis Knight


Josh Cooley, Mark Nielsen and Jonas Rivera

And if my crystal ball is working right, I would say the race will come down to one of the nominees from a Monster Entertainment Conglomerate ... which narrows the contest down a wee bit, don't you think?



Daria Kashcheeva


Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver


Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson


Bruno Collet and Jean-François Le Corre


Siqi Song

And I haven't the vaguest clue who will walk away with this statuette ...

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Rich and Talented Get Richer

The artist who started as a storyboarder at Hanna-Barbera/Cartoon Network working on Johnny Bravo, has made a new and lucrative agreement with an entertainment conglomerate:

... [Seth MacFarlane] has signed a rich, nine-figure overall deal with NBCUniversal Content Studios. Sources say MacFarlane and his Fuzzy Door Productions banner will create and develop new TV projects for across the media giant's portfolio, working with cable- and streaming-focused Universal Content Productions as well as broadcast-leaning Universal Television ... The deal, per sources, is for five years and a total of $200 million. Sources say the deal includes a signing bonus as well as overhead for his Fuzzy Door company. This is the first sizable talent deal since NBCU's studios were aligned under Hammer. ...

Currently, the creation of streamed content has made some people like Mr. MacFarlane even more wealth than they already are. It's also created a lot of new animation jobs, some of them paying well and others less well because union minimums for content delivered over the internet are less than for theatrical, cable or broadcast product.

When Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) began to creep its way into the national consciousness a dozen years ago, there was a fight between entertainment unions and guilds and the major companies whether work so delivered would be covered under labor contracts or not. The Writers Guild of America went on strike over the issue. The Directors Guild of America made it a core issue of contract negotiations. And ultimately, the work came under labor's jurisdiction

But dthe multi-national corporations that control large chunks of the entertainment business carved out there pound of flesh. They argued that content streamed over the internet was "experimental", also new. And therefore very fragile. So they insisted on lower minimum rates. In fact, they demanded (and got) NO minimums.

But now, twelve years have passed, and streaming is neither new or fragile. It's now a major moneymaker, and every big corporate entity from Warners, to Disney, to NBC-Universal is launching its own streaming service. Jobs are relatively plentiful turning out new shows, but high wages for artists working down in the studio trenches? Those are too often scanty, because wage minimums for entertainment distributed via the worldwide web are still ower than older delivery systems. You want to make the BIG money, you need to be somebody like Seth MacFarlane.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Because ... Not Nuts

Some organizations won't submit to the crazy.

... Disney labels The Lion King as live-action, [but] the Hollywood Foreign Press Association disagreed, nominating the film for best-animated feature at the 2020 Golden Globes. ...

A large entertainment conglomerate insists that the blue sky is actually red. And various news outlets respond, "Yes! And a bright, fire-engine red it IS!"

So it's good that some people aren't submitting to the crazy simply because a director named Favreau desires that the sky has to be red. (And the House of Mouse is eager to humor him.)

Wednesday, January 8, 2020


Above is an example of two-color (red and green -- without actual blue) Technicolor in its final iteration ("Process Three"). It encompasses most, but not all, of the color spectrum on a single strip of film. An earlier version ("Process Two") had the same colors on two strips of film cemented together. Hence, "two-strip Technicolor" (Duh).

This week in 1930, Warner Bros.'s fourth "all talking, all singing, all Technicolor" musical production Sally goes into wide release.

Sally was the film version of the Florenz Ziegfield Broadway hit starring Marilyn Miller (the woman directly above); she was one of the premiere musical comedy stars in the era of the flapper, and the toast of Broadway. Warners paid her $100,000 to make the picture, and the investment paid off. Sally earned $2.2 million against a budget of $650,000, becoming another WB hit.

Miller, despite Sally's success, made only two other full-length films. Born in 1898, she died after nasal surgery at the age of 37. (She also struggled with alcohol.) Her co-star in this flick was comedian Joe E. Brown, whose career was red hot after a string of successful Warners' musicals. (Sally was the second of five color films Mr. Brown made in 1929 and 1930. By 1932, Brown's name regularly appeared above the title of his films. He's best-remembered today as millionaire Osgood Fielding III in Some Like It Hot.)

What's endlessly frustrating is almost all the two-color features the brothers Warner (and others) made between 1928 and 1932 have disintegrated to powder or been thrown away. Many of these films were hits when released, but few people know they ever existed. Two-color Technicolor, which by 1930 had been around for eight years, was near the end of its commercial life. Full spectrum Technicolor would burst onto the scene in 1932 with Disney's Flowers and Trees (seen below). The first full color Technicolor feature arrived in 1935. And two-strip Technicolor was mostly O.Ver.

Tons of three-strip Technicolor survive today, but its older cousin two-strip Technicolor has had a hard-scrabble existence. Sally exists only in black-and-white; just a couple of minutes of color scenes remains.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Animation Grievance

Films get made by people who bring their values, histories, and points-of-view to the projects on which they work. So, this is hardly surprising:


It's not just near-absence of people of color in the Pixar film that’s bothersome, it’s the absence of anything approximating life in America as most know it. ...

[I]f you’re [a] five-year-old, African American girl... Toy Story 4 sends the worst sort of message for a child like her: you’re an outsider, kept at a distance from everything fuzzy and fun in American life.

Should have made the fork brown.

The Dark Horse

China's highest grossing animated feature aims to be an Academy Award (r) nominee ...

Ne Zha is based on a centuries-old mythical [Chinese] character with unique powers, which is one of the most recognisable in Chinese mythology. The role has often appeared in literature, in film and on TV...

"It is important to use a household character with a huge fanbase to increase our chances of success - rather than an original character with an original story, just like Disney’s first animation was Snow White,” says [director] Jiaozi. “Film­making is a high-risk business — we have to be practical when it comes to certain creative decisions.” ...

Creative minds in the Chinese film industry are just like creative minds in the European or American film industries. It's great to be original, it's fabulous to be cutting edge. But if you want to maximize success, you go with the familiar, the popular, the tried and true. (Sound familiar?)

And you can't fault the logic. At all. Jiaozi wanted to get his movie made. Jiaozi wanted to get as many eyeballs to watch his movie has possible. Now Jiaozi (and China) want as many Oscar nominations as possible. And because a high-profile and well-loved character was used to boost Ne Zha's success, and the feature ended up doing gangbusters, Jiaozi (and company) have a solid chance of making the nominations for a little gold man happen.

Kind of like using Iron-man to make yourself a blockbuster.