Heather KenyonA success and a failure? As we begin to walk away from the summer what has been gained and what has been lost in the ongoing struggle to expand the reach and success of animation? There have been several victories, and several defeats. As Martin Goodman points out in his article "Summer's Sleepers and Keepers" this summer has seen the strong introduction of different styles and genres of animation something we have long been hoping would happen....
A success and a failure?
As we begin to walk away from the summer what has been gained and what has been lost in the ongoing struggle to expand the reach and success of animation? There have been several victories, and several defeats.
As Martin Goodman points out in his article "Summer's Sleepers and Keepers" this summer has seen the strong introduction of different styles and genres of animation something we have long been hoping would happen. Despite mixed reviews and audience reaction, Dinosaur took CGI to another level with its maddeningly complex number of composites and digital creations. Chicken Run brought stop-motion to the forefront, as it became the highest grossing stop-motion film of all time. The charming tale of Ginger's quest for freedom worked perfectly with the animation style, and Aardman Animations' craftsmanship surely showed that stop-motion is an attractive and fetching technique when in the hands of masters. Furthermore, there is no doubt that effects are now as integral to most films as film stock and cameras. A Perfect Storm featured two of today's biggest stars, George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, battling the realistic looking digital foe, water. Another huge success for us has to be the excellent adaptation of The X-Men that Brian Singer and 20th Century Fox brought to the screen. As numerous other comic books are lined up to hit the silver screen, we hope they follow X-Men's excellent lead. As Rick DeMott points out in his article, "Super Mutants Everyone Can Relate To: The X-Men," the producers successfully walked the fine line between fan approval and wide audience exclusion a true hurdle. This film's success has already bumped up production on several other effects heavy comic adaptations.
Unfortunately, however, the summer wasn't all wine and roses. Titan A.E. came and went, as did The Road to El Dorado. With Titan A.E.'s passing so did Fox Feature Animation in Phoenix, a facility opened with much hope and fanfare in 1996. Despite Roger Ebert calling Titan, "the Star Wars of animation" with three-and-a-half stars out of four, and a respectable opening at 5th in the competitive summer U.S. box office, the film was quickly dropped from theaters, with little additional promotion or advertising from Fox. As Don Bluth points out in Larry Lauria's "A Conversation With The New Don Bluth," Fox has switched its focus to New York-based CGI studio, Blue Sky, a dynamic leader in the field. While DreamWorks remains committed to animation and its state-of-the-art Burbank animation complex, there is an uneasiness that perhaps they too will decide to utilize outside animation studios (Aardman) and PDI, in which they have made recent heavy investments. With El Dorado's less than promising outing...the industry waits with crossed fingers that the new animation giant one of the last remaining true players in the group that rushed to the animation table in the mid-nineties -- sticks to their promise. The saddest aspect of both Titan A.E. and El Dorado's fate is...they were not bad films. I thoroughly enjoyed the lively, seemingly spontaneous banter of El Dorado's Miguel and Tulio. Altivo (joining Fox's Bartok) is a new favorite when it comes to sidekick characters. Some of his reaction shots were hysterical. We come back to my old rant...in fact it is beginning to sound like a mantra...that not only do we need incredibly talented storytellers creating these animated features with singular, strong creative visions, but we also need studio backing that understands the nuances of animation. I am not blaming the woes of every animation feature on studio executives, but animation is not live-action, and those that truly get a handle on its marketing will be the ones to win if, and only if, they have the great story and film to back it up. We have already seen this with Warner Bros.' missed opportunity in The Iron Giant.
There were also some grey areas this summer as well...Rumors say Dinosaur's box office draw wasn't as big as expected, and Pokemon's popularity appears to be fading fast...this, I am sure some will argue is a good thing! While adults may be puzzled at Pokemon's hold over children one thing is sure: subconsciously it is expanding their horizons about the styles of animation they will accept on the big screen and that can only be good. Fantasia/2000 opened the IMAX arena to animation in a stunning debut that has already seen the signing of DreamWorks' much-anticipated Shrek for similar treatment. That's one I will be in line to see on the first day! While this is a positive, Fantasia/2000's performance on regular theatrical screens was quite lackluster. It seems that the large screen format is indeed carving a unique niche for itself and will become a bigger player in time.
With unemployment in Los Angeles running high, it can at times feel like the sky is falling in, but over all I'd say this summer was more positive than negative. It was the mixed bag of an evolving industry. We still have barriers to overcome. As Amid Amidi points out in his article, "Indie Animated Features: Are They Possible?" distribution remains a huge problem for feature films not being produced by the majors, and we still face people believing that this summer shows an animation saturation of the market. (A favorite pet peeve of mine, I wonder, why they never say this of live-action?) Is the public telling us that there are too many animated features saturating the market? No, we are just learning that because animation is no longer a special event with only one or two releases a year, we must now play with the big live-action boys on their own terms. (Television primetime animation is also learning this tough lesson.) When the studios set up their animation entities they asked for this, and now, to properly compete and succeed, animation films, and their backing studios, are going to have to make sure they have all their ducks in a row from story, through marketing and distribution. We have to inspire the average movie-goer to plunk down their money on a movie going experience that happens to be animated vs., the latest live-action fare and that my friends, is proving to be a heck of a challenge.
Until Next Time, Heather