Fearless Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman makes his predictions regarding 2001's major animated feature film releases. Will he do better this year than last?
What's funnier than a Presidential election hamstrung by recounts, lawyers and scads of chad piled higher thanthe budget for Dinosaur?Why, it's my own predictions about the cinematic winners for the year 2000! If you check back to my January column of last year "Year In, Year Out," you will find the following fiascoes of clairvoyance:Fantasia/2000 to gross $225 million (Actual gross: $59,103,478), Chicken Run to be a noble but ultimately unprofitable venturewith a take of $28 million (Actual gross: $106,793,915), and Vortex to earn $25 million (What? The picture was canceled!?). I selected two films to break into the hallowed animated top tenof all time as measured by box office gross, and not one film released in the millennium year managed to join that august circle. You heardit here first folks: The Cubs take the Series next year.
There is some solace to be gained: I was at least as good as prognosticators using the science of "audience response tracking" to project the final take of Hollywood films over the past year (and at a much cheaper price, I might add). It might be reasonable to assume thatI would simply pack up my crystal ball for 2001 and spare myself futurehumiliations, but your monthly columnist does not know the meaning of the word "reasonable." As long as I am looking at thefuture year in feature films and not controlling the keys to the President's nuclear "football," none of you need worry; I can only incinerate myself.
Out of the running for this column (since it will not appear until after these films are released) are The Emperor's New Groove and Rugrats in Paris. I will, however, venture to saythat it may not be too surprising if the precocious potty-pals pulla preponderance of the prize. As much as I admired Mark Dindal's direction on Cats Don't Dance (now, there's one film that should demand a re-count), this project has been far too disorganized. Whether this film was once called Kingdom of the Sun or Kingdom in the Sun, it appears that the whole endeavor has spent too much timein the sun. During its stint in Production Hell, this film has had so many conceptual problems that some insiders thought that Atlantis: The Lost Empire might actually beat it to the screen. The entire tone of the picture was reconceived, and the new title sounds like a desperate attempt to slap a hip grin on a panicked face. This might just be Disney's biggest box office bust in years. The Rugrats, on the other hand, have already proven they can bust a move past the $100 million barrier, and the experienced direction of Stig Berqvist and Paul Demeyer will guarantee that nothing goes too badly astray. Look for theaters to fill with the kids who comprise this show's most loyal audience...and the parents who have to schlep them there.
Now for the features of 2001. Note: The nine top-grossing animated feature films for the year 2000 averaged a take of $50,179,964, but only three of those films actually grossed more than the average. Four of that top nine did not even gross half the average. This suggests two important facts: First, it is extremely difficult for animated films to break even, let alone challenge the record books. Second, it may not get any better for the class of 2001 although there should be some exceptions. There will be some definitive losers, but don't weep too hard for them; most animated films don't have "legs" at the box office but their videos and DVDs always seem to sell after the wreckage has settled. I have chosen to look at what should be the top eight (possibly nine) releases for 2001, and will hazard a guess as to how they will hold up in the cinematic marketplace. SinceI no longer trust any given release date (even in a trailer) I will prognosticate in alphabetical order.
Atlantis:The Lost Empire (Disney). Projected release: June, 2001. Arrrgh, me lads! Ye can bet it won't be lost fer long! Disney goesback to the successful formula that made 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea a major hit. This time they've got a first-class sci-fi script,smashmouth CGI -- and not one song by Phil Collins! (The intriguing trailer is highly recommended.) Co-directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale are as venerable as the sunken city itself, and this film has scant competition this summer -- most of the other major releases are spring or Holiday fare. The usual Disney animation crew will be on board with talent to spare, and John Pomeroy has returned to the fold years after the Great Bluth Exodus. For those of you (including old Doc Toon) who have hungered for Disney feature animation to engage insome serious science-fiction, this should be a ripping treat. Keelhaul those faux-Broadway flicks with hero/ines questing to find their true selves! Throw the comedy-relief sidekicks overboard! Take 'er down, Cap'n! Dive! Predicted gross: $107 million.
FinalFantasy: The Spirits Within (Columbia). Projected release: July, 2001. This $75 million science-fiction adventure is based on the mega-popular Final Fantasy video game series, so director Hironobu Sakaguchi needs to provide some backstory for those who have day jobs and thumbsthat are used to grasp pencils and pens. This film reportedly uses CGI rendering so advanced that its characters are of photographic quality. Ming-Na, James Woods and Donald Sutherland are aboard as voice actors. Design is by Yoshitaka Amano (who engineered the video game characters) so the overall look of the film is consistent for fans who live in the Final Fantasy universe. Those fans are truly the ones spreading most of the buzz about this picture; my concern is that the vast majority of moviegoers are unfamiliar with the game and will confuse the film with some kind of softcore flick...if they pay any attention at all. Columbia may be left with a visually striking cult hit for a very small cult. But it's probably worth the price of admission to see the next step in CGI. The trailer has some truly remarkable moments when one can't tell if one is watching a CGI or"real" actor but can it be sustained for the entirepicture? Predicted gross: $30 million.
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (DNA Productions and O Entertainment by way of Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount Pictures). Projected release: One of these days, 2001. Nickelodeon is pushing this redheaded, inventiveboy genius (say what, Mr. Tartakovsky?) as one of the majormarket must-haves for next Holiday season. The character originallyappeared in a 1995 short as Johnny Quasar, and some potential was obviously seen. Look for a marketing blitz as the TV series and movie are planned for near-simultaneous release. The film will be handled by DNA Productions (who recently brought us the precious Olive, the Other Reindeer), with direction by John A. Davis. Animation is CGI. Is this Nick's answer to Dexter? I have a feeling that Jimmy had better build a few battle robots, posthaste. Predicted gross: $14 million.
Monkeybone (FOX). Projected release: April 11, 2001.This stop-motion/live-action picture was originally slated for a November 2000 release under the title Dark Town. Henry Selick is directing, and those of us who enjoyed The NightmareBefore Christmas and Jamesand the Giant Peach know that a pro is at the reins. However,this film might be a difficult sell. We have Brendan Fraser as a cartoonistwho finds himself comatose after a car crash. Deep in the recesses of his mind lies a mad cartoon world known as Dark Town, and there our hero meets his crowning creation, a character called Monkeybone (Paul Rubens). If Monkeybone can't get his creator back in his consciousmind soon, Death (Whoopi Goldberg) takes all. This is a bit too close to Cool World for me, and Selick does not direct like RalphBakshi to begin with. Toss in complicated subplots that include a God of Nightmares, multiple body inhabitations, organ harvesting and other plot points I don't wish to give away, and audiences may find themselves longing for the simple charms of Selick's earlier efforts. Did I mention that it opens on the same day as Pokémon 3? Place your bets. Predicted gross: $16 million.
Monsters, Inc. (Disney/Pixar).Projected release: November, 2001. Monsters in the closet! Monsters under the bed! Monsters at the box office! This project, which started out as The Hidden City, will be the blockbuster of the new year. When the secret dimension of scary monsters is breached by (gasp!) a human child, havoc ensues. The available trailer already suggests that directors Pete Docter and David Silverman know how to build some engaging, funny characters, and the Pixar record has been a solid one as far as entertainment and profits are concerned. Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Jennifer Tilly will be among the voice cast. Just try keeping the kids outof the theaters for this one, especially since they'll be following you as fast as they can run. My only concerns might be possible over-promotion and death-by-tie-ins, but none of that seemed to hurt The Grinch a bit. Predicted gross: $128 million.
Protecting "the city of Frank," Osmosis Jones, voiced by Chris Rock, fights evil viruses vigilante style in Warner Bros. new live-action animated film Osmosis Jones. © 2000 Warner Bros. The popular Cartoon Network TV series, Powerpuff Girls, aims to take over theatres with a new feature-length animated film directed by show creator Craig McCraken. © Cartoon Network. Recess: School's Out sends television's favorite troop of fourth-graders to the theatre for more animated antics! © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Osmosis Jones (Warner Bros.). Projected release: August, 2001. Osmosis Jones is a live-action/animated film that plays like a cross between a detective buddy flick and Fantastic Voyage. Direction is handled by TomSito, a key player in the Disney animation revival, and PietKroon, who labored on The Iron Giant and Quest for Camelot, while making the indy short T.R.A.N.S.I.T. The animator list reads like a recent Who's Who from the Disney and DreamWorks studio, the live-action segments are directed by the frenetic Farrelly brothers, and the voice cast (which includesChris Rock and David Hyde Pierce) is a strong one. By allrights, this should be one of the better pictures and top grossersof the year. However, advance releases mention scenes in which the heroes enter a zit, are inundated by snot and make a trip to "Gonad's Gym." While I'm sure that ample and visually opulent tribute is made to the miracles of the human body, the pandering to adolescent gross-out humor raises my eyebrows.Perhaps such could be expected with the Farrellys on board, but those are not the sequences they directed. Predicted gross (so to speak): $67 million.
PowerpuffGirls: The Movie (Warner Bros. via Cartoon Network Studios). Projected release at this time: Summer 2001. A caveat here: Some sources are listing this release for 2002. Thefilm has a reported budget of $25 million (not counting expenses for Chemical X), and we can expect Cathy Cavadini, Tara Charendoff, E.G.Daily and Tom Kane to reprise their "Cartoon Cartoon" rolesfor the film. The styling and animation for this cartoon may actually be simple enough to meet the projected release date given above, but let's hope that Craig McCracken and company take the time to brushup on their rave/anime/comic book roots and pen a good screenplay. While I can't blame them for jumping on this project while the girls (and their merchandise)are red-hot, let's hope that this film is not merely tossed up onthe screen for the sake of quick cash. With proper care, the Powerpuff movie will pull in Rugrats-level box office. Three cheers forthe red, green and blue! Predicted gross: $90 million.
Recess:School's Out (Disney). Projected release: February, 2001.At least one synopsis states that T.J. Detweiler and his precocious cohorts from the TV series Recess will battle the sinister Dr. Benedict's plan to introduce eternal winter, thus ending summervacations permanently! Chuck Sheetz, who has worked on The Simpsons and King of the Hill before joining Disney, shouldably direct. Recess(the series) is by no means a stinker and has an audience, but look for an earlier release starring cartoon youngsters to sweep this feature under the rug(rats) in terms of box office gross. Some good promotion by Daddy Diz might knock a few more dollars into the turnstile tills, but after this feature, school will truly be out for the Recess gang. Predicted gross: $12 million.
Shrek (DreamWorks/PDI). Projected release: May, 2001. This tale of a chubby green ogre who fights on the side of justice has had achoppy production history. The ogre's original voice, Chris Farley died. Another major character, the princess, was to be voiced by Jeanane Garofalo but she left the project. Director Kelly Asbury literally switched horses and ended up on DreamWork's Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron instead. Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz eventually filled the vacated voice roles, and a co-directing team consisting of Andrew Adamson and Victoria Jenson finally took the reins. Eddie Murphy signed on as the voice of an ill-tempered but loyal donkey, and Shrek soldiered on into its fourth year of production. Animation insiders indicate that DreamWorks recently killed their plans for showing the film in IMAXwidescreen 3D format, due to the additional production costs. The only question that remains is, will this movie be worth all the effort? There are many good reasons why the film should do well, but in watching the trailer, I somehow came away with the impression thatShrek might not fulfill expectations. To begin with, there were far too many in-jokes aimed at Disney, Eddie Murphy's shtick sounded distressingly familiar, and the fairy-tale setting seemed antiquated. Finally, the CGI-generated characters did not look especiallynotable, Shrek in particular. The audiences will ultimately decide, but don't be surprised if this film turns out to be the Dark Crystal of 2001. Predicted gross: $26 million.
Next month, undoubtedly battered and bruised by studio insiders e-mailing me with their opinions about these predictions, I shall return to more typical commentary. Until then, a most happy and healthy NewYear (Predicted gross: 365 days) to my cherished readers.
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.