Nothing brings in as much colour and joy as a top Hollywood animated movie. While it may seem that these movies are targeted for the younger audience, that is hardly the case anymore. Parents walking in the theatre with their kids is still a common sight, but there are more than enough children-less adults too, be it friends, couples, or maybe someone all alone. Animated films have grown and grown in stature, and the experience of watching movies of this genre cannot be replicated in any other manner. These movies more often than not fill the heart with exuberance, so why would anyone opt out of watching one?
While animated movies of the big studios have had a gala time at the box-office in the past decade, things have been strangely different this year. Only one animated movie features in the top 10 earners of the year till now, as far as the American box-office is concerned. Some of the big studios have faltered, while new ones are trying to make their mark. This has been a year when Pixar did not release any feature film, something we have not seen occur since 2005. Strange times indeed! Let’s dig a bit more on what’s been happening in the animation industry this year.
So over the past eight months, we have had seven animation movies with wide releases. Apart from the existing heavyweights in this industry — DreamWorks Animation, Blue Sky Studios and Disney (the missing name is Pixar as the studio postponed its 2014 release by a year due to delays in production) — the year saw releases from relatively unknown entities too. The animation department of Warner Bros., i.e. the restructured Warner Animation Group came out with its first animated film, The Lego Movie. But before that, we had begun the year with The Nut Job which marked the entry of the Canadian studio Toonbox Entertainment. The movie had a modest budget and eventually had a modest theatrical run too, nothing to be really excited about, though the studio is already working on a sequel.
February introduced us to The Lego Movie and it seemed that the animation genre would shoot up this year. This movie marked the introduction of Warner Animation Studio in some style, as the entire idea of a “lego” world with the innumerable references to pop culture had the audience buzzing with excitement. The movie currently stands as the third-biggest movie of the year in North America and overall has collected $468 million worldwide which is about 7.5x its production budget. A sequel is in the works for this one too, and rightly so. But in March, when a known entity had the chance to shine, things fizzled out. DreamWorks Animation’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman was quite the disappointment, and while its global earnings of $273 million may not seem too bad for some movies, in this case it ain’t even 2 times the production budget.
Blue Sky Studios relied on the sequel power this year, releasing Rio 2 in April. Now $496 million worldwide earnings is not bad at all, and a 5x figure over the production budget would mean the studios have made a good return, but I would still deem this movie as a disappointment. First of all, despite the goodwill of the first movie, the sequel earned partly $10 million more and infact had a lower gross earning in North America. Secondly, it wasn’t a great sequel at all, absent of the novelty and the goofiness of the first film. But while Rio 2 cannot be called anything else but a hit, another animated film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return cannot be called anything but a massive flop. Produced by Summertime Entertainment, the movie bombed badly earning only $17 million which is about a fifth of its production budget. The fact that one of the biggest failures of the year is from the animation category itself feels so unreal.
The summer though did get better with How to Train Your Dragon 2 as DreamWorks Animation came back strongly for the year. A beautifully created sequel in this planned trilogy, the movie has earned $605 million worldwide so far and is probably still running in some countries. While the domestic earnings of the movie are lower than that of its predecessor, its overall worldwide earnings are still higher by more than $100 million, and it is quite likely that this film may remain the year’s biggest animated movie (in terms of worldwide earnings). But another sequel, this time from Disney, Planes: Fire & Rescue has fared much weaker than 2013’s surprise hit Planes.
So a mixed bag of results for the industry, though leaning towards disappointment and failure. Only two movies have kept the reputation alive of Hollywood’s animation industry, and they would be The Lego Movie and How To Train Your Dragon 2. These two movies also enjoy a high score — above 90% — on Rottentomatoes; on the other hand, the other animated movies barring Mr. Peabody & Sherman have a score below 50%.
Is there something better in store in the remaining few months of the year? Well, if you are the optimist then you may still dream of another Frozen like blockbuster coming on your doorsteps all unexpected. Though the likelihood of anything grand from the animation industry this year seems less. Big Hero 6 would be the one on which I still am going to pin my hopes. A Disney movie releasing late in the year does have a Frozen like feel. This one is based on Marvel comic characters and the initial promos do promise a fun-filled adventure. Then for the lovers of the Madagascar series, there is the spin-off called Penguins of Madagascar. This would be the third film for DreamWorks Animation in the year and its another high budget bet by the studio. One has worked, one hasn’t, tough to take a call on where the third one will go. Both these movies are slated for a November release. Prior to that, we have The Boxtrolls releasing this month produced by the production company Laika whose past works include Caroline and ParaNorman. In October, Reel FX Creative Studios will release its third film too, The Book of Life, which seems to have romance and adventure mixed in it. On the face of it, both these films are likely to provide nothing more than moderate entertainment and rake in modest box-office earnings. Though I am open to surprises! The animation industry has definitely taken a backward step this year, but with Pixar returning back to the game in 2015, things could very well look different…