Before the beginning of my main line animation news blog, I had always wanted to add to the commentary of the American animation industry…
I started Kyle’s Animated World back in February of 2012. I was still 19 at the time, and still learning about the ins, the outs, and the little things about the animation industry. The beginning of 2012 was something of a weird time, because I was actually worried that animation was on the brink of disappearing. Silly me, right?!
One particular message board I hovered around made it sound like animation was on the way out, and fall 2011 was not a very fruitful time for the medium. Aardman’s Arthur Christmas had gone belly-up, as did the sequel to 2006’s surprise hit Happy Feet, Puss in Boots opened soft but later got strong legs. The Adventures of Tintin also quietly showed up, and had low-key strong legs later on. Nothing animated released in 2011 topped $200 million at the domestic box office, while in 2010, we saw five films – How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, and Tangled – clear the benchmark.
Was animation truly a “fad”? Were audiences just all of a sudden getting tired of it? Why did I even ponder this back in 2011? All my fears were quashed when The Lorax opened with $70 million in the states, and went on to cross $200 million domestically. 2012 saw two more $200 million domestic hits: Madagascar 3 and Brave. Several other films did pretty darn well. Animation is still here, and is as alive and crowing as ever.
My outlook on animation was radically different in early 2012. I was hoping we’d hit a revolution, and finally get the medium past where it currently is. I was hoping the American marketplace would just evolve and become this sprawling, diverse center of animated films of different genres. In 2012, we simply saw successful family films. The bolder works like ParaNorman sadly didn’t make much of a mark at the box office.
Now, a year prior to that, I had wanted to finally step into animation blogging and comment on the news… If my writing was immature, naive, and sometimes downright idiotic back in early 2012, it’s even more idiotic in this unpublished blog article that I prepared back in late May of 2011. Kung Fu Panda 2‘s opening weekend…
Kung Fu Panda 2, despite being an excellent sequel and a film that bests its already-great predecessor, didn’t quite dash out of the gates like the first film did. How did I respond? I analyzed, I investigated, and predicted a “fatigue” for animated movie sequels!
Let’s go down the rabbit hole and see how five years makes a difference!
Animated Sequels Fatigue. Is It Coming?
May 29th, 2011
DreamWorks Animation’s newly-released Kung Fu Panda 2 has taken in an estimated $48 million over the three-day weekend at the domestic box office (it is currently sitting at an estimated $53 million due to its Thursday opening), a surprising disappointment for a high profile animated film at the box office, especially a late spring / early summer release.
Why? Kung Fu Panda 2 certainly had a lot going for it. Good reviews (any sequel getting positive reviews is a very good sign), built-in family audiences, the original was popular and well-liked, and so on. Kung Fu Panda 2‘s $48 million opening pales in comparison to its predecessor’s $60 million opening back in the summer of 2008, and that was without 3D. How could it underperform like this?
It could’ve been the fact that it had some rather lazy marketing, which didn’t really do much to sell the picture rather than just announcing that all the characters are back. Paramount (who distributes DreamWorks Animation’s films) did the same thing with Iron Man 2 last May, which was an underperformer but still a blockbuster nonetheless. Maybe it was the fact that people didn’t want yet another DreamWorks sequel.
That theory may sound ridiculous, but consider what Shrek Forever After made last May. Even with 3D and IMAX 3D, its opening weekend could not hit $100 million like the previous two films did and its final total was below the original Shrek‘s domestic take back in 2001 (without any 3D boost), making it the least-attended of the Shrek films. The film did get mixed reviews, but it still scored a 3x multiplier.
Aside from Pixar’s Toy Story 3, the bigget success stories for 2010’s animation slate were the non-sequel films How To Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks), Despicable Me (Illumination) and Tangled (Disney). Those films scored multipliers of over 4x, something which Toy Story 3 didn’t achieve. This was probably because of the decline of 3D, and how audiences apparently caught up to the fact that 3D was a waste of money and theater screens. Meanwhile, the other films (which were also in 3D) did well. Maybe because they weren’t sequels and they were fresh (Toy Story 3 still was 2010’s best animated feature film by a long shot), and some of the films (like Despicable Me) did better in 2D screenings than in 3D.
Or it could be possible that DreamWorks is scaling down, considering how well How to Train Your Dragon did compared to Shrek Forever After and Megamind. Dragon seemed to be more in line with a good Disney film, as it wasn’t as cynical as some of DreamWorks’ other films. The animation was a step up from their previous films, along a stronger story and more drama. While it wasn’t as magnificent as the critics made it out to be, Dragon scored a massive 5x multiplier. It climbed from its weak $43 million opening weekend (by DreamWorks’ standards) to an impressive $217 million domestically.
Compare that to Shrek Forever After, which might’ve made more than Dragon, but it couldn’t make much more than that even with its much bigger opening weekend. Megamind also had a bigger opening weekend, but smaller legs which carried it to under $150 million. That says quite a lot. Perhaps audiences now realize that DreamWorks has been repeating themselves ever since the monolithic box office success of Shrek 2 way back in 2004. If one notices, all of the films after that were loaded with all-star celebrity casts, pop culture jokes and cheap lowbrow humor. Dragon somewhat stayed away from that formula, and it was a rewarding success.
Kung Fu Panda 2 will undoubtedly do good business in the next couple of weeks before Cars 2 swallows its audience, but with a 3.5x multiplier, it is possible that the film will not even hit the $200 million mark. It seems impossible for a DreamWorks sequel of this caliber to miss that mark, but it is possible. Maybe this will teach DreamWorks to stick to making more original films and market them correctly. (Dragon, Shrek and Megamind had strange marketing)
It was just shocking to see what was destined to be another DreamWorks blockbuster underperform like this. Kung Fu Panda 2 actually seemed like a potential candidate for grossing $300 million at the domestic box office, but it looks like the worldwide grosses will save its bacon. A whole ago, Katzenberg had announced that four more films were planned after this sequel, but that may not go over if this film doesn’t do as well as expected. There was a time when a fifth Shrek was projected for 2013, but the series will presumably be over after the spin-off Puss in Boots. (Opening November 4th)
Couple this with what Shrek Forever After did back in 2010, along with Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa’s underwhelming domestic total. While Pixar’s Toy Story 3 was a huge success (and currently the highest grossing animated film of all time worldwide, deservedly), its multiplier was no Up or Finding Nemo. It was more in line with WALL-E, a Pixar film that wasn’t accessible to the younger audiences. Could it be that audiences want more non-sequel animated films? (Given the multipliers that Dragon, Despicable Me and Tangled got.)
This might be a sign, and it ultimately might affect Disney and Pixar’s Cars 2. With 3D turning family audiences off, Cars 2 might land somewhere between $75 and $85 million on opening weekend. Toy Story 3, being another fine Pixar film, couldn’t even crack the opening weekend record for an animated film despite everything that was going for it. It’s either family audiences getting sick of constant sequels, or getting sick of 3D. Family audiences seemed to be at home with Toy Story 3 more so than Shrek Forever After, given that it was another quality Pixar film and not a cash-in since it came nearly eleven years after its predecessor.
Still, Pixar had yielded bigger multipliers with Cars, Ratatouille and Up. This might be because they weren’t sequels. Cars and Ratatouille were released before the 3D boom. Up was in 3D, and that boosted its numbers, but this was before the glut came after the record-breaking success of James Cameron’s Avatar. Maybe Toy Story 3 would’ve taken in over $450 million domestically if it was released in 2009. Who knows.
It’s uncertain at this point, and who knows, maybe Kung Fu Panda 2 will do better next weekend. One factor that might’ve hurt it was The Hangover Part II, which probably stole Panda‘s teen and adult audiences. Two films opening against each other Memorial Day in the same genre (comedy) probably was another reason why the panda took a hit. It looks as if Panda could recover until Pixar rolls out the anthropomorphic autos on June 24th.
Cars 2 is a wild card for a summer animated tentpole. The first film is often called Pixar’s weakest among the Internet community, but it still got good reviews and did very well at the box office. It also spawned over $8 billion worth of merchandise, so some see this sequel as an unnecessary cash grab along with the upcoming Cars Land at Disneyland in 2012. If 3D is truly making films suffer left and right, Cars 2 might miss $300 million domestically. This would be disappointing since the first film’s total adjusted is nearly $300 million domestically. There have been no advance screenings or early reviews, suggesting that Pixar might not be confident in the film. The only test screening reviews surfaced last autumn, which were mixed. Apparently Pixar reworked the film several times over in the last couple of months.
Maybe they’re going to pass it off as a cash grab to give them a boost for projects like Brave (opening June 22, 2012) and whatever is slated to come after Monsters University. (a prequel to their 2001 classic Monsters, Inc., set to open June 21, 2013) That said, Pixar might just regard Cars 2 as a weak link (if it turns out to be that way) just to keep their business alive. Monsters University might just be the same, but it’s a prequel, so that could be very interesting. Unfortunately, this isn’t the same excitement we used to get when Pixar would reveal what was coming next. Now we’re getting two sequels and one original film for now.
If Cars 2 misses $300 million, this will be another indicator that animated sequels are now burnt out. If an original non-sequel film wins 2011’s animation box office, then sequels are definitely in trouble. Happy Feet 2 (even though it’s a motion-capture film, not a true animated film) isn’t poised to be a hit, there’s hardly any marketing and it just might fail completely. Maybe it will teach the big guns (except Disney, who has only made two theatrical sequels in-house, not counting any of the 1940s package films) to stop making constant cash grab sequels and to just focus on making original films. But worldwide grosses (especially Blue Sky’s Ice Age) convince them to keep doing it.
This year’s non-sequel content hasn’t broken any records yet, Paramount and Nickelodeon’s Rango made a modest $121 million stateside so far, despite the great reviews and the fact that it wasn’t in 3D. Its risky content turned family audiences off, and most kids didn’t get most of it. Blue Sky’s Rio was in 3D, and it has made more in ticket sales, but not much more in attendance. Universal/Illumination’s live-action and CGI hybrid Hop was doing good business up until Easter came and went, now it’s stopped at $107 million for now. That was also not in 3D.
The only original non-sequel animated films coming up are Disney’s Winnie the Pooh and Steven Spielberg’s motion capture film The Adventures of Tintin. The former has already bombed internationally, so it probably won’t do a thing in the states regardless of the film’s quality. The latter will be a huge smash hit internationally and will probably do well stateside due to the popularity of the Tintin character in its home continent.
If one of those outgrosses Kung Fu Panda 2 and Cars 2 (which will most likely not happen), then we might see a change of pace in American feature animation. This most likely won’t happen domestically, unless Tintin dominates worldwide. Kung Fu Panda 2 is poised to be 2011’s international box office champion given the popularity of the first film. Cars 2 will rack up bigger overseas numbers due to the film’s international setting and themes. It’s a strange year for animation, although 2012 looks to be another 2010 with two sequels (DreamWorks’ third Madagascar film and Blue Sky’s Ice Age: Continental Drift) and a slew of original films. (Pixar’s Brave, DreamWorks’ The Croods and The Guardians)
For now, the future of animated sequels seems grim. Perhaps this can be for the better. In the mid 1990s, Disney learned a hard lesson that genericism and repeating themselves get them nowhere, as films like Pocahontas, Hercules and Mulan were really no different from Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King and thus they didn’t do well at the box office while also getting decent reviews. DreamWorks has been repeating themselves since Shrek 2, and it’s finally starting to affect some of their films. (Shrek Forever After and Megamind) Like Eisner-era Disney, they have glutted the marketplace with too many films. Maybe this might backfire in the next couple of years, despite their ambitious upcoming schedule. Pixar also might learn this lesson if Cars 2 and Monsters University don’t go over well.
By July, we might be able to tell.
Just… Wow… A lot of my biases back then were prominent, along with many other things.
Some things haven’t changed. I still have big issues with the latter half of the Disney Renaissance, my quest in evaluating them again begun yesterday with my re-review of Pocahontas. I still feel that a lot of DreamWorks’ pre-Kung Fu Panda work just isn’t all that impressive, but I look at those films differently nowadays.
I have no idea why I felt animated sequels – of all things! – were in some sort of danger. Perhaps I was so surprised by how Kung Fu Panda 2 did on opening weekend, who knows. Again, 2011 wasn’t quite 2010 in terms of the box office, so it seemed like a downer year at first. Looking back on it, the quality of the offerings was mostly good: Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2, Winnie the Pooh, Puss in Boots, Arthur Christmas, and The Adventures of Tintin were all very good or great. We saw more independent traditionally animated features make it into the limelight, even if it was very brief.
2016. Five years later. Kung Fu Panda got a third installment that did well enough stateside and expectedly made some coin worldwide, and Cars 3 is coming next summer. The future is currently littered with animated sequels, with all the big guns getting in on it. In addition to all the sequels released in the past four years, in 2017 we’re getting six sequels, 2018 will give us five, 2019’s currently got four. Sequels are in no danger, in fact there might be too much of them.
Which brings me to the word “glut”. I try not to use the words “glut” and “animation” in the same sentence, because an “animation glut” does not exist. There could be a glut of animated family movies, but that’s another debate for another day. I used it quite a bit here, how ignorant was I? Also calling “motion capture” fake animation? Wow… Yes, it isn’t pure character animation, but it’s still animation in some way or another.
Also, Cars 2 missing $300 million domestically being an indicator of where sequels were going? At the time, I assumed that it would easily make that amount because I figured… It’s a sequel to a Pixar hit that grossed $244 million stateside without the aid of 3D or IMAX 3D prices, in a time when prices in general were a little lower to boot. Toy Story 2 outdid its predecessor, and Toy Story 3 beat that, so I thought Cars 2 would easily cruise past the first one and make some serious coin.
The scribble is also quite the product of its time. On the DreamWorks end of things, The Croods was still set to open in the fall of 2012, and Rise of the Guardians was simply called The Guardians. At the time, we had no idea what was coming after the 2013 release of Pixar’s Monsters University. We wouldn’t learn that until August, when the second-ever D23 Expo was held.
Different times, different attitude, my beliefs in animation and its potential have not changed, my outlook on the way the industry is going has…