Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Animation Guild Golden Award Interviews #26 -- Frank 'n Ollie

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston: Disney legends, Disney supervising animators, and 2/9ths of Disney's "Nine Old Men".
They had been retired for 8+ years when these interviews were done ...



They were both extraordinarily talented and had the kinds of professional careers that are exceedingly rare in the 21st century: working at one company for close to fifty years.



The only Disney employees who are remotely comparable are Ron Clements and John Musker -- Ron 'n John. But of course, they have spent most of their careers as directors, not animators.

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The Studio Overview

The Hollywood Reporter presents various studios' scorecards for the oncoming avalanche of summer movies:

... A Disney executive was ruminating about what made his bosses different. "They're not looking for a movie that earns $100 million or even $200 million," he said. "They're looking at $1 billion each time."

With a record $4 billion at the global box office so far this year, his bosses might just get their wish. Captain America: Civil War has already raced past the $1 billion mark globally, the first 2016 release to hit that milestone, while Zootopia ($984.2 million) and The Jungle Book ($863.2 million) are smash successes. "Think about it — what other studio is looking to go five for five this summer?" said Bock, speaking somewhat prematurely before the weekend box-office results. "That's all-star-level ability."

Alice Through the Looking Glass' disastrous U.S. debut (the movie grossed $27 million over the three-day weekend for an estimated $34.2 million four-day debut) will spoil that streak, but Pixar's Finding Dory (June 17), Steven Spielberg's The BFG (July 1) and a live-action Pete's Dragon (Aug. 12) likely will be solid hits. ...

You will note that Diz Co. is relying heavily on sequels and remakes for many of its soon-to-be released films, but it still sprinkles in some originals.

Animation, of course, continues to play a BIG part of the Mouse's releases, but it's not just the Walt Disney Company. Universal will be releasing The Secret Life of Pets from Illumination Entertainment and expects big things, and Fox has Blue Sky Studios' cartoon output forever and DreamWorks Animation's slate of movies until 2018.

So the difference between now and a couple of decades ago? Every studio relies heavily on animated features. Animation and super heroes appears to be, in the year 2016, seventy percent of the ballgame.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

The Changing Demographics of the Game Industry

From the Houston Chronicle:

... The male-dominated video game industry is changing as more women develop games, play games and take jobs reviewing games. While the ongoing cyber harassment of female gamers known as "Gamergate" indicates a reluctance by some to accept the growing number of women in the industry, mainstream institutions are welcoming all to the console.

[Philadelphia's Moore College of Art & Design. animation and gaming arts program] will see its first class of game developers graduate next year. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology created its Game Lab in 2012. New York University's Tisch School began offering a video game design degree last year.

"There's going to be a huge boom of women entering the industry in the next 10 years," said Stephen Wood, Moore's gaming arts professor, who took over the fledging program when he joined the faculty in 2014. "In the '80s and '90s, video games were seen as things boys do. But in the '90s and early 2000s, girls said, 'We're going to play, too.' Now those girls are going to college and studying video games. We're helping close that gender gap and being part of the solution."

"Much dialogue has occurred in the past couple of years around the topic, (with) a strong majority recognizing that greater diversity on development teams . creates a stronger foundation for the team to create games that may maximize their global appeal," said Kate Edwards, executive director of the association. ...

The video game industry, non-union though it may be, tracks the employment ratios of the animation business quite closely. As the employment of women in video games has gone from 11% (2009) to 21% (2016), so have women in animation risen to almost exactly the same percentage:

A week ago, we posted the most recent employment percentages of women working in the cartoon business. The figures went like this:

Out of a total of 3190 artists, writers, and technicians employed under a TAG contract, 658 are female, while 2,532 are male. This breaks down to

20.63% -- female employment

79.37% -- male employment

Eight days later, the numbers haven't changed much (except that women are 20.72% of the total now, with two more women employed and a half dozen men laid off.) ...

There's a reason for this, of course. Women make up a greater proportion of student positions at art schools and university animation programs across the country. Inside Cal Arts, women now represent more than half of the animation department's student body. Two decades ago, women were a small minority.

The times, they do change.

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Robert S. Birchard, RIP


Caricature by Ed Wexler; h/t Jerry Beck.

Bob Birchard, a sturdy pillar of the L.A. animation industry and one of the most knowledgeable film historians in the U.S. of A., has departed.

Bob was "the film's buff's film buff", and knew almost everything there was to know about silent films. (He had interviewed an immense number of silent movie actors and directors, so it stood to reason. If you needed to know what film titles had come out of the the "Flying A" movie studio in Santa Barbara circa 1915, he was the go-to guy. I mean, who the hell has even HEARD of the Flying A studio in Santa Barbara?)

Mr. Birchard was also a hugely talented film editor. In the 1990s, he edited close to half the output of Walt Disney Television Animation, including series and direct-to-video features. (He was the editor of Disney's first direct-to-video feature, "The Return of Jafar"). He did all this while writing books and articles on the old movies that he loved, and watching a half dozen films a week. (I get tired just thinking about it).

He exited the confines of the planet at 5:20 this morning at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Burbank. He leaves behind his brother Paul, his nieces Amy, Rosie, Nina, his nephew Ross, and a monumental body of work. He will be sorely missed. ...

On a personal note, I was friends with Bob from the time we were elementary school kids until early today. He was passionate about silent films for as long as I can remember. In high school, a bunch of us sat in my living room watching Bob's Blackhawk Films' 8mm print of "Birth of a Nation". I was still watching Bob's silent movies (in 16 millimeter format, no more 8mm for us!) half a century later.

Rest in peace, Robert. I'll miss you a lot. I already do.

(Some of Bob's prolific output, including his seminal work on Cecil B. DeMille, can be found here.)

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Connecticut Trims Free Money Handouts??

Canadian provinces aren't the only one scaling back the money donations to movie companies.

... In recent years, the state [of Connecticut] has focused more on productions that appear on much smaller screens.

“We still have films that are shooting here, but really the lion’s share of the production activity in the state is split between television and digital media. It’s sort of our niche. That’s sort of where we hunt,” said George Norfleet, director of Connecticut’s Office of Film, Television and Digital Media. ...

Filmmakers are also dismayed by the decision to suspend the state tax credits for feature films for two years, starting July 1, 2015. A group urged state legislators this year to exempt small productions that cost less than $2 million from the suspension.

While the provision didn’t make it into the final budget deal this year, it will likely be resurrected in the next legislative session. ...

State subsidies that governments like to hand out are always susceptible to political pressure. Some politicians says "Why are we doing all these subsidies?!" and voters say Right on!" and put the mouthy politician into office.

And next thing you know, more like-minded pols get catapulted into office and suddenly the tax subsidies are melting away.

But hey! Free money forever! Or until the disgruntled citizenry rises as one to throw the subsidizers out.

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World Box Office

Animation and super heroes (with a sprinkling of fantasy) continue to propel global markets.

WEEKEND FOREIGN BOX OFFICE -- (WORLD TOTALS)

X-Men: Apocalypse -- $55,300,000 -- ($250,800,000

Alice Through The Looking Glass -- $65,000,000 -- ($100,600,000)

The Angry Birds Movie -- $31,800,000 -- ($223,6000,000)

Captain America: Civil War -- $12,500,000 -- $1,107,600,000

Warcraft -- $31,600,000 -- ($31,600,000)

The Jungle Book -- $5,300,000 -- ($877,578,909)

Zootopia -- $4,000,000 -- ($991,474,645) ...

And the trades tell us:

... Alice Through The Looking Glass slid down the rabbithole into 43 material offshore markets for a $65M debut. The result mirrors the opening of last year’s comp, Cinderella, in the same suite of markets and at today’s exchange rates. China was predictably the biggest overseas play with $27.1M, making it the second highest Disney Live Action opening (non-Marvel or Lucasfilm) ever in the Middle Kingdom. ...

Booting up in 20 territories, Warcraft, the adaptation of Blizzard Entertainment’s juggernaut video game franchise scored $31.6M. Fans rushed out to see it, notably in Russia where the weekend cume was an Orc-sized $10M. Alice, by comparison, grossed $4.6M in Russia this session. ...

With $55.3M from 17,259 screens in 79 international markets, Fox’s latest, X-Men: Apocalypse, brings its cume to $185.8M overseas. Korea was a major debut with $12M from 1,258 screens (including previews). ...

[The Angry Birds Movie added] four new markets this frame, landing $31.8M from over 18,500 screens in 87 total. The offshore cume for the Columbia Pictures/Rovio Animation/Sony Pictures Imageworks adaptation of Rovio’s mobile game franchise is now $157.2M. ...

Zootopia has taken its offshore cume to $655.6M. With a foxy global total of $991.8M, another $1B worldwide grosser looks all but assured. ...

Captain America: Civil War continue to duke it out at the international box office, adding $12.5M in the Disney/Marvel’s film’s 5th offshore weekend. Holds were good in Germany (-33M%), France (-45%) and the UK (-55%). The overseas total is now $730.7M for a $1.108B global cume. ...

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Animation Guild Golden Awards Interview #25 -- Claude Coats

Claude Coats was one of the ace background painters on Disney features during Disney's first Golden Age (1937-1942) ... and on through to Lady and the Tramp in 1955, when Mr. Coats moved over to WED Enterprises to work full-tine on attractions for Disneyland park.



Claude Coats spent longer working on various Disney amusement parks than he did painting backgrounds for Disney shorts and animated features. But in the thirties, forties and early fifties, he was a key artist in the background department. About Disney's second feature Pinocchio, he had this to say:

Claude Coats: Gustaf Tenggren did a lot of work on "Pinocchio." He was really kind of a fairy-tale book illustrator, and a very capable guy. He had that nice style. In fact, I think I worked with him just before "Pinocchio" on "Little Hiawatha." He did some drawings on that and I did backgrounds for it. We kind of worked along with him, and we tried to get a kind of pen-and-ink style on that.

["Litte Hiawatha"] was a little bit the forerunner of the style of "Pinocchio." Tenggren's style was really pen-and-ink and wash. But it turned out that pen-and-ink at that time didn't feel quite right. Now we're into it with the Xerox process, but at that time it felt like it didn't have any depth to it. It had that line kind of hanging around everything. Of course, we accept it now.

But Tenggren got into the style of architecture in the buildings [on "Pinocchio"]. He was following right after "Snow White" where it had a little of the carved work, so this was a litte more colorful and a little more like the painted villages and the Bavarian architecture of a fairy-tale land.

I think Gufstaf left before "Pinocchio" was finished. He didn't really get into the backgrounds at all. He was mostly involved in the early style of the picture. In background, we'd take Tenggren's reasonable ideas or concepts for a scene. The layout people had already used them in doing their work, and we'd look for coloring and ideas of decoration. ...

Claude worked at WED-Imagineering until 1989, when he retired after fifty-four years with the company. He passed away in 1992, age 78.

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Box Office Animation Fest

Look at the Top Ten movies, and it's thick with animation, either of the undiluted variety or the kind you find in fantasy and super hero movies.

BIG BOX OFFICE TEN

1). X-Men: Apocalypse (FOX), 4,150 theaters / $26.3M Fri. (includes $8.2M previews) / 3-day cume: $65M-$66.4M /4-day: $80M-$80.6M Wk 1

2). Alice Through the Looking Glass (Disney), 3,763 theaters / $9.8M Fri. (includes $1.5M previews) / 3-day cume: $29M-32.5M /4-day: $38M-$42M/Wk 1

3). The Angry Birds Movie (SONY/ROVIO), 3,932 theaters (0)/ $5M Fri. (-53%) / 3-day cume: $20.1M (-47%)/4-day: $26.4M /Total cume: $74M/ Wk 2

4). Captain America: Civil War (Disney), 3,395 theaters (-831) / $4.1M Fri. (-53%)/ 3-day cume: $16.5M (-50%) /4-day: $21.4M/ Total cume: $378.9M/ Wk 4

5). Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (UNI), 3,416 theaters (+32)/ $2.8M Fri. (-68%)/ 3-day cume: $9.4M (-57%)/4-day:$11.7M/Total cume: $40.9M/ Wk 2

6). The Jungle Book (DIS), 2,523 theaters (-937) / $1.8M Fri. (-34%) / 3-day cume: $7.6M (-31%)/4-day: $10.2M/ Total cume: $341.7M / Wk 7

7). The Nice Guys (WB), 2,865 theaters (0)/ $1.8M Fri. (-55%) / 3-day cume: $6.8M (-40%)/4-day: $8.6M/Total: $24M/ Wk 2

8). Money Monster (SONY), 2,315 theaters (-789) / $1.1M Fri. (-44%) / 3-day cume: $4.3M (-38%)/4-day: $5.5M/Total cume: $35.1M/Wk 3

9.) Love & Friendship (AMZ/RSA), 493 theaters (+446) / $669K Fri. (+338%) / 3-day cume: $2.7M (+386%)/4-day: $3.5M /Total cume: $4.5M/Wk 3

10.) Zootopia (DIS), 572 theaters (-805) / $188K Fri. (-51%) / 3-day cume: $866K (-49%) / 4-day: $1.2M/Total cume: $336.2M / Wk 13 ...


The are two animated features on The List (three if you count The Jungle Book, and I do). Zootopia, now in its fourth month of release, clings to the tenth rung of the ladder, and has a worldwide cume of $984,434,645, nudging up against a billion dollar gross.

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On Furry Animal Movies

This, from earlier in the week, seems an obvious move:

Alcon Entertainment has secured exclusive rights to produce animated theatrical motion pictures based on the comic strip “Garfield.”

Alcon co-founders and co-chief executive officers Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove made the announcement Monday. The company acquired the rights from Jim Davis, creator of the Garfield comic series and brand who will also serve as an executive producer.

Alcon said its goal is to build a franchise of fully CG-animated Garfield feature films. Alcon has a long-standing output deal through Warner Bros. ...

John Cohen, producer of “Despicable Me” and the recently released “The Angry Birds Movie,” and Steven P. Wegner brought the project to Alcon. Cohen and Wegner will produce along with Alcon principals Kosove and Johnson. Bridget McMeel from Amuse will executive produce with Davis. ...

We can only imagine the wind up and pitch in somebody's big studio office:

Pitchman: This is a can't miss franchise. It's a fuzzy animal movie ... one part Zootopia, one part The Jungle Book ... and it's got the cat that everybody knows and already loves! Garfield! He's already been in hit t.v. shows. Movies. And the comic strip is still huge!

Alcon Exec: The Peanuts strip was huge. But the Peanuts movie? Could have done better.

Pitchman: This is different. Little kids are hit and miss. But animals! Animals always hit box office home runs. Just look at the Disney movie with the fox and rabbit, Zoowhatsit

AE: Topia

Pitchman: Yeah, that. ...

SO to summarize: Garfield is a well-known, pre-sold property. Garfield is about cartoon animals. Animation is (sort of) bullet-proof right now. And executive awareness is high regarding the commercial possibilities of cartoons with animals in the year 2016.

Why wouldn't a studio pick up a franchise like this? Makes complete sense.


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Friday, May 27, 2016

In and Out of the Studios


It's been a hectic week.

The Simpsons shifted production from Film Roman to Fox Animation in January, but they remained at Media Center north on Hollywood Way (pictured above) until last Friday. As of this week, the Yellow Family resides at the Pinnacle in Burbank. (The show has not relocated to FA's Wilshire offices, where American Dad and Family Guy are created.

The crew has begun to settle in and production was rolling along when I walked through this morning. Packing boxes are still in evidence, but most everybody is in their working spaces, bent over their Cintiqs and going strong. ...

Warner Bros. Animation also has a production unit at the Pinnacle, something I didn't know until a few days ago.

A little history: in the 1980s, Warner Bros. Animation lived in a medical building on Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake. To say they were small would be an understatement. They were damn near microscopic, existing in a couple of rooms on a quiet second floor, doing a bit or repackaging of old cartoons and the occasional commercial.

At the dawn of the '90s, Warner Bros. Animation was located in Sherman Oaks at the Galleria, ramping up to do Tiny Toon Adventures with Steven Spielberg. The division steadily expanded production over the next half-dozen years, then hit turbulence and downsized, retrenching on the Warner Ranch in Burbank.

Warner Bros. Animation occupies four different buildings on the lot ... and more if you count trailers as separate buildings.

Today, Warner Bros. Animation has a robust production slate and newer units away from the Ranch at the Burbank Studios (formerly NBC) and the Pinnacle. WBA finds itself riding the same profitable tailwinds that propel Disney, DreamWorks and Fox. For almost all of our fine, entertainment conglomerates, cartoons have become steady and reliable profit makers.

And the profits don't seem as if they'll be ending anytime soon.

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Different Spidey Direction

From web rumor mongers:

According to ... sources, Miles Morales the teenage Half Black Half Puerto Rican Spider-Man will be the focus of Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 2018 animated Spider-Man film due from Sony on December 21, 2018.

The biggest clue ... was revealed last year at Cinemacon when Tom Rothman, chairman of the Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group, took the stage and made the announcement.

The film will exist independently of the projects in the live-action Spider-Man universe, all of which are continuing.

This makes total sense. Who wants to make the same Peter Parker story over and over again? Toby MacGuire ... Andrew Garfield ... Tom Holland, there's been a lot of Spidermans in the span of a few years, but Sony has got to keep the franchise bubbling if it wants to hang onto the rights, so bubble, bubble.

Mr. Lord and Mr. Miller are not creators who like to rehash the same tired formula over and over, so this should be a movie worth anticipating.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Out of the Games

Disney, as observed earlier, has gotten out of the video games business for the umpteenth time. Here's analysis as to why.

... Video games seem like such an obvious way to channel IP into massive amounts of dollars. It seems it should be easy to succeed with the entire Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars universe at your fingertips. Slap together a game and launch it with the movie, and the money should flow in, right? ...

It is important to understand that video games are not like other forms of media. The skill set required to develop a film or TV show is not the same as those required for the development of a video game. Game design incorporates system architecture, risk/reward structuring, the development of player agency, and an understanding of what constitutes fun gameplay. There is less control over narrative and story. Character development is important, but not typically the main focus as in film. ...

The core issue was Disney's risk aversion and unwillingness to make the full investment required to be successful in the video game industry. A lack of predictability as regards future ROI caused rash decisions via spreadsheets rather than a focus on product design and gameplay. Games were started, and then management would spook and kill the fledgling game before it could fully materialize. Studio priorities were shifted rapidly from AAA games to free-to-play to mobile, with no clear strategic vision. These are all clear indications that the company simply did not understand video game development. ...

In the end, it was clear - just because a company knows movies and TV does not mean it understands video games. A fundamental lack of institutional knowledge killed the Disney video game effort. The half steps and lack of commitment doomed it to failure. ...

This sounds about right.

Several years back, Disney did one of its about-faces with video games. It had started a game studio in Glendale, staffed it and launched a project. But then, midway through development, management's feet got cold. The decision was made to deep-six the work already done and lay most everybody off.

Staffers rebelled. Disney had negotiated long-term contracts with many of them, and now attempted to strong-arm people into accepting partial payouts. A dozen Disney workers called TAG, and we helped them get bigger settlements from Diz Co. A couple of them said in some amazement:

"We told them 'no, your first offer is no good.' And wow, they tripled their buyout offer. We never expected that."

Disney has been in and out of the video game business for years, and the company has always seemed half-hearted about competing head-to-head with EA and Blizzard Entertainment. The medium takes time, effort and major money to create a successful game, and Diz Co. could never find the right visionaries to make a franchise work.

Whether the company makes a fresh assault on games sometime in the future is hard to know. But it probably won't happen while Bob Iger remains in charge. He's been burned once too often.


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Free Money Reductions

We've touched on this before, but here's Variety's take:

... Tax incentives have long contributed to the [province of British Columbia's] popularity, and with the Canadian dollar at new lows, goods and services are even cheaper for the Hollywood types who head north to shoot.

In fact, the economics are so friendly that the B.C. government has decided to take advantage of the situation. It announced this month that, beginning Oct. 1, it will decrease the production services tax credit to 28% — 5% lower than the previous rate — which will save the province a projected $100 million in annual payouts. ...

Acting B.C. film commissioner Robert Wong, who’s also VP of promotional organization CreativeBC, says that the more shooting there is in the province, the more money the government must pay out in incentives. “The way things have been going over the past two years, with so much production activity here, the tax burden was starting to increase.” ...

Governments subsidizing major industries has long been part of the landscape: Railroads in the 19th century; oil and sugar and sports stadiums in the 20th; banks and movie studios in the present time. It's all part of the tapestry we like to call "market capitalism" (or as Gore Vidal described it: "Socialism for the Rich, Free Enterprise for the Poor").

But sometimes handing out enticements to companies of various sizes causes red ink to flow. That's now the case in Vancouver and Toronto, and there is always the possibility that the tax-paying natives will get restless and shut off the spigot completely.

So a little preventative action is in order. As long as the exchange rates stay the way they are, everybody's good.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

At the Nick

I spent part of yesterday at Nick's central headquarters on Olive Avenue in Burbank. The studio has some series near completion (meaning they're not being renewed), but there are quite a few people working. Various artists and leads are getting longer term personal service contracts though the projects they're on have end dates. And though some newer series haven't taken flight, Nick/Viacom has been quick to jump on those that do:

Nickelodeon announced today that it has greenlit a 14-episode second season of its new animated series, The Loud House, rising to the top as the number-one animated kids' show on TV since its May 2 launch. ...

The Loud House is based on an animated short of the same name from Nickelodeon's annual Animated Shorts Program. It is the first series to be greenlit out of the global program which is designed to mine and cultivate a new generation of creative talent. Created and executive produced by Chris Savino (Rocko's Modern Life, The Powerpuff Girls). ...

Even as the owner-operators of Viacom duke it out ... and the stock price drops and rises like a berserk roller coaster, work to expand Nickelodeon goes on. The skyscraper being built next to the studio is close to completion, and the animation division is forging ahead with new projects.

By the end of the year, far-flung Nick units will move to the expanded facilities on Olive and Nickelodeon will enter a new phase of its existence.

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Detailing the DreamWorks Deal's Benefits

... for Universal-Comcast.

... Outlining the sources of cost upside for DWA under NBC-Universal [at the 44th annual J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference], Comcast's CFO Michael Cavanagh said the animation studio's current distribution deal with Fox, which runs through 2017, saying it costs about $75 million a year. "In about two years' time, we'll take that in and immediately add that to the core earnings power of the company," he said.

As "the other big cost driver," Cavanagh cited DWA's $250 million a year in selling, general and administrative expenses. "It really doesn't make sense to have a public company that makes only two movies a year, so we will be able to do quite a good job over a period of time to capture synergies there," he said, but didn't provide further specifics.

In terms of revenue opportunities, DWA adds to Universal a TV animation studio, Cavanagh highlighted. "So we will be able to take, subject to it making sense, our intellectual property, like Jurassic World or other properties, and, as DreamWorks has done, create kids animation for TV, largely distributed over SVOD and drive more value through that," he said.

Explaining how the deal will boost animated output, Cavanagh said Universal and DWA will each continue to make about two animated movies a year, with each releasing one new film and one sequel. He added: "The characteristics of an animated film, profit-wise and risk-wise, volatility[-wise], is much better for animation than Iive-action movies. So we have long wanted to tilt the business more in the direction of animated films at the margin." ....

The DreamWorks employees I talked to last week get all this. One employee made the prediction that various non-animation parts of DWA (publicity, merchandising, administration) would be eliminated or down-sized and folded into Universal, which tracks what Chief Financial Officer Cavanagh says above.

Universal-Comcast is really a lot like the Disney Company, with amusement parks, a movie studio, and multiple animation units (DreamWorks Animation, DreamWorks Animation TV, Illumination Entertainment, etc.) and a thirty need for intellectual properties it can exploit and leverage through the company. Longer tern, that will mean more development, not less.

This is probably why DreamWorks feature employees seemed relaxed about their futures when I talked to them. (And yeah, there are those who wonder what direction the company goes, and what their roles in it will be. The next two to four years should tell.)

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

And Yet One More Into The Pool

Adam Sandler, who's had stellar success with Hotel Transylvania and Hotel Transylvania II is wading deeper into the lake of feature animation.

STX Entertainment Motion Picture Group chairman Adam Fogelson announced today [that Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison Productions are set to make an untitled family animated project] which calls for Sandler to write, produce and star.

Fogelson, who worked with Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment on blockbusters including Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2, Minions, The Lorax and more said in a statement: “As we continue to grow our company, the family arena is of critical importance to STX Entertainment and we are tremendously excited to have Adam Sandler and Happy Madison developing projects with us for the global animation market. ....

Mr. Sandler had a lot of influence and leverage on the Transylvania pictures, writing, producing and supplying vocal talent. Both features made sizable profits.

That wasn't the case with Adam Sandler's first foray into animation, 2002's Eight Crazy Nights. As with Hotel Transylvania, Sandler wrote, produced and starred in the hand-drawn feature. But it came at the end of the cycle for traditional animation, received lackluster reviews, and died a quick death at the box office. (In fairness to Adam Sandler, there weren't a lot of hand-drawn cartoon features that were doing well after the turn of the century.)

So now the relatively new STX Entertainment will join forces with the comedian to jump into feature animation. And we will see how one more player performs in the steadily expanding cartoon marketplace.

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This Seems Familiar

Which is the point, I guess. When in doubt ... mine the vault.



Doing live action remakes of animated properties has been a good business for Diz Co. to be in. It makes total sense commercially. Cinderella. The Jungle Book. Sleeping Beauty. etc.

This iteration of a hand-drawn animated icon will also likely make a fortune. And on it goes.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Executive Rotation

New head of development at soon-to-be Universal-Comcast subsidiary:

Jennifer Howell, who was Paramount’s Head of Comedy for the past two-and-a-half years, has joined DreamWorks Animation as the company’s new Head of Development. She is taking over for Gregg Taylor who began producing duties last August on DreamWorks’ Larrikins, the animated musical film. Like Taylor (who had the gig before her), Howell will report to Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria. ...

Howell comes to DreamWorks Animation with a strong background in animation. She previously ran 20th Century Fox Television’s animation department, and served as EVP at Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s film company Important Studios. She was a supervising producer on South Park and served as a producer for 10 years on that series as well as their Team America, That’s My Bush and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. ...

A quarter century ago, the joke at animation studios was: the twenty-something execs who had production jobs in animation were only using their positions as stepping stones into live-action, where the real glitz, glamour and power resided.

Animation, back then, was still considered the ugly step-child that was really this quirky sideshow to the Main Event. (You know, actual movies and television shows with actual actors and sets and film crews. "Action! Roll 'em!")

But now that's changed somewhat. Animated features continues are now a highly profitable sector in Contentland, and fewer people look down their noses and sneer when the words animation and Cartoons get mentioned.

Funny how realities change. Big bucks will do that, I guess.

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Exclusive Home

The commercial giant known as Netflix has gained exclusive use of one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates.

Netflix has announced that its deal with Disney to be the exclusive pay TV home for all upcoming films from Walt Disney, which would include Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar, will begin in September. This deal takes effect with 2016's releases, meaning it would prevent movies such as Captain America: Civil Wa and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story from appearing on HBO, Starz or even online outlets like Hulu and Amazon Prime, but would not affect previous deals, such as Starz' U.S. rights to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was released in 2015. ...

Netflix is a distribution platform that Hollywood wants. NF has money to burn, and it's willing to pay for exclusivity.

It's made the calculation it can make a nice profit, and the calculation is likely correct.

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bob's

The directors for one of Fox's prime time shows board, direct and time animation out of a small studio on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank. And they've worked their way past the century mark.

... “Bob’s Burgers” now hits the Big 100, with Sunday night’s sixth season-ending installment entitled “Glued, Where’s My Bob?” at 9:30 (in fact, the website epguides.com, usually reliable in such matters, counts Sunday’s offering as actually No. 107, but 100 is likely a better marketing hook for the season finale) .

[The show] is like “The Simpsons'” young nephew that’s moved from an unsteady kindergartner to a confident fifth-grader. It entered syndication last fall and is performing decently. It even won a 2014 Emmy for Outstanding Animated Comedy. And don’t look now, but a burger cookbook authored by Bouchard and the show’s writers actually ranks 9th on the New York Times Bestseller List of Food and Diet Books.

Moreover, “Bob’s Burgers” has shown sufficient heat as a consistent Sunday night performer for Fox to justify renewal for seasons seven and eight. Not too bad for a ‘toon about a guy who runs a burger joint with the help of his sassy wife and three kids that often feels like a time traveler from the 1970s. ...

The crew for BB has been remarkably stable and consistent over the course of its run. Sure, there have been artists that have come and gone, a lot of veterans remain. And as one of them noted:

"When you're with anything for six seasons, you feel like you've won the lottery. Sure, there's "The Simpsons", but a hundred episodes doesn't happen that often, you know?"

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Overwatch

The fourth and final "Overwatch" short from Blizzard Entertainment headquartered down in Irvine, california.



"Overwatch" is a video game that launches on May 24th. Like most video games in the present age, shorts and featurette advertising the game get put up on the internet ... like this one today.

So. What happened to the robot at the opening of the short?

Add On: Inquistr speculate about this franchise's future:

... Overwatch’s animated shorts show the potential for Overwatch to be a mainstream success, bringing more than just video games to the scene. If Overwatch is successful, the animated shorts show the potential for longer animated features, toys, and more starring Overwatch characters.

“With the final cinematic trailer, Blizzard might as well be teasing an entire cinematic universe based around their universally appealing characters. These stories are crafted with immense attention to detail and design that rival some of the best animated films currently released in full. This is only one avenue that is available to Blizzard if they’re looking to expand their Overwatch brand beyond their video game.” ...

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Your Worldwide Box Office

Animation and super heroes seems to have the global film market by the short hairs.

WEEKEND FOREIGN BOX OFFICE -- (WORLD TOTALS

X-Men -- $103,300,000 -- ($103,300,000)

The Angry Birds Movie -- $55,500,000 -- ($151,000,000)

Captain America: Civil War -- $30,700,000 -- (1,053,500,000)

The Jungle Book -- $7,300,000 -- ($857,700,000)

Zootpia -- $4,700,000 -- ($981,700,000) ....

It's good to note that all of the above are totally animated or have large chunks of animation in them. This is the current state of commercial box office. Our fine entertainment conglomerates need lots of animators and technical directors/compositors and surfacers and lighters to get their blockbuster movies made. And the digital trade papers tell us:

... The Angry Birds Movie nested the top spot in 48 markets chirping an overall second weekend of $55.5M. That flies the Rovio movie’s overseas cume to $112M. Together with its $37M-$39M stateside bow, Angry Birds counts a global tally of $149M-$151M. ...

Opening in 64% of the international marketplace, the latest installment in the X-Men franchise blasted off with $103.3M to best the X-Men Apocalypse debut of X-Men: Days Of Future Past in the same suite of 75 markets and at today’s exchange rates. ...

The feature directorial debut of directors of Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly collected $55.5M from a total of 24,000 screens in 83 markets. Angry Birds flew into nine new trees abroad including China, Korea and the Netherlands. In the Middle Kingdom, Angry Birds owned the best opening day so far this year for an animated pic import, and drew a total weekend of $29.2M from 12,000 screens, outstripping the debuts of Zootopia (+24%), Big Hero 6 (+87%) and Inside Out(+265%). ...

The Jungle Book held strong with a $7.4M weekend which swings the international cume to $530.2M and the global total to $857.7M. Currently playing in 47 material markets, it still has Korea and Japan to come. China, where the run is over, leads markets with $150.1M . ...

Picking up $4.7M in its 15th (!) frame, Zootopia’s global gross has reached $981.8M. That takes it past Despicable Me 2 ($970.8M) to become the fourth biggest animated release ever. ...

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Stateside Steeple Chase

It seems there's a new cartoon in town centered around unhappy feathered friends.

THREE DAY TURNSTILE TOTALS -- U.S. BOX OFFICE

1). The Angry Birds Movie (SONY/ROVIO), 3,932 theaters / $10.9M Fri. (includes $800K previews) / 3-day cume: $39.4M / Wk 1

2). Captain America: Civil War (Disney), 4,226 theaters (0) / $8.7M Fri. (-56%)/ 3-day cume: $32M (-55%) / Total cume: $346.5/ Wk 3

3). Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (UNI), 3,384 theaters / $8.8M Fri. (includes $1.67M previews) / 3-day cume: $22.8M / Wk 1

4). The Jungle Book (DIS), 3,460 theaters (-510) / $2.7M Fri. (-33%) / 3-day cume: $11.3M (-34%)/ Total cume: $327.8M / Wk 6

5). The Nice Guys (WB), 2,865 theaters / $3.9M Fri. (includes $700K previews) / 3-day cume: $11M / Wk 1

6). Money Monster (SONY), 3,104 theaters (0) / $2M Fri. (-60%) / 3-day cume: $6.9M (-52%)/Total cume: $26.9M/Wk 2

7). The Darkness (HTR), 1,769 theaters (+14)/ $700K Fri. (-67%) / 3-day cume: $2.1M (-57%)/Total Cume: $8.2M/ Wk 2

8). Zootopia (DIS), 1,377 theaters (-558) / $367K Fri. (-47%) / 3-day cume: $1.7M (-41%) / Total cume: $334.4M / Wk 12

9.)The Huntsman: Winter’s War (UNI), 1,246 theaters (-1,272) / $333K Fri. (-65%) / 3-day cume: $1.2M (-53%)/ Total cume: $46.7M / Wk 5

10.) Mother’s Day (OR), 1,719 theaters (-1,572) / $319K Fri. (-66%) / 3-day cume: $1.1M (-66%)/ Total cume: $31.3M / Wk 4 ...

So there are three animated features in the Top Ten: Angry Birds, The Jungle Book, and Zootpia, which with three months of exhibition under its belt, has apparently taken up permanent residence on the list.

Captain America, now at #2, is thickly encrusted with animated visual effects, so I would say domestic audiences haven't been turned off by all the animation flying around. Zootopia now owns $971,700,528 at the global box office. Shortly it will tick over a billion. (Not bad for a picture about furry animals ... who would have thought?)

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Going Digital in Korea

The Atlantic details changes in some Asian TV cartoon studios:

... Although primetime [cartoon] series appear as American as apple pie, and are conceptualized and written in the U.S., the bulk of their animation is done in South Korea. ...

The process of outsourcing animation began in the 1970s, when the three major American networks—ABC, CBS and NBC—aired Saturday morning cartoons like Scooby-Doo and Fat Albert. These shows were hugely popular, and American production studios struggled to meet the demand for more episodes. “They had no other choice but to outsource production,” says Nelson Shin, the founder of Seoul’s AKOM Production, which has animated The Simpsons for more than 25 years. ...

This is flat-out wrong.

Outsourcing began in the '70s because studios could get production done more cheaply overseas. Period. Full stop. American artists went to Seoul and Tokyo to train artists in the American art form. Bit by bit, production moved offshore.

It was never a question of capacity, but one of money.

Networks and animation studios wanted to spend less on production, and so went where labor was cheaper. It's an old story. To say that studios shipped work away because they couldn't find enough American animators to do it is a bright and simple falsehood.

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Alan Young, RIP

Alan Young, veteran character actor, has passed.

Alan Young — who answered to the name “Willburrrrrrrrrrrrr” on Mister Ed, the wacky 1960s sitcom that revolved around a talking horse — has died. He was 96.

Young — who for six seasons played straight man to a golden palomino, a gelding who was named Bamboo Harvester — died Thursday of natural causes at the Motion Picture & Television Home in Woodland Hills. He was there for more than four years.

Young himself was the voice of a talking bird, playing Scottish miser Scrooge McDuck (the uncle of Donald Duck and great uncle of Huey, Dewey and Louie) on the 1987-1990 syndicated series DuckTales. ...

Alan Young was a sturdy character actor and a top-notch vocal performer. He portrayed Hiram Flaversham in The Great Mouse Detective, and a bit later the long-running voice role of Scrooge McDuck (a character he first limned in the featurette Mickey's Christmas Carol. He did the part with an impeccable Scottish accent, but then he was born in Scotland so why not?

Mr. Young was prepared, professional and good-humored on Detective, and played his part well. His was a long life well lived. Condolences to the Young family.

Add On: Deadline memorializes Alan Young here.



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Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Newer Animation Reality

It's not just content spilled onto a silver screen anymore.

Entertainment veterans from DreamWorks Animation have started their own virtual reality startup with $3 million in funding.

The Santa Monica, California-based Spaces is headed by chief executive Shiraz Akmal and chief technology officer Brad Herman, two veterans who worked on DreamWorks Animation’s early VR experiences through 2015. Comcast Ventures led the funding for the company, which will VR and “mixed reality” experiences. Spaces is already working with such companies as Microsoft, NBCUniversal, Big Blue Bubble and The Hettema Group, among others, to develop and produce a wide range of projects across all VR and mixed reality platforms. ...

Different L.A. animation studios are getting into virtual reality. Many of them aren't sure exactly where it will take them, but the conglomerates (also some smaller studios) think there's serious dollars to be made in the format. TAG has a number of its members now working in it.

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Cal Arts Character Animation

Once upon a time, you wanted to see Cal Arts students' animated work, you trekked out to Valencia during the Spring presentations and watch it. But times have changed.

You look scary from Xiya Lan on Vimeo.


CalArts Character Animation Program’s online channel scored its millionth viewer [a few days ago]. The 2016 channel went live on April 24 and received one million views on Sunday, May 15.

Since 2010, at the end of the academic year, undergraduates in the world-renowned Character Animation Program at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) post their new films to a channel on Vimeo. The first channel was posted in April 2010. Over the last six years, the annually produced channels have garnered 15 million combined views. Totals are quantified by views of each film. ...

Back when Animation Guild staff (me) drove out to Cal Arts to look at new films by new, young talent, the major studios were raiding the department like crazy. Disney Feature was growing its staff hand over fist as it developed Beauty and the Beast, Alladin, and Lion King. Television animation was rocketing along. It wasn't unusual to see second-year students get snatched up and spirited away to the San Fernando Valley, all of twenty-three miles away.

Today things are different. Movies are digital and on-line. The tidy little animation industry that was nested snugly in Burbank has gone global. CG has taken over; board artists and animators work in far-blung parts of the globe, with pictures developed in Southern California but produced in other geographic locations where the Free Money cascades into eager corporate hands.

Time, she marches on. But Cal Arts continues to produce talent that creates new television shows and movies.
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Show Creator SPEAKS

The orignator of Bob's Burgers remembers:

LOREN BOUCHARD: I originally thought the show should be about a family that runs a restaurant who are cannibals. Very early on, [Fox] said, "Well, do you need the cannibalism?" I had really put it in there because I thought they would want it. I'm coming off of working for Adult Swim, and the darker, more shocking aspect seemed like what you needed in order for an animated idea to cut through the noise. ...

TV series and features seldom end up where they first started, although occasionally it happens.

I'm disappointed that the cannibal thing got cut. Maybe they could have added pygmies or old Nazis in the basement for more texture and viewer interest.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Word (Or Two) About New Media

The term "new media" refers to live-action and animated product (like Peabody and Sherman below) produced by studios for delivery over the internet.


This usually refers to "Subscription Video On Demand" (SVOD). The one-offs and series produced for that new age pipeline by signator studios are covered by the Animation Guild Contract under "Sideletter N" ... "Productions Made For New Media." ... .

The Sideletter goes on for multiple pages (pp 99-106 to be exact) and declares that New Media Work is covered work, and that wages, health and pension benefits will be paid to employees performing it.

That's the good news.

The less good news is that the contract's minimum wage rates don't need to be paid if the budgets for New Media productions don't hit certain tiers. And guess what? Currently no productions hit the budgetary tiers that are required for minimums. And so ... the studios are free to engage employees at lower weekly pay rates.

Last year, when we negotiated the guild's new collective bargaining agreement, TAG's negotiating committee knew that every other entertainment guild and union, the DGA, the WGA, the Editors Guild, the Camera Guild (etcetera, etcetera) had negotiated the exact same language.

We also knew that animation budgets were lower than live-action budgets, and argued that fact with management. (I jawed with the head of the AMPTP on the subject in an Alliance hallway.) The killer for us was that SAG-AFTRA's cartoon voice over unit had negotiated the same terms and conditions we were faced with, and they had already accepted the deal. In the end, we ate the same Vaseline sandwich that they did.

What does all this mean one year later?

It means that DreamWorks Animation TV, which produces all its half-hour shows under "Sideletter N" can negotiate lower weekly wages with employees. It means that other studios who get into internet distribution in a major way, will be able to do the same thing. (Right now, DreamWorks Animation TV is the only signator studio heavily involved in this type of work).

Because the market is relatively tight, we haven't seen lower pay rates across the board, but there are certainly newer employees who are working under scale.

It's important to know that the current terms and conditions of "Sideletter N" sunset on July 31, 2018, and the Animation Guild and every other entertainment union will be negotiating new terms and conditions for internet delivered work. At that time, it will be TAG's goal and aspiration to equalize "New Media" pay rates with all the other minimums in the contract.


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Test Mania

The Animation Guild has been collecting studio tests.

They're of various lengths. The longer ones tick off many job applicants. The shorter tests also tick off people, especially when artists find out that NOBODY got hired off of them because the studio decided, at the last minute, to staff the new show with a board artist already on staff.

So that test those sixty-two artists slaved over for a week? Without pay? Suddenly inoperative.

Pretty loused up. ...

What really makes the current test mania so bizarre is that from available anecdotal evidence, a number of studios are desperate for experienced board artists, designers, etc., and the test thingie hampers their ability to engage high-quality artists.

Even so, some of those studios are insisting that job applicants participate in tests "to see if they can do the style of the show." (Like the artists' portfolios wouldn't give the companies a strong hint ... just like portfolios did the previous forty-five years).

But the big problem with the test strategy?

Many experienced board artists are working and refuse to do tests. So the studios are faced with a conundrum. They can stand on ceremony and sift through the tests of newbies, then hire some with the knowledge they'll need to hire a raft of revisionists to get the boards in shape. Because the seasoned vets aren't there. And the newcomers, although good artists, are shaky about putting a useable production board together.

The studios, of course, have a second choice: they can (quelle horreur!) engage qualified veterans without benefit of testing and throw their dumb-ass test requirement overboard. (In some qurters there's stou resistance to this. At least one studio won't hire anybody without a test ... including people who've worked for the company before. That's counterproductive because seasoned board artists, flush with work, respond "thanks but no thanks" and the studio loses out on gaining a top-notch employee.)

Testing is now a wide-spread corporate practice, but in L.A.'s tight talent marketplace ... which is getting tighter ... it often causes studios to shoot themselves in their big fat corporate feet.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sito's Month In Entertainment History

From the President Emeritus:

May 1, 1999- Spongebob Squarepants debuted on Nickelodeon.

May 2, 1964- Disney’s audio-animatronic Abe Lincoln exhibit opened at the NY World’s Fair. The animatronic technology formed the basis of modern motion capture techniques.

May 3, 1948- THE PARAMOUNT DECISION- In 1938 the independent theater chains had brought suit in Federal court against the major Hollywood Studios over their monopolistic practices. Ten years later, the Supreme Court ruled the Motion Picture Studios did constitute a monopoly and under the Sherman AntiTrust Act ordered them to sell their theater chains. One casualty of this rule was the art of the short cartoon. Theater managers no longer were forced to run a cartoon, newsreel and short with a feature (block-booking), so instead they opted to use the time to run more showings of the main feature. ...

May 4, 1927- The Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences formed. Studio heads Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer originally conceived the Academy as an arbiter where studio artists could air grievances without fear of retaliation, thereby sidetracking the call for unions. It didn’t work, because of the nature of its founding by studio heads.

May 5th, 1945- Happy Birthday Yosemite Sam! Hare Trigger, the first cartoon to feature the red mustachioed desperado, premiered.

May 9, 1955- A Washington D.C. station put on a young University of Maryland grad named Jim Henson as filler before the TODAY Show. He antics with his green frog called Kermit, fashioned from fabric from one of his mothers old green coats. The Muppets are born.

May 10, 1929- Skeleton Dance, the first Disney Silly Symphony premiered. It’s tight sync animation by Ubb Iwerks inspired a generation of animators.

May 18, 2001- Dreamworks' Shrek opened.

May 20, 1975- In a small warehouse in Van Nuys California, George Lucas assembled an effects crew to create the film Star Wars. It was the birth of Industrial Light & Magic, or ILM.

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Dark

Jeffrey K. speaks:

J. Katzenberg: When I started DreamWorks [Animation] the goal, the ambition, was to go from what had been a G-rated approach to [the Disney animated] films to PG, where we actually tried to put more dimensions in the film and more adult, broader appeal. When I went back to watch "Prince of Egypt" for the 10th-year anniversary—I never watch these movies when they’re done, I see them each so many times while making them—I said, "What were we thinking?"

It's a dark movie, so dramatic! There’s a barely even a little humor. It’s beautiful and ambitious. But dark, jeez. ...

In DWA's earlier years, while Shrek, Shrek 2 and Shark Tale were being made, full of sight gags, fart jokes and zany humor, the hand-drawn Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron and Sinbad were being made, both of them dark, dramatic, and relatively humor free. More than one DreamWorks employee complained:

"We don't get why our traditional features are like masterpiece theater, and the CG stuff has all the comedy." ...

At the time, I didn't understand why DreamWorks Animation reserved CG for its light-hearted movies either. It seemed confusing. Especially with seventy years of hand-drawn, animated comedies and musicals ... including the ones Jeffrey oversaw at Disney ... to study and emulate.

I guess Mr. Katzenberg now harbors second thoughts about the strategy too.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Nintendo Dives Into The Animated Feature Pool

This "Hey everybody! Let's do a feature film!" fever gets caught (again) by a well-loved game company.

... Company president Tatsumi Kimishima announced today that Nintendo will attempt to create feature films starring its most iconic characters within five years. But fans of the live action Super Mario Bros. movie shouldn’t get their hopes up. ... Kimishima announced that the push toward movie adaptations will either be hand-drawn or computer animation.

The news arrives on the heels of a recent uptick in big-budget video game adaptations like Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed, which will attempt to turn the tide in the long list of terrible video game movie adaptations. But Tatsumi’s announcement seems to hint at Nintendo’s high-minded, yet small-scale approach

“We want to do as much as we can by ourselves,” Kimishima told The Asahi Shimbun, all but confirming the company want to go the in-house Marvel route and produce movies of its own properties. ...

You can see what's going on here. Nintendo sees that Marvel has made a fortune with its Intellectual Properties, that Warners is (finally!) doing well with its Lego franchise, and Illumination Entertainment has turned into a production powerhouse, coming out of nowhere to make a fortune with Despicable Me and the minions.

And you can almost hear the discussion in the Nintendo board room:

"The f*ck?! If big bucks can happen to a tiny company that a few years ago was a total nothingburger, why the hell not us?! A game company with a raft of characters known and loved around the wide world?"

Having been scalded in the live-action arena, Nintendo will focus on animation, which is probably a wise move.

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The Animation Guild Golden Award Interviews #25 -- Jeanne Selby Thorpe and Betty Smith

Today, Cartoon Research and TAG Blog publish a pair of interviews with veteran ink-and-paint employees.



Jeanne Selby Thorpe (interview above) worked at most of L.A.'s major animation studios over four decades. Breaking into animation at Charles Mintz in the mid 1930s, she ended her career forty-three years later at Hanna-Barbera as a scene planner and animation checker. ...




Betty Smith started at Disney the same year Jeanne Thorpe commenced work at Mintz. Five years later, she was on the picket line during the '41 Disney strike and (surprise!) she was no longer working at the House of Mouse when the job action concluded. Like Jeanne, she spent a long stretch of her working life at Hanna-Barbera, exiting the business in 1981.

The two women died four years apart, Ms. Smith in 1998 and Ms. Thorpe in 2002.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Rovio's Gamble

It's the first weekend of The Angry Birds Movie release, and already the big bet appears to be paying off.

The producers of “The Angry Birds Movie” are taking a page from the unlikely playbook of “Iron Man” and “The Avengers” for their big-screen version of the mobile-game series.

Rovio Entertainment Ltd., the Finnish company behind “Angry Birds,” decided four years ago to take a gamble: Rather than license its characters to a Hollywood studio in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds, it would finance a $73 million movie with its own cash. That means most of the profits or losses from the film will accrue to its bottom line.

The high-risk, high-reward approach is unusual in Hollywood, where even large companies such as Lego A/S and Hasbro Inc. typically rely on studios to finance their films. If widely adopted, however, Rovio’s model—similar to the approach that made “Iron Man” pay off for Marvel—would pose a risk to studios that count on long-term control of franchises to drive their bottom lines. ....

Writing, storyboarding and other development was done in a small Los Angeles office, while other artists contributed from around the world and animation production was handled by Sony Pictures’ Imageworks division in Vancouver, Canada.

The “virtual studio” approach allowed Rovio, like Illumination, to make its movie for less than half of what Disney sometimes spends on its animated pictures, produced by full-time employees.
...

What's going on here, of course, is the Chris Meledandri/Illumination Entertainment model. Like IE, Rovio is setting up pre-production in Los Angeles, where experienced feature board artists reside in abundance, and shipping the production work elsewhere, preferably where a state or foreign government provides bushels of Free Money. (Ain't unfettered capitalism grand?)

For Illumination Entertainment, the Free Money comes from the taxpayers of France. For Rovio and Sony Pictures Animation (the contracting studio) it's Vancouver, British Columbia.

The first weekend of foreign release, The Angry Birds Movie raked in $43 million. If these early box office returns hold up, The Angry Birds Movie will be a hit, and all on a budget of $73 million, within the Illumination Entertainment range.

So we now have two proven business models for making high-grossing animated features: The Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks Animation system where all production, start to finish, is under one roof ... and the Illumination Entertainment/Rovio method where story, storyboards and story reels are created in one place and the actual movie in another.

Call me starry-eyed, but I think the "under one roof" model can be cost-competitive with the "done in multiple locations" model", even without the subsidies. But it would take focus and discipline and a stripping away of frills. I think going forward, we will see both methods in play.

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International B.O.

... where super heroes and animation remain in force.

WEEKEND FOREIGN BOX OFFICE -- (WORLD TOTALS)

Captain America: Civil War -- $84,200,000 -- ($940,892,078)

The Angry Birds Movie -- $43,000,000 -- ($43,000,000)

The Jungle Book -- $15,200,000 -- ($828,060,110)

Zootopia -- $4,700,000 -- ($969,830,439) ...

And the trade journals tell us:

Sony has come in with numbers for the international debut of The Angry Birds Movie which took off with $43M in 74 markets. In 37 of those, it grabbed the No. 1 perch. It also scored a record May opening for an original animated film. The inaugural flight topped The Lego Movie by 20% in the same grouping of markets and at current exchange rates. ...

With $296M domestically and $645M internationally, [Captain America: Civil War] is the No. 2 film of the year globally and the No. 1 film of the year internationally after 19 days of release. It had a 61% drop this frame from last, but differed according to the region. China pushed ahead to a running cume of $155.8M and Korea is at $60.1M. ...

Meanwhile, The Jungle Book, which passed $800M global on Friday, is now the No. 5 Disney live action movie ever and the No. 6 internationally. It added $15.2M in its 6th weekend of overseas release from 50 material markets, swinging the international total to $516.3M and the global cume to $828.06M. The hits keep coming. With Zootopia at an estimated $970M, Disney now has three of the top four films of the year globally with three consecutive releases grossing over $800M. ...

Clearly, there are just too many animated features in the global marketplace, except not.

What the Wise Talking Heads always miss is that animation is just a format of presentation. Animation doesn't cannibalize other animation any more than live-action cannibalizes live-action. When audiences want to see something, they go pay their money and watch it. Does anybody seriously think that people look at the playlist of their local cineplex and say: "Oops. Too many cartoons showing week. So we better not go see one."

If there's a title that Mom, Dad and the kids want to goggle at, they'll do so. Funny how that works.

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Darwyn Cooke, RIP

Animation Guild member and master comic book artist Darwyn Cooke passed away today, succumbing to cancer. Deadline reports:

... Born in Canada in 1962, Cooke first attempted to break into comics in the early 1980s but was forced to back away from the industry due to financial concerns. Supporting himself as a magazine art director, graphic and product designer instead, his break came in the early 1990s when he answered an ad placed by Warner Bros animator Bruce Timm.
Cooke was soon hired as a storyboard artist on Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series, and continued in this role on the successor series, The New Batman Adventures as well as its spinoff Superman: The Animated Series. In 1999 he animated the opening title sequence for Batman Beyond, and in 2000 served as a director on Sony’s Men in Black animated series. ...

Turning to the creation of comics and graphic novels in the early oughts, Mr. Cooke returned to animation in 2007, writing and art directing Justice League: New Frontier, also for Warner Bros. Animation. He leaves behind his wife Marsha and other family members.

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The Weekend Steeple Chase

The Big Box Office Ten still has a bunch of animation in it.

THREE DAYS OF TURNSTILE MONEY

1). Captain America: Civil War (Disney), 4,226 theaters (0) / $19.5Mto $19.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $69.7M to $70M+ (-61%) / Total cume: $293M / Wk 2

2). The Jungle Book (DIS), 3,970 theaters (-174) / $4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $16M to $16.2M / Total cume: $310M / Wk 5

3). Money Monster (SONY), 3,104 theaters / $4.9M Fri. (includes $600K previews) / 3-day cume: $14M to $14.4M / Wk 1

4). The Darkness (HTR), 1,755 theaters / $2.1M Fri. (includes $206K previews) / 3-day cume: $5.3M to $5.5M / Wk 1

5.) Mother’s Day (OR), 3,291 theaters (+150) / $935K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.3M / Total cume: $28.8M / Wk 3

6/7). Zootopia (DIS), 1,935 theaters (-142) / $579K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.3M / Total cume: $331.3M / Wk 11

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (UNI), 2,518 theaters (-383) / $682K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.3M / Total cume: $44.25M / Wk 4

8). Keanu (WB/NL), 2,120 theaters (-561) / $530K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.6M to $1.8M / Total cume: $18.3M to $18.5M / Wk 3

9.) Barbershop: The Next Cut (WB), 1,333 theaters (-401) / $433K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.5M / Total cume: $51.2M / Wk 5

10). The Boss (UNI), 1,350 theaters (-583) / $321K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1M+ / Total cume: $61M / Wk 6 ...

Worldwide, Jungle Book has rolled up $799,198, while Zootopia owns $960,270,439, on its way to a cool billion.
dollars
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SAUGUS ARTS FESTIVAL

Fifty-plus years ago.


Left to right: Ralph Hulett, unknown, Walt Disney, unknown, Ward Kimball, Peter Ellenshaw.

This picture was taken in the early sixties, out near the present home of California Institute of the Arts, and was sent to us by Disney producer Don Hahn, who discovered it in the Diz Co. archives. It likely hasn't been seen in decades.

(Why put this photograph up here? It's the weekend, ladies and gents. And it's a rarity. And it's got Walt Disney in it.)

About the people in the picture: Ralph Hulett (my father) was a Disney background artist and landscape artist. He came to the studio in 1938 and remained until his death in 1974.

Ward Kimball was one of Disney's "Nine Old Men" and a veteran animator, director, and animation producer.

Peter Ellenshaw was a veteran matte artist and Academy Award winner, also a landscape painter of renown. Mr. Ellenshaw joined the Disney organization in the early 1950s. (His son Harrison, also a matte artist, Oscar winner, and longtime Disney employee, created mattes for the original Star Wars.)

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Friday, May 13, 2016

New (And Surviving) Series

On Adult Swim.

Adult Swim has announced its new and returning TV series. Are your favorites included? The original series returning to Adult Swim are: Black Jesus, Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, The Eric Andre Show, Infomercials, Mike Tyson Mysteries, Mr. Pickles, Neon Joe Werewolf Hunter, Robot Chicken, Rick and Morty, Squidbillies, Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories, The Venture Bros, and Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.

New Adult Swim series are: Dream Corp LLC, Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace, Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio, Decker: Unclassified, and FLCL. Adult Swims Pilot orders are: Art Prison, Lazor Wulf, and Chuck Deuce. ...

And to think it all started as a small platform to reruns of the Cancelled Family Guy. How times change.

Adult Swim has grown in ambition and influence year by year. It shows Guild-signed shows (Mike Tyson Mysteries, Samurai Jack); it airs non-Guild shows. The live-action stuff is outside our wheelhouse, but the animation product, half-hours like Robot Chicken, the original season of Rick and Morty and some others have been produced without benefit of guild contracts.

Whenever and wherever possible, we have worked to organize non-Guild series, and have had success bringing Rick and Morty under contract. But Adult Swim (Atlanta) is not keen to shell out more production dollars when it doesn't have to, and we continue to encounter resistance from that corner of cartoon Network. Unfortunate, but there it is.

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And Still Another Into The Pool

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Filmmaker Kevin Munroe, best known for writing and directing Ratchet & Clank (2015) and TMNT (2007), has signed on to co-direct Troll: The Tale of a Tail (also known as The Zhou Rao Kingdom for the Chinese market), a big-budget animated feature based on a classic work of Chinese literature.

The film will be animated in both English and Chinese versions to appeal to both international and Chinese audiences — a strategy pursued most recently by DreamWorks Animation for Kung Fu Panda 3.

The picture is co-produced by China's Spring Era Period Films, China Lion Entertainment and Canada-based Blue Bug Entertainment. Made with a budget of $18 million, the project is a Chinese-Norwegian-Canadian co-production. Production is underway, and the partners are targeting a Christmas 2017 release date in China and North America. ...


Norway is now a cartoon co-producer? NORWAY!?


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Thursday, May 12, 2016

A History of Scoob

Man, I don't pay attention. I always thought there was just one long Scooby Doo series, a kind of canine Simpsons. Way wrong.

The Scooby-Doo franchise ... boasts feature length films, animated TV series, comics, toys, games, and tangential merchandise. For 47 years, the animated, lovable Great Dane Scooby has solved mysteries with his crew. It’s a weird and unexplained detail that only two out of the 15 different animated Scooby series have ever made it past a second season before cancellation.

From 1969, when it first aired, to now in 2016, when the newest iteration of the franchise, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo, will soon finish up its first season, there has never been a series to make it past 52 episodes. ...

According to spies and stoolies at WB Animation (where pre-production on the newer show has happened), there will be a second season of the Big Dog and his humans. And maybe this iteration will break the two-season curse.

My question is, where do all the older episodes, reaching back forty-plus years, go to die? Some vast Scooby-Doo graveyard?

And then, of course, there is this.


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Retirement

One of the longest-serving Guild reps in Hollywood is hanging up his spurs.

Ron Kutak, the longtime national executive director of IATSE Editors Guild Local 700, will retire on November 1. He will be succeeded by Cathy Repola, the guild’s Western executive director.

Kutak, 66, is the longest-serving chief executive officer of any union in Hollywood. He came to the guild in 1981 as a videotape rep, and was named executive director four years later. “I think I left the union in a better place than I found it,” he told Deadline.

He certainly left it bigger and stronger. Under the direction of then-IATSE president Tommy Short, Kutak oversaw the merger of the Local 776, the Editors Guild in Hollywood, and Local 771, the Editors Guild in New York, to form one national Editors Guild, Local 700. ...

I've known Mr. Kutak for years. He's tough, clear-eyed, and a savvy negotiator. He's served his members well.

And Ron has been involved with animation for years, being one of the labor reps who was at the table when The Secret Lab contract with Walt Disney Animation Studios was born back in 2000. Mr. Kutak has also been a long-time negotiator on the union side for the Sony Pictures Animation collective bargaining agreement agreement.

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"It's Doomed"

... Or so says the original Space Jam's Joe Pykta about an all-new Jam:

... "Don't do it. It's doomed. Michael Jordan was the biggest star on the planet. ... They all had a persona that complemented the film. There are none around like that now." ...

Okay, so Back In Action, the semi-sequel to the Michael Jordan movie, didn't float like a butterfly nor sting like a bee. (The only sting felt was to Warner Bros.'s wallet, as it grossed only $20 million in the U.S. of A. back in ought-three).

But that was then, this is now. And I have NO idea if Warners will go the hand-drawn route, or the CGI route with the newer offering. (Or if it's been decided. Maybe the information is out there someplace, but I haven't seen it). The way Hollywood goes, the corporate overlords at Warner Bros. will take few chances and charge down the goat path marked with the big neon sign: "Computer Graphics -- this way!"

Add On: And then there was this plea ... from way before the feature was announced:

... I’m hoping [LeBron James] can help out with the one terrible aspect of the original film: the characterization of Lola Bunny. James has spoken out about feminist issues before, and although Trainwreck may not be a bastion of feminist thought, I’ll take the crumbs of hope for the moment. Yep, that’s how bad Lola came off in Space Jam: I’m willing to settle for hope-crumbs. ...

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

At DreamWorks Animation

I spent part of yesterday afternoon at DreamWorks Animation, walking around floors of the Lakeside Building.

The oncoming merger were on a lot of people's minds, and several staffers talked to me about it. One brought up the Hollywood Reporter article where some union rep speculated about the future of the studio ...

DWA staffer: That part where you mentioned layoffs, where you said two or three hundred people could go ...

Union Rep: I hope that didn't bother you. I pulled the number out of my backside. I'm speculating on what's going to happen. Chris Meledandri outsources Illumination Entertainment's work to Paris. ...

DWA staffer: No, I thought what you said needed to be said. There's going to be changes. Comcast is going to want to see profits on its investment. Believe me, people around here have thought about what's going to be happening. How could they not? ...

A supervisor said how there are six movies in work at the Glendale studio, all in different stages of production, and that crew is being hired for production work on a couple of them, and nothing is slowing down. I said that Jeffrey's still in charge until the end of the year. And Universal doesn't want to come in and stomp any golden eggs lying around in various production nests, what good would that do? They want to make money, after all.

The take of some senior staff is that change will come over years, not months. They thing that some administrative positions, merchandising position and publicity jobs will go away, since Universal can do those things over in Universal City.

So for now, everybody keeps on doing their jobs, and waits.

Then there was this:

Before it turned to a bigger, beefier offer from Comcast, DreamWorks Animation talked to the Chinese private-equity firm PAG Asia Capital about a buyout that would have taken the cartoon studio private, a source familiar with the talks confirmed.

PAG quickly faded into the background once the U.S. conglomerate trained its sights — and, eventually, a $3.8 billion all-cash offer — on the Glendale-based maker of films like “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar.” The Chinese investment firm came nowhere close to the Comcast offer, which amounted to a 51% premium for DreamWorks. ...

Jeffrey wanted to make the best deal he could get ... and he did. A couple of DWA employees said that the deal came together in four days (jibing with different industry reports) and that Chris Meledandri was informed of what was up when the merger talks were down the road a piece.

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The Weinsteins Wheel and Deal (Again)

As we said earlier: the Weinstein brothers are getting back into animation.

The Weinstein Company has picked up all U.S. rights to the upcoming animated film Ballerina, starring Elle Fanning, Maggie Ziegler and Carly Rae Jepsen. Directed by Eric Summer and Eric Warin, the historical drama is set in 1884 Paris and follows FĂ©licie Milliner (Fanning), an orphaned girl with no money but one big, passionate dream: to become a dancer. ...

Currently in production in Montreal, it’s written by Carole Noble and Laurent Zeitoun. Ballerina and is being produced by Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Yann Zenou, and Zeitoun of Quad Productions, Main Journey, and Andre Rouleau and Valerie D’Auteuil of Caramel Film. ...

Several days ago the trade press reported that TWC was picking up the Chinese animated feature The Little Door Gods for release in markets outside China. That picture will be renamed The Guardian Brothers.

So it looks like The Weinstein Company is serious about diving back into animated features head first. But for right now, they are acquiring and reworking titles rather than creating cartoons from the ground up.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Disney Gallops On

Disney covers the most recent quarterly results of its surging profits:

Christine McCarthy (Disney CFO): Second quarter earnings per share, excluding items affecting comparability, were up 11% to $1.36, marking the 11th consecutive quarter in which we've delivered double-digit growth in adjusted earnings per share. Our financial results this quarter, which I will discuss in more detail in a moment, demonstrate once again how the strength of our brand and a relentless focus on creative excellence and execution can continue to drive growth across our businesses and create value for our shareholders. ...

So things are basically ducky in the kingdom of Mouse. And as Diz Co.'s Chief Executive observed:

Robert Iger: ... I think it's really important with this business not to look at it as a quarterly business. Because we're not only continuing to support the $11 billion-plus franchises that we have as a company, but we continue to create intellectual property that is leverageable across our Consumer Products businesses.

Now, not all is leverageable as Star Wars and Frozen, as a for instance, but when you look at Zootopia and you look at Jungle Book, somewhat small so far, but Captain America won't be and the impact of Captain America long-term on that business and the other Marvel properties, the reintroduction of Spider-Man. Spider-Man is the hottest or the number one Marvel character from a consumer merchandise perspective. And reintroducing Spider-Man successfully as we've done in Captain America through the release next year, 2017 of Spider-Man, is something that also has to be considered.

So it's a kind of business that I think is very difficult to measure in terms of the bottom line success on a quarterly basis. We just don't run it that way. ...

I noted with interest in a recent visit to Disneyland here in California that there was a line early in the morning for our guests to meet Zootopia characters. I can tell you that Zootopia having done so well in China, there will be Zootopia characters in our park in China sooner than we had initially anticipated. ...

So the Berkshire-Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates is not only thriving, but is now being imitated by other fine entertainment conglomerates.

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On The Other Hand ...

... the House of Mouse is hooking up and bailing out of the console video game business. Geronimoooo!!

Disney is putting an end to their Disney Infinity toy-game line and discontinuing their “self-published console games business,” the company said today. After June, Infinity will stop getting new updates.

Disney is also shutting down Avalanche Software, the Utah-based studio responsible for Infinity. As a result, around 300 people will lose their jobs. “This was a difficult decision that we did not take lightly given the quality of Disney Infinity and its many passionate fans,” Disney said in a statement.

There will be two new Disney Infinity releases in May and June before the series ends for good: one based on Alice Through The Looking Glass, and a second from Finding Dory. ...

Diz Co. has never had much luck in the video game biz. (Or rather, it's had a LOT of luck ... all of it lousy).

Just three short years ago, the video game industry was finally looking up for Disney. They had tried and failed, laid off hundreds of employees with long-term contracts, and generally gone nowhere. But then ...

... This time around, Disney is taking a leaf out of Activision's Skylander book, and seeing if it can generate some serious coin from a broader, interlinked model. Early indications are encouraging, but we'll just wait and see, won't we? ...

Now the results are in and ... again no luck. There is a dead cat under the House. And it stinks to high heaven.

Here's where a hopeful nation thought Disney's video game thingie was going somewhere:

Sales of “Disney Infinity” are picking up as it heads into the key holiday sales season, with starter packs for the game having sold 1 million units around the world, according to Disney Interactive.

It’s a significant milestone for Disney’s games group as it attempts to launch a major franchise for the Mouse House.

Each “Disney Infinity” starter pack is priced at $75, and includes the game, and three play sets with a figure in each. Additional figures and discs to play the game are sold separately.

With 1 million starter packs in homes, Disney now has more of a solid reason to call “Disney Infinity” a hit.

Sadly, two and a half years later, the hit became that rotting feline corpse under the floorboards.

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Monday, May 09, 2016

Frenchified Peanuts



Done right, or so it's said.

New adventures of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, and other creations by comic-strip artist Charles Schulz begin airing Monday, on the Boomerang and Cartoon Network channels, and they’re as good as any of the 1960s CBS specials that have been endlessly rerun. The new Peanuts are based on the original comic strips by Schulz and feature a beautifully faithful rendering of the characters.

The results are familiar and funny, as well as being tart and distinctive. ...

The recent feature earned respectful reviews but pretty much went limp at the nation's turnstiles. It earned a mere $246,233,113 at the world box office.

I would have to see a full load of the new, continental Peanuts to say it's superior to the Melendez version. But it's nice that Schulz is getting a brand spanking new series.

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