Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thought at the End of the Day

President Emeritus Tom Sito reflects:

March 31, 1840- Congress lowered the minimum workday for federal workers from 11.4 hours a day to 10 hours a day. At this time in mines and factories people worked an average 12-16 hour day. The 8-hour day wasn’t achieved until 1913, not until 1941 in Hollywood and it’s still a dream in many animation studios today. ....

It's hard to argue with hard facts ... and/or history. And I won't.

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Settlement Sought

Deadline tells us:

Over a year and a half after a former DreamWorks Animation visual effects artist kicked off a potential class action suit against Sony, DWA, Pixar, LucasFilm, Disney and others over wage-fixing and anti-poaching allegations, Fox owned Blue Sky Studios has today thrown in the legal towel and is seeking a settlement.

“The Court should preliminarily approve the proposed settlement as fair, reasonable and adequate because it provides for the class A cash payment of $5,950,000 and cooperation from Blue Sky,” said a filing Thursday in federal court in Northern California concerning The Peanuts Movie studio (read it here).“That amount is approximately 25 percent of plaintiffs’ expert’s calculation of the damages attributable to Blue Sky employees in the class.” ...

From time to time TAG is asked: So what's the Guild's involvement in this wage cllusion case?"

Our answer is that we put the word out about it, had a lawyer come down to a membership meeting when the issue began percolating in the public prints, and we referred a number of artists and members to the bay area law firm that was involved early on with possible litigation but ultimately chose not to pursue a lawsuit.

I was deposed by the law firm of our fine, entertainment conglomerates regarding the case. I didn't have much to offer beyond what I relate directly above. But I do enjoy driving over the Hollywood hills to Century City during rush hour, so the morning wasn't a total loss.

But I hope, after all the greenbacks flutter back to earth, that justice ... such as it is in our jolly, corporatist state, ... is served.

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Racial Stereotypes Circa 1939

Via a TAG member:

... I’m disturbed that [an episode of] The Adventures of Puss in Boots is so horribly wrong. ...

Season 2, Episode 3 of The Adventures of Puss in Boots focuses on the unwanted attention Puss receives from a Fiji mermaid. ... [The character Feeje is] a dark-skinned, bug-eyed, large lipped, muscular, cornrow wearing mermaid named Feejee.

That’s right folks, a combination of cornrows and dreadlocks are put on a monkey-fish as a means of adding to her grotesque nature. The implications are so mind boggling, that as I write this, I’m pausing to crack my knuckles, say a few choice words, and take a few deep breaths before I continue ...

When characters like Feejee are shown with this hairstyle, they’re telling little black girls that their hair is disgusting. That they are other, less than, unwanted, and unattractive. That what makes a girl ugly is large lips, dark skin and black hair. That the only time a mermaid is considered beautiful is if she has pale skin and flaming red hair. ...

So I haven't seen the episode, though I've looked at the stills from the half-hour at the link. And maybe the writer is overly sensitive and maybe I'm wrong here, but this depiction of a black mermaid in the show seems a wee bit over the top to me.

Based on the visuals, I'm surprised that they didn't try to work Hattie McDaniel into the episode. Or Butterfly McQueen. Then the stereotyping would have been symmetrical and complete.

Add On: The member who sent this along noted:

I'm wondering how [this character] happened. The script introduced an "ugly Fiji mermaid" character, values her based on her appearance, and auctions her off like property. Eliminating loose individual hairs and fur made the character easier and cheaper for a TV schedule, but the character designer chose to give her cornrows/dreadlocks and dark skin instead of an Elsa braid and light skin. Whoever built the "ugly mermaid" model on a TV schedule failed to improve on the character design.

...and no one with authority at either Dreamworks or Netflix noticed the problem.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Filmation's Last Days -- Part I

A while ago I wrote about working at Walt Disney Productions (as it was then called) and my ten years in the creative trenches. What follows is about working at a studio on the OTHER end of the San Fernando Valley -- Filmation. It's about my time there, which also happened to be the last nine months of the studio's existence. ...

“Mr. Hulett! Mr. Hulett!”

The thirteen-year-old girl pounded up the stairs, sliding to a stop beside me. I turned and glared at her.


My voice had a serrated edge that could have ripped fur off an eight-week-old puppy. She and I had not been getting along. She now blinked at me. Swallowed.

“Never mind,” she said. With that, Drew Barrymore went back down the stairs, head down.

It was the last day of the school year. I stood outside my classroom at Stoneridge Prep, a private school in the heart of the San Fernando Valley where I had been teaching English the previous nine months. Ms. Barrymore was one of a couple hundred upscale students to whom I had assigned essays and reading assignments and the other flotsam and jetsam that goes with middle school English.

I was making $350 per week. ...

For the previous few months, Stoneridege Preparatory School had been my own private circle of hell. A snot-nosed eighth-grader had vandalized by car, and that had let to a fight with the school’s principal (and owner) over who was going to pay for the wrecked hood of my Toyota Corolla that the kid had jumped on. Stoneridge students had grown rebellious as June approached, and well-aimed spit wads lofting toward the white board or the back of Teacher’s head had become an art form for some of the older boys. Added to which, I had grown tired of the endless sixty-hour weeks.

I listened to Ms. Barrymore’s footsteps clack into the distance and thought to myself: Maybe I’ve gotten into the wrong profession.

I had been teaching for two years, but a couple of months before I’d sat in a ballroom at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel watching “The Great Mouse Detective” fail to win an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America. Envy and regret gnawed at me. All my old Disney co-workers were sitting there drinking wine, still making animated features. Still making magic.
There had to be some way I can get back into the business of making cartoons. But no handy routes came to mind.

Stoneridge Prep’s school year ended. I gave notice and went searching for other work, since Stoneridge’s meager salary was not near enough to live on. Back on the job market, I used the tried-and-true method I had employed the previous two-and-a-half years: Apply for jobs at different Southern California secondary school and get turned down, while at the the same time applying for work at different Los Angeles animation studios and getting turned down.

I went for an interview with the story editor of Marvel Studios. The place was deep into a series about giant robots, but the guy supervising the writing of all the giant robot scripts didn’t think I fit Marvel’s parameters. “It’s great you wrote Disney features, but cartoon on tv are different. You need to turn out scripts fast. And I’m not sure you can write for The Transformers.”

By now it was mid-July, and I was getting desperate. No teaching jobs in sight. Not a flicker of hope for script-writing work. My wife’s ink-and-paint job at Disney Feature was the only thing keeping us afloat.

Roll-Aids time.

As July became August, two life rafts floated past my line of vision at the same time. John Muir Middle School interviewed me for a job teaching English and History, and offered me the position. Two days later Filmation Animation Studios stopped asking me to jump through multiple hoops and said they would hire me as a staff writer on “Bugzburg”, a series they were in the middle of doing.

The clouds were parting after months of torrential rain. The writing job paid union scale, which was more than what I could get from the Burbank Unified School District shaping the minds of fourteen-year-olds. Mrs. Hulett argued in favor of the teaching job: “It’s steadier! And longer term! How long can a cartoon series last?!”
But I yearned to get back to making cartoons. I accepted the writing gig, and my wife bit her lip. The only thing I was sure of was doing half-hour scripts about insects was more to my liking than dodging spit wads and grading papers until midnight.

So early on a warm August morning I reported for work at Filmation. The studio was housed in a non-descript brick building at the western end of the San Fernando Valley. Three years previously, Filmation had been the largest animation studio in Los Angeles, producing hundreds of thirty-minute TV shows and launching a theatrical animation division. The company’s first effort – “Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night” was also its last. (It bombed THAT badly at the nation’s box office.)

When I walked through the doors of the place on that warm summer’s day, Filmation had shrunk back to its pre-feature size. Camera and editorial departments were on the first floor, animators and directors were house on the second, while writers, board artists and a sprinkling of executives occupied offices on the third.

I met my new boss Arthur Nadel, a corporate Vice President and story editor, in Arthur’s big corner office. The space contained the usual desk and chairs, scripts on various shelves, and a big poster of an ancient Elvis Presley movie called “Clambake” on a wall next to the door.

Weird. Maybe Mr. Nadel is a fan of the King?

Arthur was seated behind the desk. He had a bald head, a bristly moustache to balance the baldness, and black-framed glasses that gave him an owlish look. He extended a hand. I shook it.

“Glad to make your acquaintance,” Arthur said, “We’re putting you on ‘Bugzburg’, find out what you can do.”

I was familiar with the We’ll put you to work to find out what you can do meme. It had been used at Disney every time I was assigned to a new project. At least here it was justified, since they had no idea of my capabilities.

A tall man with a thatch of dark hair came through Arthur’s door. He lifted his eyebrows as Arthur said, “This is the new writer, Lou. Steve Hulett. He starts today and we’re putting him right to work.”

I introduced myself. Lou Scheimer told me his name and pumped my hand energetically.

“Really glad to have you aboard, Steve. Tom Tataranowicz recommended you highly. I suggested to Arthur that we bring you on.”

I nodded, suddenly understanding the tall man’s enthusiasm and Arthur Nadel’s subdued hello. Employing me was Lou Scheimer’s idea. Arthur was the dutiful underling, doing what the boss wanted without liking it much.

“Tom’s a good guy,” I said.

“One of our top directors. He tells me you worked at Disney.”

I said I did. I didn’t mention that Tom and I knew each other from the union executive board. This was the head of the studio, after all, unlikely to be fond of labor organizations. And I had a mortgage, wife and two-year-old son I needed to support. There was no point in torpedoing my prospects before I got started.

“Well, you’ll be fresh blood around here. We’ve got a lot of episodes left to do and you’ll be a big help. Arthur will tell you what we need you to do.”

With that, Lou Scheimer’s wide smile vanished out the door, and I was left with the stone-faced Mr. Nadel, who now took an interest in the Number Two pencil lying on his uncluttered desk.

“It was Lou’s idea to hire you,” Arthur said, underlining the obvious. “Have you … ahm … written TV scripts before?”

I told him I had. I didn’t tell him it was a grand total of one.

Arthur twirled the pencil. “We’re in the middle of a 65-episode order. With bug characters. They were … ahm … supporting characters in the “Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night” feature. It didn’t do well, but Lou made a deal to do a show around them. The scripts are around thirty to thirty-five pages each.”

“How long to write them?”

“I like our staff people to create a script every three weeks. Or two weeks, if possible.”

I had no clue how long it would take to produce 30-plus pages of action and scintillating dialogue. Or mediocre dialogue. I was used to sitting around a table with a director, animators and other story persons, beating on a sequence script until it was black and blue. And I possessed only a marginal idea about what level of quality Filmation required in its scripts, so I asked Mr. Nadel if I could have copies of “Bugzburg” teleplays, the better to see what kind of competition I was up against.

“I’ll have one of the girls give you four of our best scripts. Let me show you where your office is.”

We walked down the hall. My future writing space turned out to be thirty fee from Arthur’s office, and twice as big as the storage closet I’d been housed in at Walt Disney Productions. The windows looked out onto a narrow parking lot, a narrow street, and two non-descript industrial buildings hunkered on the far side of it.

Within five minutes a pretty woman with a lot of blow-dried hair dropped four bundles of typescript on my desk and said brightly: “Arthur thinks you’ll enjoy these. He asked that you have ideas for scripts as soon as possible.”

“As soon as possible.”

“Tomorrow, if you can.”

I smiled and nodded. Nobody dawdled at Filmation. At least, not in the teleplay department.

The rest of my day and a chunk of the evening was spent reading three scripts and the “Bugzburg bible”, which wasn’t a holy book but a bundle of pages containing a pilot script, descriptions of the major characters, and a summary what the show was about. The lead character was a Jimmy Stewart type named Gee Willikers, with a tittering love interest named Honey Bee. Other cast members included a Brit officer type named Grumble bee, and a clan of hillbilly hornets who behaved as through they’d been snorting crystal meth since early childhood.

Two scripts were so-so. The script that was part of the Bugzburg bible was a fun read. The last script was awful.

I was in shock. Had I misheard the secretary? No, “Arthur thinks these are pretty good” was what she’d said. Was I such a dweeb and newbie to TV cartoons that I couldn’t tell good work from bad?

I re-read the awful script. It remained lousy the second time through. Palms sweaty, I called my father-in-law Charlie Downs, a long-time animator, board artist and currently a producer-director at Marvel Animation. He knew a lot more about the working of the television cartoon business than I ever would, and I hoped he could give me some clear-eyed perspective. He listened to my descriptions of the “Bugzburg” samples I’d been handed, and after a long pause said:

“One script out of the four was good? Yeah, that ratio seems about normal.” ....

More later.

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Series Renewals

Now with sorrowful, not-so-great-news Add On.

Cartoon Network re-ups some shows.

Cartoon Network can’t get enough of humanoid aliens or flying tigers that leave rainbow vapor trails. The cable net said today that it has ordered fifth seasons of its popular toons Steven Universe and Uncle Grandpa.

Both series debuted in 2013 and hail from Cartoon Network Studios’ homegrown shorts development initiative. ...

The trend for both television and theatrical animation has been, if you hadn't noticed, an upward trajectory.

Cable animation has been doing well, theatrical feature animation has been setting records, and Netflix, Amazon and other New Media platforms now sink hundreds of millions into animated product because theyve discovered it pays off like gangbusters.

Five years ago the cartoon business was doing okay, but nothing like it is now. Netflix's entry into the kids' section of the TV marketplace has made a big difference. Let's hear it for binge viewing.

Add On: TAG blog was told by a CN staffer this afternoon that no, Uncle Grandpa is NOT being picked up, that Cartoon Network just sent out a press release saying there was a 4th and 5th season. (When, in reality, the company had just relabeled shows already in the pipeline as "Season 4" and "Season 5". Slick, huh?)

A show supe told the sad news of the show's soon-to-be end to the crew, and the crew was not pleased. Also too, management (allegedly) was not pleased that the supe had spilled the beans.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Animate Globally

The Hollywood Reporter tells us:

Sprout, NBC/Universal Cable Entertainment's 24-hour preschool network, has greenlighted a new animated series, plus three holiday specials based on original series, as part of its effort to ramp up original programming. In addition, the cable network has renewed Ruff-Ruff, Tweet and Dave for a second season.

New series Kody Kapow centers on a Chinese-American boy named Kody who spends the summer with his grandparents in a small village in China. His grandfather, a martial arts master, teaches Kody ancient lessons of mindfulness, which Kody employs as he and his cousin Hana set off on adventures in the village on a quest to solve problems and help their neighbors.

The series is created by Alexander Bar and developed for television by Robin Stein and Dan Franklin. Eryk Casemiro is executive producing for Zodiak Kids Studios, with the animation to be produced by Canadian studio Arc Productions. ...

Zodiak Kids Studio operates out of London in the United Kingdom, where Free Money roams far and wide, particularly if you're part of the filmed entertainment biz.

Just one more example of cartoons that are made on other parts of the globe, and pop up on the big flat screen inside your home.

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Through the Sequel Glass

Through the Looking Glass, a sequel to Alice I, which is (after all is said and done, a sequel remake of Alice in Wonderland in full glorious Technicolor and hand-drawn animation circa 1951), comes out May 24th ...

Add On: There was a long TAG membership meeting tonight, where animation timing, storyboard tests, the posting of union notices on studio bulletin boards, and upcoming contract negotiations (yes, Virginia, there are ALWAYS upcoming contract negotiations) were discussed.

It's late, and I need to crawl into bed. Blog posting will have to wait.

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Eluding the Fusilade

Antonin has been gathered to his reward, so we got this:

Public sector unions just avoided a huge defeat at the Supreme Court

If Antonin Scalia were alive, things could have turned out very differently.

A case that had the potential to weaken public sector unions across the United States ended with a somewhat unexpected victory for unions on Tuesday, as the Supreme Court divided 4-4 on the question of requiring nonmembers to pay a fee to the public sector union that negotiates the collective bargain agreement that covers both members and nonmembers.

The split vote in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association means a lower court verdict in favor of the union stands.

A decision against the unions would have made the 23 states with those fees, known as agency fees, into "right to work" states, where unions can't force nonmembers to cover the cost of collective bargaining and where union membership is consequently much weaker. ...

Here's what's always chapped me about "right to work" (so-called):

Under RtW, an employee working under the contract can "opt out" as regards paying any fees or dues ... because they don't like unions, don't want to play in labor's sandbox, whatever. But they still get union benefits ... and the union still has to represent them if there's a workplace dispute involving the non-member employee. (You know. If the employee gets into disciplinary trouble? Things like that?)

Wrap your head around that. The service organization known as a guild or union has to spend energy, time, and money to defend Mr. "Opt Out" because that's the freaking law. The gent (or lady) gets all the benefits, all the service that the guild/union can provide, and not pay a plugged nickel.

Imagine, if you will, if the law gave you the right to walk into MacDonald's and get a hamburger for free. Or to stroll up to the ticket counter of your AMC or Disneyland or Six Flags amusement park and say: "Hey, I really choose not to pay you the ticket price because I'm short this week and I really think your charges are high anyway, but let me in. The LAW requires you do do that."

We'd kind of have chaos, don't you think? And maybe a general collapse of the economic system as presently constituted.

Insane, a system like that. Sadly, that's what we've now got in RighttoWorkland.

But honestly? I can see a similar but different setup. One where somebody opts out of union representation and doesn't get union wages or union benefits, and just takes whatever the company offers (and maybe that offer would be higher and maybe it would be lower, but I'm guessing ... ahm ... lower). But that's not the way things work in current RighttoWorkland. You pay nothing but get the full suite of goodies, right up to and including union/guild protection. And all for the very low fee of $000.00

Such a deal. Such a giant rook. But at SCOTUS, we're one justice's vote away from that very thing being the law of the land.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

The Ever-Expansive Streaming Service

Netflix seems poised to take over the freaking world.

When MGA Entertainment, the world’s largest private toy company, premiered its newest kids’ show about a teen-girl team of super spies, it skipped Saturday morning TV and staged a splashy premiere on Netflix — replete with a matching toy line, a few dozen dolls and play sets like the “lip balm lab activity kit.”

And Netflix, the world’s largest streaming service, was more than happy to fold the show, "Project Mc2," into its exploding empire of kids’ entertainment. Much of the $5 billion Netflix is spending this year on movies and TV shows will be spent on fare for the playground set.

The big-business battle for kids’ distracted attention spans has never been more competitive — or eye-poppingly lucrative — and Netflix has aggressively angled to use its data-driven insights to make programs kids don’t want to turn off.

About half of Netflix’s 75 million members regularly watch kids’ movies or TV shows, executives say, but the potential for long-term profits runs much deeper. If the site is able to win over viewers when they’re young, executives said, they may be able to secure their loyalty for life. ...

Netflix will spend roughly $5 billion on movies and TV shows this year: far more than its competitors, and roughly half of what all American movies made at the box office last year, combined. And much of that is aimed towards young audiences; Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said in January that the company is "doubling down on kids and families." ...

NF appears to have an insatiable appetite. That's bad news for cable and broadcast networks, but it's created lots of L.A.-based animation jobs and enabled a LOT of artists to start (or continue) their animation careers.

Clearly it's not just Los Angeles animation that's benefitting. Making Netflix cartoons is a global phenomenon. But now you know why animated half-hour shows are sprouting up in so many places. Netflix is a big hungry beast that needs to be fed on a recurring basis.

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The Animation Guild Golden Awards Interview #18 --Lillian Friedman Astor

The animation industry's first woman animator talks about how she got into the industry, how much she enjoyed being in it, and why she got out.

(Two words describe the reason she departed the business: Big. Otry). ...

Lillian Friedman Astor was born April 12, 1912 and passed away July 16, 1989, tow years after the interview.

Harvey Deneroff (and others) write more about Ms. Astor here.

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Leverage, Part 2

Last week, some ... what you call it? ... soft economic power was brought to bear on the Governor of Georgia, and now this:

Georgia Governor Said He Will Veto 'Anti-LGBT' Bill

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said today he will veto the controversial “religious liberty” bill – legislation that critics argued would have prompted legal discrimination against the LGBT community.

The bill known as HB757 would have allowed clergy refuse to perform marriage rites that violated their religious beliefs. It also would have allowed churches and religious groups to decline services to someone based on their faith.

Proponents of the bill say it would have protected the religious freedom of those in the faith-based community, including churches, private schools and adoption agencies.

"I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives," Deal said.

He continued: "Our actions on House Bill 757 are not just about protecting the faith based community or providing business friendly climate for job growth in Georgia. I believe it is about the character of our state. And the character of our people."

Hollywood and major U.S. companies have spoken out against the bill, including the NFL, which said the bill could jeopardize Atlanta's chance to host the Super Bowl.

Last week, Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group in the nation, submitted a letter to Deal with a long list of Hollywood A-players, including Anne Hathaway and Julianne Moore, that said they won't work in the state unless the bill is vetoed. ...

And so on and so forth.

But let us, as they say in Hollywoodland, cut to the chase:

The guv was faced with two political choices. He could sign the bill, and win the hossanahs of those whose sensibilities would be damaged if they had to provide services for some of those icky people known as homo ... homo ... homosexuals.

Or, he could veto the bill and keep about two billion dollars worth of economic activity in the state. The strong possibility of seeing all that moolah fly away apparently led him to pick up his veto pen and keep Georgia safe for big-budget movie-making.


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Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Pacific Rim

Our fine entertainment conglomerates outsource animation to various parts of the globe ... usually where there are lower wages and/or free money. Cartoon Network, part of Time-Warner, is trying out studios at a newer geographical location.

Cartoon Network Studios will unveil a new series later this year that is going to be animated in Malaysia.

Christina Miller, president and general manager of Cartoon Network, Boomerang and Adult Swim, was in Kuala Lumpur last month to explore possible partnerships with local animation studios – specifically on the production of this upcoming new series to be aired globally across Cartoon Network. ...

The upcoming series is titled Mighty Magiswords, created by Kyle Corrozza. It revolves around a brother and sister who are warriors for hire. ...

While this is the first time a Malaysian animation studio is going to work on a show for worldwide consumption, it is not the first time local companies have been employed by Cartoon Network’s arm in Asia.

Previous partnerships with this regional division has resulted in the animated series Roll No. 21 (by Animasi Studio) and telemovie Johnny Bravo Goes To Bollywood (co-produced by Inspidea), both of which were aired on Cartoon Network in India. ...

Miller attested that to make the international relationship work – whereby the creator in Burbank, California, storyboards the content while the production studio in Malaysia does the animation – there has to be a two-way communication and participation. ...

“The great thing about Malaysia is, in 2015, we ended as No. 1. It’s good to know (our series) resonate here. ...

Entertainment conglomerates over the past forty years have been unremitting in their quests for more efficient and economical animation facilities. Today, more than ever before, domestic animation studios -- most of them anchored in California -- have fingers that reach from Los Angeles to Asia ... Europe... and occasionally South America.

But the newest wrinkle is foreign companies setting up outposts in Southern California, the better to take advantage of the talent pool that turns out so much profitable animation.

Chinese and European companies are many things, but stupid they are not. They know that the simplest way to acquire experience and savvy in the realm of animated content is to go to the place that creates a lot of it, and tap into same.

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World Box Office

Where there are two animated titles high in the Top Ten.


Batamn vs. Superman -- $254,000,000 -- ($424,100,000)

Zootopia -- $42,500,000 -- ($696,748,000)

Kung Fu Panda 3 -- $21,500,000 -- ($432,109,218)

Deadpool -- $3,000,000 -- ($745,972,050)

And as one of the journals of Tinsel Town's profits and losses informs us:

... Warner Bros’ Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice defied the critics and had a massive $254M international opening this weekend, making it the No. 5 biggest bow ever at overseas turnstiles. ...

Zootopia has Disney doing the Bunny Hop as the global charmer stuffed another $42.5M worth of eggs into its Easter basket this weekend. That pushed it past $450M internationally, including $201M in China, and brought the global cume to $696.7M. ...

With a $21.5M weekend, [Kung Fu Panda 3] still has claws. The offshore cume is now $292.7M. In new openings, Australia bowed in 4th with $2.3M from 320 locations. Italy picked up another $1.7M to lift its cume to $5.9M. The UK also pulled in $1.7M in its 3rd week taking the total there to $12.6M. ...

A further $3.1M takes Fox’s Deadpool to just under $400M internationally at $396.5M — and that’s without Japan which opens June 1. ...

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Sixty-four Years Ago ...

Prez Emeritus Tom Sito tells us:

March 27, 1952 - U.P.A.’s John Hubley cartoon “Rooty-Toot-Toot” premiered. It’s music score was by jazzman Phil Monroe, the first African American to receive a screen credit for scoring a movie.

Because most of the lead artists were ex-Disney animators, many feel the character of Johnny is a caricature of Walt. ...

Regarding Mr. Hubley, Nick Rossi writes:

... One can make a rather strong argument that the heart and soul of early UPA was John Hubley. Having paid his dues over at Disney over the course of 10 years, Hubley left after the labor disputes of 1941. While at Disney he worked mainly on backgrounds, perhaps most notably (for the purposes of this particular weblog) on the animation of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" (1913) for Fantasia ...

[UPA's] success was not only critical, but popular as well, receiving academy awards for both 1949's "The Ragtime Bear" (featuring Hubley's most well-known creation, a caricature of a McCarthy-ite named Mr. Magoo) as well as 1950's "Gerald McBoing-Boing" (based on a story by Dr. Seuss). ...

"Rooty Toot Toot" was a visual reflection of much of what UPA was about at the time. Alvin Lustig had designed UPA's initial 1940s logo as well as their 1950 re-branding which is now instantly recognizable and somewhat iconic. Both designs represent the modernist aesthetic at its finest. John Lautner, the father of Googie Architecture and a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the UPA Burbank studio in 1949 around the same time he designed West Hollywood's landmark Googie's coffee shop. And there was a strong contingent of modern jazz fans among the UPA ranks, Hubley in particular. ...

As Mr. Rossi notes, UPA's Burbank studio sat on the banks of the L.A. River, a stone's throw from the Smokehouse Restaurant. Decades after its construction, Roy Disney purchased the building and lot, tearing the old studio down and erecting a multi-story building to house Roy's company Shamrock Holdings.

Interesting how Walt and his extended family continue to intersect with so many far-flung corners of animation.

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Higher Minimums

The legislature reaches an agreement with labor unions and the guv.

Lawmakers and labor unions have struck a tentative deal to raise the statewide minimum wage to $10.50 an hour next year and then gradually to $15, averting a costly political campaign this fall and possibly putting California at the forefront of a national movement.

The deal was confirmed Saturday afternoon by sources close to the negotiations who would speak only on condition of anonymity until Gov. Jerry Brown makes a formal announcement as early as Monday. ...

The negotiated deal would boost California's statewide minimum wage from $10 an hour to $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2017, with a 50-cent increase in 2018 and then $1-per-year increases through 2022. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would have an extra year to comply, delaying their workers receiving a $15 hourly wage until 2023. ...

In January, Brown warned of a $4-billion-a-year increase in state budget expenses if public-sector care workers — who are paid the minimum wage — were to receive $15 an hour. The gradual ramping up of wages and benefits in the new agreement is more aligned with Brown's larger budget philosophy. ...

The Movers and Shakers, of course, generally caution that it's better to let "market forces" prevail in where minimum wages are.

And I understand that point of view, the Movers and Shakers are big fans of the Magic of the Market.

Except during that unfortunate meltdown in late 2008. Then, with Wall Street circling the drain and lots of banks and investment firms close to receivership, market forces weren't such a swift idea. The Movers and Shakers were just fine with interference in the Marketplace then, because it was their fannies on the line and not, you know, the riffraff.

So, on balance, I think a wage hike for those struggling to make ends meet is a fine idea.

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Your American Box Office

The caped crusaders occupy the top of the List, but there are bunnies and foxes and weasels not far below:


1).Batman v Superman (WB), 4,242 theaters/ $82M Fri.* / 3-day cume: $170M/ Wk 1

*includes $27.7M previews

2). Zootopia (DIS), 3,670 theaters (-289)/ $9.6 Fri. (0%)/ 3-day cume: $23.5M (-37%)/Total Cume: $240.9M/Wk 4

3).My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (UNI), 3,133 theaters/ $7.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $17.8M / Wk 1
... includes $1.02M Thursday previews

4).Allegiant (LG), 3,740 theaters/ $3.7M Fri. (-69%)/ 3-day cume: $9.2M (-68%)/Total cume: $46.3M Wk 2

5).Miracles From Heaven (SONY), 3,047 theaters/ $3.3M Fri.(-21%) / 3-day cume: $9.1M (-39%)/Total Cume: $33.7M Wk 2

6).10 Cloverfield Lane (PAR), 2,802 theaters (-625)/ $2.1M Fri. (-44%) / 3-day cume: $5.6M (-55%)/Total cume: $55.7M / Wk 3

7). Deadpool (FOX), 2,336 theaters (-588) / $1.7M Fri. (-25%) / 3-day cume: $4.7M (-42%) / Total Cume: $349.2M / Wk 6

8). London Has Fallen (FOC), 2,173 theaters (-838)/ $978K Fri. (-48%)/ 3-day cume: $2.8M (-59%)/Total Cume: $55.5M/ Wk 4

9) Hello, My Name Is Doris (RSA), 488 theaters (+360)/ $513K Fri. (+97%) / 3-day cume: $1.6M (+60%)/Total Cume: $3.2M/ Wk 3

10) Eye in the Sky (BLST), 123 theaters (+88)/ $300K Fri. (+171%) / 3-day cume: $958K (+127%)/Total Cume: $1.68M/ Wk 3 ...

Beyond Batman and Supe, BvS, the animated Zootopia topped Thursday's box office with $4.5 million, lifting its domestic accumulation to $217,500,000.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Mid-Fifties Commercials

Today a lot of animated commercials are CG cartoons, many of them thirty-second spots. But sixty-plus years ago, if commercials were animated (and there were a lot of them), they were done by hand. And most that were broadcast then were of the sixty-second variety.

EZ Pop Popcorn (1955)

Pepsodent (1956):

There was a span of time in the early days of the Television Age, when a lot of industry animators opened their own shops and cranked out a lot of TV commercials for a wide variety of clients. There was Playhouse Pictures, Ray Patin Animation, and a gaggle of others. These small studios were staffed (and often owned) by industry veterans. Patin, for instance, had been a Disney animator way back when, as were other small-studio operators.

And Walt Disney Productions? They had their own animated commercials department through the middle fifties; the department was eliminated during the Great Bloodletting at WDP in the late fifties.

Forty years on, Baer Animation was one of the L.A.-based commercial houses that flourished in the wake of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and a spike in demand for hand-drawn characters gracing live-action commercials. Bob Kurtz founded Kurtz & Friends in 1972 and over the next four decades became a prolific creator of animated commercials (among other animated things).

But in many ways, the 1950s was the heyday because there was an abundance of commercials and many small studios ready and able to create them.

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Box Office Factoid

Among all the hoo ha over the Battle of the Super Heroes and the record-breaking grosses and the best opening in March, there is this:

... Disney’s Zootopia is looking to take an estimated $23.9M in its fourth frame, off 36%, taking its cume by Sunday to $241.3M. ...

It's worth nothing that Z is declining very sloowly.

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Branch Closing

Not of a bank, but of a VFX studio:

SINGAPORE: The local branch of visual effects studio Double Negative will be shut down, it announced on Wednesday (Mar 23).

"The closure will result in the redundancy of the majority of the staff in Singapore," the studio said. Operations in the Singapore facility are expected to cease by May 20.

The Singapore branch of Double Negative was responsible for some of the visual effects in several Hollywood blockbusters, such as Godzilla, Man of Steel and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2.

The studio said that it will be working with the Singapore Government to help staff find jobs at Double Negative's other studios - such as in London, Mumbai and Vancouver - or in other companies here. ...

During the past few years, Los Angeles had a lot of visual effects shops close their doors. (Rhythm and Hues closure and Digital Domain's shrinkage come immediately to mind.)

Viz effects, now as always operates on razor-thin margins. And if a facility needs to be closed or relocated in the pursuit of Free Money, the parent company will do it. There's no emotion attached to any of this. It's all about the best way to deploy capital and to make a buck.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Applying Leverage

I talk about leverage a lot. How it's used in negotiations, in ball games, in all kinds of stuff.

Twenty years ago it finally dawned on the tired old crystal set I use for a brain that there really is no "fair" or "unfair", but only what a person or entity has the ability to get.


So now this:

Delivering a potentially serious blow to one of the fastest growing production hubs in the country, Walt Disney Co. is threatening to no longer film in the state of Georgia if an anti-gay bill is signed into law there.

The Free Exercise Protection Act is on the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal, who has until May 3 to decide whether to veto it. Hollywood business totaling billions of dollars could hang in the balance. ...

It's not just Hollywood that has attempted to pressure Deal. Last week the NFL said that the proposed legislation could cost Atlanta a shot at hosting the Super Bowl later this decade. And companies including Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, both based in Atlanta, joined hundreds of other businesses who have come out in opposition to the measure. ...

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, no? ...

It comes down to a "Religious Freedom vs. Jobs" kind of thing.

The bible has things to say about homosexuality, of course. But the bible also has things to say about divorce and adultery (Matthew 19:9, anyone?). But it's best not to get into areas of scripture that are, you know, inconvenient.

Last point: Georgia has the eighth highest divorce rate in the nation.

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Garry Shandling, RIP

From the trades:

Comedian, actor, writer and producer Garry Shandling, known for “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” died Thursday, the Los Angeles Police Department confirmed. He was 66.

A spokesman for the LAPD said they received a 911 call from Shandling’s home on Thursday, saying the comedian suffered from a “medical emergency.” He later died at an L.A. hospital.

Shandling wasn’t known to be suffering from any illnesses, and just a few days ago retweeted Kathy Griffin’s photo of himself, her and Bob Odenkirk. ...

On top of being an inspired comedian and sitcom start, Mr. Shandling worked as a cartoon writer and voice actor. He was one of the principle performers in the DreamWorks Animation feature Over the Hedge, and wrote material for the long-running series, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.

He will be missed.

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Another European Company in L.A. Animation

A trade journal informs us:

With a view to ramping up its animation activities, French major Gaumont is expanding the division into the U.S.

The company has made key hires of Nicolas Atlan as President of Animation and Terry Kalagian as Vice President, Creative for Animation. Both will be based in LA, although Atlan will his divide time in Paris. ...

Atlan was previously co-CEO of Splash Entertainment where he produced Kulipari: An Army Of Frogs, which Netflix recently acquired, and the animated feature film Norm Of The North which Lionsgate released. ...

Pierre Belaisch, based in Paris, will continue to serve as Gaumont’s President of Animation with a focus on European TV series and will now report directly to Atlan. ...

There's a trend here. More and more foreign companies with animation divisions are setting up studio outposts in Los Angeles. This isn't because the state is giving away Free Money like Canada, Georgia, Britain, and Canada (it isn't), but because Disney and to a lesser extent DreamWorks and Paramount, are turning out high-grossing animated features and overseas corporations want to tap into the talent pool.

We continue to see high rates of employment for development artists in Los Angeles.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cancelled Projects

Empire creates a list of cancelled animation projects from the House of Mouse:

... What of the Disney films that never saw the light of day? We’ve gathered together the bare necessities about an unfortunate band of films that were never given the chance to be practically perfect in every way. ...

In an article of this type, there is always a pastiche of projects the studio dumped that gets detailed. Sadly, there are always projects that writer didn't list through either ignorance ... or lack of space.

One of the development projects not mentioned? The Abandoned by Paul Gallico. This was worked on by a succession of seasoned veterans. You can see one of Vance Gerry's story sketches for the feature that never was below ...

Then there was a Hans Christian Anderson project in the early eighties, supervised by Mel Shaw with contributions by John Lasseter (in his first Disney incarnation) that started, stopped, and finally expired of neglect ...

But the bald facts? Any number of projects get themselves a production number and are then worked on a few months, after which they tip into oblivion and the corporate parade moves on. This happens over and over again.

But allow me to correct (and/or expand on) a couple of the lost projects that Empire Online does mention:

Chanticleer -- ... Disney’s finances were needed for The Sword In The Stone and a growing theme park empire. But it wasn’t all bad news: much of the concept art was worked into 1973’s Robin Hood. ...

Chanticleer was a project top-lined by my man Ken Anderson, who developed and supervised storyboards, script, and songs for the story of the French rooster who believes his crowing causes the morning sun to rise. Vance Gerry was one of the board artists assisting Mr. Anderson, and he described what happened at the pitch to Walt:

It just didn't go over. Walt was iffy from the start. He'd picked up on scuttlebutt around the studio that people were cool on it. Woolie didn't like the thing, and called it "that chicken picture." Walt, I think, knew about that.

When we finished and the songs had been played, Walt said "I don't know guys, there's not much warmth. Take a few days and see if you can maybe come up with a better approach."

I was so dumb, I thought what he said was positive. And Ken and I spent the next week doing new boards, just working our butts off, but those went nowhere too. And Chanticleer died. ...

As happens all the time.

Larry Clemmons, who was also at the pitch (but made clear he didn't work on Chanticleer) told me: "Ken's presentation was awful. And the songs were awful. A guy banging on the piano singing "Cockadoodle Doo! Cockadoodle doo!" I wanted to crawl under my seat."

(Kindly note: Larry and Ken didn't get along, so Larry ... I'm guessing about this here ... might have had a wee bit of an axe to grind when he told me his version of events.)

Now the other film, the sequel that never was:

Dumbo II would begin a day after the 1941 original left off, finding the titular elephant and a cluster of other animals stranded in New York. This rather bland-sounding sequel was thankfully cancelled by John Lasseter (the original is his favourite film) in 2006. ...

This picture was developed at the DisneyToon Studios in the early oughts. Disney veteran Burny Mattinson was one of the artists working on it (that's his sketch at the link) told me the feature went through a lot of iterations before ultimately sputtering out.

Joe Grant, co-author of the original film, was back working at Disney Feature by this time, and though he wasn't on the new project, he was pushing for the movie to be made as a full-on CGI production. Some might some might find that sacrilegious, but that's what Mr. Grant wanted to do.

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Ken Howard, RIP

The President of SAG-AFTRA has passed.

SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard died today in his home near L.A., the union announced. He was 71. No cause of death was given, though rumors of his ill health had been circulating earlier this year. ....

Mr. Howard had a long career as a leading man and then a character actor. He started in theater and on Broadway, winning a Tony for his work in Child's Play.

He's most renowned for his three seasons of The White Shadow on television, but I remember him most vividly for 1776, the stage and film musical in which he starred as Thomas Jefferson.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Top Rabbit

From Shanghai Daily:

"Zootopia" trampled all rivals for another week to become the highest grossing animation ever in the Chinese market.

Pulling in an added 384 million yuan (59 million U.S. dollars) in the week ending March 20, the film ... beat former top earner "Kung Fu Panda 3" with 1.12 billion yuan in box office so far. ...

Disney has been on a roll, creating a string of films that resonate with global audiences. Zootopia connects better than most.

Add On: Forbes magazine asks:

Will Disney make "Zootopia 2"?

... Under normal circumstances, a sequel would be a foregone conclusion. But the world of Walt Disney animated features does not qualify as normal circumstances. ...

Writer Scott Mendelsohn then goes on to list the exceptions to Diz Co's non-qualifications for making sequels. (Rescuers Down Under, Frozen, etc. etc.) Which sort of undercuts the argument.

Besides which, Mr. Mendelsohn misses one major point: Disney ain't Disney anymore. It's the Berkshire Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates, making sequels wherever and whenever serious money can be made. We are well past the time when Uncle Walt decreed "no sequels!" And years beyond the time when a major hit wouldn't trigger a followup.

And even Walt would occasionally ignore his own not-particularly-ironclad rule. Does Son of Flubber mean anything to you?

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The 200th

So American Dad reaches 200 episodes, with a goal of at least sixty more.

... “American Dad” evolved away from its more political origins, vis-a-vis Stan’s right-wing leanings. “That had its place but it also got a little boring,” Weitzman says, acknowledging the realities of the long lead time required to produce an animated series. “You’re writing a show that will air in a year, (and by then a political joke) has no relevance whatsoever. We learned to do evergreen kinds of stories about family.”

The biggest change over the show’s run was its move from Fox to TBS in 2014, which allowed for more leeway with language.

“Two ‘sh–s’ and an ‘a——’” became the new mantra in the TBS era, Boyle says. ...

The Fox Animation crew was quite happy when TBS stepped in to pick up AD, because Fox was dropping it and the show needed someplace to go. As more than one Dad artist has said to me:

"If the show goes another five years, we'll be delighted." ...

When you get to work steadily on a show that runs 250 or 300 episodes, you're in tall clover.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

The Ongoing Merger

Since the term "animated feature" now mostly applies to CGI (since hand-drawn animation has become a sideshow to the CG Main Event), we can stipulate that there is less and less different between tentpole live-action and Zootopia and Kung Fu Panda 3.

Oftentimes its the same artists and technicians at the same computers on the same programs. There is a thimbleful of difference between Gravity and Wall-E. They are, essentially, two animated features set in space, yet one was treated as "live action" and received "Best Cinematography" and "Best Director" Oscars, just as if most of the movie hadn't been created in the same way Shrek got made.

Someday, perhaps, the charade will end. For the moment, everyone can pretend that there really is some kind of big difference between Hollywood's action-adventure epics and the release slates of Blue Sky Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar and DreamWorks Animation.

In actuality there is less and less all the time.

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Better a Roth 401(k)? Or Pre-Tax (Old-Fashioned) 401(k)?

To Roth ... or not to Roth.

... Both a traditional and Roth 401(k) have a place in your retirement nest egg, and you needn’t choose between them. In fact, the best move may be to hedge your bets if your employer is one of the 50% of plan sponsors that offer both. ...

With a Roth 401(k), you pay taxes up front. In other words, you contribute to your retirement account with money from your paycheck after it has already been taxed. Once in the account, your money grows tax-sheltered. Then at retirement, qualified withdrawals come out tax free.

By contrast, contributions to traditional 401(k)s are made with pre-tax dollars. The money is allowed to grow tax sheltered. But when it comes time to tap the account in retirement, withdrawals will be taxed as ordinary income....

TAG's 401(k) Plan introduced a Roth option for contributions earlier this year. Some participants are going all in, while others are splitting their contributions between the traditional 401(k) and the Roth.


22 March (Tuesday) -- Cartoon Network -- Main Conference Room -- 203 p.m.

23 March (Wednesday) -- Nickelodeon Studio (Olive Ave.) -- Main Conference Room -- 2-3 p.m.

29 March ((Tuesday) -- Disney TVA (Empire Center) -- Rm 5223 (fifth floor -- 2-3 p.m.

30 March (Wednesday) -- Disney TVA (Sonora) -- Rm 172 -- 2-3 p.m.

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The Animation Guild Golden Award Interviews #17 -- Tom Ray and Lloyd Vaughan

Animation veteran Tom Ray was considered one of the industry's top animators for years, sliding over to the director's chair during his later career. He came into the cartoon biz in 1937, and worked at the craft well into his eighties.

Tom was active in the Animation Guild for a number of years, serving as an Executive Board member for multiple terms. He passed away in 2010 at the ripe old age of 90. ...

Lloyd Vaughan came into Cartoonland mere months before Mr. Ray, and traced a similar trajectory as he moved from the Schlesinger studio to other companies. Lloyd opened up his own shop in the 1950s, concentrating on animated commercials. But he was back in harness at larger studios in the seventies and eighties, working on Peanuts specials, Garfields and Pink Panthers.

His love of the industry shines through in this short interview, as he ends with:

"Where else could you do something you love, working with master craftsman? ... I started in the business at $6 a week, and today I'm making three and four times that." ...

Mr. Vaughan passed away the year following this interview at age 78.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

"The Chronicles" Rebooted

Oh my.

Disney has acquired movie rights to the fantasy series “The Chronicles of Prydain” and is in early development on the project, Variety has learned.

The five novels by Lloyd Alexander, based on Welsh mythology, were published annually from 1964 to 1968 and followed the protagonist Taran from youth to maturity. He’s an assistant pig-keeper but initially dreams of being a grand hero. ...

I spent two years of my life working on the animated version ... with nothing to show for it since I was thrown off the picture, along with people more talented than I am.

So apparently Diz Co. is on to something new.

The company is not only remaking animated hits, but it's trying its hand at redoing animated flops. (Who knows? The corporate brainwave might bear fruit.)

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Your International B.O.

So we have two and a half animated features in the International Top Eight:


Zootopia -- $64,800,000 -- ($591,707,497)

Kung Fu Panda 3 -- $31,800,000 -- ($395,398,515)

Deadpool -- $6,100,000 -- ($730,641,383)

They all seem to be doing rather well. ...

And as our fine trade journals note:

... The animals of Zootopia [are] running wild in 49 offshore markets. In the 6th session of overseas release, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ tale of anthropomorphic critters stood tall to cop $64.8M. That brings the offshore cume to just shy of $400M at $389.9M. ...

Kung Fu Panda 3 added 40 more markets, taking No. 1s in 30 and an additional $31.8M. Th offshore cume is now $257M. ...

The Revenant bore down on China and secured not only the No. 2 position for the weekend there, but also the No. 2 spot at the international box office with a total $36.4M from 11,951 screens in 24 markets. ... The international cume is now $302M which gives DiCaprio his 3rd best ever overseas. ...

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Slow Development For Frozen 2?

The talented Kristen Bell says:

... They’ve just written [the sequel] and they’re still doing tweaks, but I think we should be recording this month. The story is great, and they exude quality. What I know about that whole team is that they wouldn’t just put something out to put it out. That’s why it took them so long. ...

If Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had been created in the present corporate age, there would now be a Snow II, Snow III and Snow White IV in various stages of development. Because the original was the highest grossing film of all time in the year after it was made and released.

Think about that. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the Avatar of the late 1930s, and held the box office record for a full eighteen months ... right up to the time Gone With The Wind set a new record for over-stuffed blockbusters records by staying in continuous release for years on end.

Of course, in that quaint, far-off era before World War II, Walt Disney Productions elected not to go forward with a sequel because the company's founder was disinclined to do so. The 21st century Walt Disney Company would never make that kind of corporate choice. Diz Co. is all about brands, tentpoles and maximizing the profits from each and every franchise that it conjures up.

Today's conglomerate is way different than the smallish studio that crowded Hyperion Avenue long, long ago. There is as much chance of Frozen II not getting made as there is of Zootopia being a one-off. It's 2016, people. no self-respecting mega-corporation will ever deny a monster hit its full quota of sequels.

One thing remains constant, however. It takes an animation studio years to make a decent follow-up, just as it takes years to make any kind of decent feature, period. That was as true in 1938 as it is now.

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Your American Box Office

Fox and Rabbit remain at #1 in the Top Ten, declining a mere 25%. To date, Disney's fuzzy talking animals picture is tracking ahead of Frozen.


1). Zootopia (DIS), 3,959 theaters (+132)/ $9.7M Fri. (-19%)/ 3-day cume: $38.4M (-25%)/Total Cume: $202.2M/Wk 3

2).Allegiant (LG), 3,740 theaters/ $11.9M Fri.* / 3-day cume: $29.4M / Wk 1
*includes $2.35M in Thursday previews

3).Miracles From Heaven (SONY), 3,047 theaters/ $4.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $12.47M/Total Cume: $16M Wk 1
Bowed Wednesday

4).10 Cloverfield Lane (PAR), 3,427 theaters (+36)/ $3.7M Fri. (-59%) / 3-day cume: $12.44M (-50%)/Total cume: $45.1M / Wk 2

5). Deadpool (FOX), 2,924 theaters (-407) / $2.2M Fri. (-27%) / 3-day cume: $8.1M (-27%) / Total Cume: $341M / Wk 6

6). London Has Fallen (FOC), 3,011 theaters (-481)/ $1.8M Fri. (-40%)/ 3-day cume: $6.6M (-39%)/Total Cume: $49.8M/ Wk 3

7). Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (PAR), 2,079 theaters (-334)/ $762K Fri. (-43%) / 3-day cume: $2.6M (-44%) /Total Cume: $19.1M /Wk 3

8) The Perfect Match (LG), 925 theaters (0)/ $582K Fri. (-63%)/ 3-day cume: $1.99M (-54%)/Total Cume: $7.4M/ Wk 2

9.) The Brothers Grimsby (SONY), 2,235 theaters (0)/ $417K Fri. (-65%) / 3-day cume: $1.3M (-60%) /Total cume: $5.9M/ Wk 2

10). The Revenant (FOX), 935 theaters (-368) / $315K Fri. (-41%) / 3-day cume: $1.2M (-40%) / Total cume: $181.1M / Wk 13 ...

The other (semi) animated feature on the weekend list, Deadpool, tracks a similar small decline from week to week as it reaches $341 million in domestic box office. Quit good for a film that Fox only greenlit after being dragged into signaling a production go-ahead after leaded test footage got an enthusiastic response on the internet. (Weird how that happens).

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Monkey Trouble

From our friends at Deadline:

Isaac Adamson's script Bubbles, about Michael Jackson’s famed Chimpanzee companion, has been acquired to be turned into a stop-motion animated feature in the spirit of Anomalisa. The acquisition was made by Andrew Kortschak and End Cue, and Dan Harmon and his Starburns Industries production company will produce the film.

This has the potential to be ... ahm ... kind of creepy. Hopefully the script will knock everybody's socks off and we'll have another Oscar nominee.

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Larry Drake, RIP

Thetrades tell us:

Emmy-winning actor Larry Drake, who played Benny on “L.A. Law,” died Thursday. ... He was 66.

Drake played the developmentally disabled office assistant Benny Stulwicz on “L.A. Law.,” which was praised for handling Benny’s odyssey in a very progressive fashion. ... In the 2000s, he nabbed a handful of voicework roles for animated TV series and guested on “Six Feet Under,” “Crossing Jordan,” “7th Heaven” and “Boston Legal.” ...

We note Mr. Drake's death here because in point of fact he did somewhat more than a "handful" of voice roles.

In 2008 he was a voice actor in the video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. At the turn of the century Mr. Drake had roles in multiple episodes of Johnny Bravo, What's New Scooby Doo and Justice League

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Beast Partnership

Just when it seems the pool of animated features can't get bigger, it enlarges yet again.

A movie deal between New Zealand and China is finally taking flight, with the announcement of it's first feature film to release.

The big budget, animated film Beast of Burden, has been set up as the first movie to be made under a co-production treaty between the two nations. ...

The NZFC China Co-Production Development Fund provided initial financing for the project. Its CEO Dave Gibson said that New Zealand and China are highly complimentary to each other when it comes to such projects.

"We in New Zealand should realise that we are an Asian country, and should take advantage of being largely in the same time zone as the world's second largest film industry," ...

We are seeing on a global scale what we used to see (in relative microcosm) here in Southern California: animation is a red hot, profitable sector of moviedom, and players around the world want to dive in and get their share.

The only problem with that? It's one thing to muster the cash and production assets for a high-end animated feature, and another to create ninety minutes of movie enthrallment that people actually want to go and pay money to see. If they can do that second thing, then China and New Zealand will be on to something. And if not, they'll be like the scads of production companies in China, India, Europe and Britain that executive low-budget work for domestic consumption and low-budget productions, but not so great at creating entertainment the world population will crowd through turnstiles to see.

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Dan McLaughlin, RIP

Animation veteran Dan McGaughlin passed away on March 15th. He was 84. Dan was the longtime teacher of the UCLA Animation Workshop, where dozens of famous animation artists like David Silverman, Joaquin Baldwin and Shane Acker studied. ...

A 1958 graduate of the UCLA Theater Arts Department (now the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television), Dan McLaughlin began working that same year at the Animation Workshop, founded in 1948 by former Disney animator Bill Shull. When Shull retired in 1970, McLaughlin assumed his post, and in 1971, founded the School’s M.F.A. Animation Program.

As an independent filmmaker, McLaughlin made more than 20 animated films, ranging from the traditional to the experimental, which earned both national and international recognition. His kinestasis student film God is Dog Spelled Backwards (1967) featured 3,000 years of art in three minutes and was set to Beethoven’s 5th symphony. It achieved national fame in June 1968 on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour when the imagery was accompanied by composer Mason Williams’ composition Classical Gas. His film Claude (1963) was a winner at the Chicago International Film Festival. Other credits include animation for Sesame Street, the Amnesty International Human Rights Now 1988 world tour and numerous titles for feature films. ...

He published many articles including Animation and Modernism; Independent Animation in the Land of the Magic Kingdom: Between a Rock and Hollywood; Animation, Aesthetics and the Computer; Robert Mitchell, A Profile; Animation Before Film; and A Short History of Interactive Animation.

McLaughlin was a pioneer in the fields of computer animation and interactive media. He introduced computer animation to the Workshop in 1968 and interactive animation in 1988; in 1991 he developed AIA, a laser disk multimedia critical analysis system for animation.

He had retrospective screenings and lectured at many conferences, film festivals and universities including Yale, MIT and LMU; and around the world from North of the Arctic circle in Norway, to Jos, Nigeria, where he designed and directed a national animation studio for the Nigerian government.

Dan McLaughlin served on ASIFA Hollywood’s board of directors; he was a consultant to other schools setting up courses and programs in animation, both traditional and digital. Mr. McLaughlin organized and presented programs in animation both locally and internationally, and was a sponsor of the Animation Workshop’s ANIMATRIX, the only published graduate student journal about animation. In 1992, he was on the steering committee for the first International Animation Teaching Symposium held at Urbino, Italy.

In 1995, McLaughlin was the recipient of ASIFA Hollywood’s Winsor McCay Award, presented at the Annie Awards, for lifetime achievement in animation. Past recipients of the award include Walt Disney, Chuck Jones, Max Fleischer, Walter Lantz, Tex Avery, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.

-- Tom Sito

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The Way It's Going To Be

... as conjured by a sitcom writer when your Middle Schooler hadn't been born yet.

President Trump episode 'warning to US', says Simpsons writer

Writer of Bart to the Future episode, aired almost exactly 16 years ago, says idea was consistent with vision of US ‘going insane’ ...

The episode, broadcast almost exactly 16 years ago on 19 March 2000, saw Bart offered a vision of his future in which he is a beer-swilling bum, while his sister Lisa has become president, following Trump’s time in office. ...

This only goes to prove that if a half-hour TV comedy has enough episodes, at least one of them will foretell the future.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Still Cleaning Up

Disney's latest cartoon appears to have legs.

Disney's animated tentpole Zootopia stayed at the top of the Russian box office for the second consecutive weekend, becoming the No. 2 title of the year to date behind Deadpool.

Zootopia grossed $4.6 million in its second frame for a cume of $20.6 million, making it the top-grossing release of all time from Disney Animation Studios or Pixar. ...

It wouldn't surprise me if this feature nudged up against Frozen's worldwide box office. It's that good.

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How Many Animated Chattering Animal Pictures Can There Be??

Apparently there is an endless supply ...

THis one comes from Europe, specifically Belgium. ...

Lionsgate is releasing the movie. Lionsgate is all-in for animated fare, having brought us Norm of the North and Shaun the Sheep in the recent past. The distribution company clearly buys into the Golden Hollywood Rule: "If you've got a screenload of cute furry beasts, and the speak fluent smart-ass," you own a box-office winner"

Of course, Seth Rogan is transferring this rule into the universe of anthropomorphic food, so we'll see how that tweaking of the basic law works out. Our opinion? If the budget isn't in the stratosphere, the production companies will likely get their investments back; maybe even be a little to the good side. But so far, none of these pics are setting the global market afire the way Pixar/Disney/DreamWorks/Bule Sky often do.

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There must be something in the air. Or maybe it's just a force field that every Pretender to the Animation Throne is tapped into. Because there seems to be a raunch vibe circling the globe.

Bad Cat Sells to China, Middle East

A risque, action-packed comedy for adults, it is described as blending — in animated form — “the outrageousness of 'Fritz The Cat', the cuteness of 'Garfield' and the whip-smart action of [Quentin] Tarantino."

On the eve of Filmart, Beijing-based distributor Turbo Film and Kuwait’s International Film Distribution (IFD) pounced on mainland China and Middle East rights, respectively, for Odin’s Eye Entertainment’s upcoming animated feature Bad Cat.

A risque, action-packed comedy for adults, Bad Cat is described as blending — in animated form — “the outrageousness of Fritz the Cat, the cuteness of Garfield and the whip-smart action of [Quentin] Tarantino." ...

The Big Prize that everyone is chasing are the monster grosses enjoyed by pictures like Zootopia, Minions, Inside Out and a handful of other animated features. As we've noted, there are the big-budget animated blockbusters that vacuum up $500 million to a billion dollars, each festooned with production costs of $80 million to $200 million.

Then there are the animated features on lower tiers, those entertainments produced in Europe, South America and Canada costing $20-$40 million. Many of these epics scratch out tidy profits. Most of these efforts follow the Disney/Pixar model.

But now we're getting a bunch of R-rated experiments, and all of them within a sport space of time. And if the markets are kind, no doubt there will be more.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Animated Feature Disguised as Live Action

Andrew Liszewski at io9 points out how the recent blockbuster Deadpool is heavily animated.

Big surprise.

But the larger point is that animated features and live-action features have long-since merged. ...

Think back to three-quarters of a century ago.

Snow White used live-action reference, commonly known as "rotoscope", as did many animated features after it. Seventy-eight years on, live-action features use wall-towall [digital] animation. Avatar is mostly an animated feature. Titanic couldn't exist in the way it does without animation. Nor could the current cycle of Planet of the Apes movies.

So, the Academy Award for "Best Picture" and "Best Animated Feature"? Aren't they kind of the same thing, if you take the idea over to the light and look at it closely?

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Son of "Fritz"

SO this has been going up in the usual places; as an internet connoisseur remarked: "This is fantastic. It's a fcked up "Toy Story" movie, but with food".

There aren't a lot of R-rated animated features, but there's a reason for that.

They don't make much Mo. Ney.

Cash is the name of the game here. The last adult feature, Anomalisa, had a domestic gross of $2,658,258 on an $8 million budget. You're not going to get a lot of big-name entertainment conglomerates beating a path to your door with numbers like that, no matter how many Oscar nominations you pull down.

Having said that, if Sausage Party is as funny and compelling as the tweets here indicate it is, there's probably a market for a raunchy Toy Story starring an array of munchies. Even so, the ceiling on a picture like this is no doubt lower than, say, Zootopia.

That being the case, the production model has got to be simpler and less expensive. Keep the designs and models less ornate. Streamline the production pipeline. And produce the picture in a locale where the locals are giving away Free Money.

All these things seem to be in play with Sausage Party, and if audiences respond to it, and the budget is reasonable, it could pull down some tidy profits.

Add On: The Wrap makes the comparison to the Bakshi cartoon here.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

One More Cartoon Company

When a segment of the movie business is hot, it gets new players, yes?

China's Huayi Brothers to Launch Animation Unit Led by Hollywood Veteran

The Chinese studio, which has an 18-picture financing and distribution deal with STX Entertainment, has hired former DreamWorks Animation and Fox executive Joe Aguilar to lead the new division.

Leading Chinese film studio Huayi Brothers said on Monday that it would launch an animation division headed by veteran Hollywood producer Joe Aguilar, formerly of Oriental DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox, as CEO.

"The establishment of an animation company signifies that the company will enter the animated movie industry with world-class production skills," Huayi said in a statement.

The publicly traded Chinese studio has been expanding its ties with Hollywood. The company signed a landmark 18-film co-financing and distribution agreement with Bob Simonds' STX Entertainment last April.

Over the past six months, animation has emerged as a particularly hot genre at the booming Chinese box office. In January, DreamWorks Animation's first official Chinese co-production, Kung Fu Panda 3, grossed $146 million, a new record in China for an animated title. Aguilar is understood to have overseen the production of the Chinese contributions to the film. Disney Animation's Zootopia is currently topping the Chinese charts, having pulled in more than $112 million after 10 days. ...

Huayi said it plans to announce additional Hollywood hires for the startup animation unit in the coming weeks. ...

My guess is that the Huayi Brothers will set up a satellite studio in California before too much more time passes. Reason? Everybody wants to tap into the talent pool that creates Inside Out, Frozen, Tangled, Zootopia, etc., etc.

And that talent pool resides in California. And is fully employed. And likely not inclined to move overseas. So ... as other Chinese companies before it, the Huayi Brothers will probably set up a satellite studio here in the Golden State.

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This Month In Cartoon History

Prez Emeritus Tom Sito tells us how it was, all those years ago.

March 1, 1930 - Walt Disney’s top animator Ub Iwerks, the animator/designer of Mickey Mouse, quit the studio to set up his own place.

March 2, 1933 - The movie “KING KONG” premiered at the new Radio City Music Hall. The animation was done by Willis O’Brian and his assistant Ray Harryhausen, with the pre-production art inspired by Charles R. Knight.

March 9,1935 - The Looney Tune Cartoon “I Haven’t Got a Hat” premiered. This cartoon gave birth to the first major Warner Bros. cartoon star- Porky Pig.

March 10, 1933 - The Long Beach Earthquake rocked LA. It was the last big shift in the San Andreas Fault. 200 people were killed. Actors convening SAG union meetings in the El Capitan Theater moved out into the parking lot because of the aftershocks. The quake inspired the first serious earthquake building codes.

March 12, 1945 - THE WAR OF HOLLYWOOD BEGAN- Throughout the 1930’s and 40’s several national unions battled studios and each other to represent Hollywood film workers; the Teamsters, the FWPC, and the Brotherhood of Electricians. By 1945 only two remained, the IATSE and the CSU. The CSU, a much more militant group, was headed by a charismatic leader named Herb Sorrell who had helped win the Disney strike for the cartoonists in 1941. Sorrel called several citywide strikes that paralyzed Hollywood in 1945, 46,and 47. President Richard Walsh of IATSE fought them and riots in front of the studios was commonplace.

March 13, 1939 - Hollywood recognized the Screen Director’s Guild, later called the DGA. After a nasty battle lasting several years, President Frank Capra signed the contracts representing 80% of movie directors. They also contractually ensured the custom of the director credit being the last one seen at the opening title sequence of a film.

March 15, 1933 - Young animator Chuck Jones was first hired at Leon Schlesinger’s Looney Tunes cartoon studio.

March 15, 1950 - Walt Disney’s “Cinderella” opened. It was their first animated fairy tale hit in ten years.

March 15, 1985 - is assigned the first registered private domain site on the Internet.

March 15, 2002 - Blue Sky’s first “Ice Age” premiered.

March 16, 1913 - Artist Aubrey Beardsley died of tuberculosis at 25. Having a religious conversion at the end of his life, but still being a stickler for details, his last words were: “Destroy all my erotic drawings...and all the bad ones too....” Happily his friends did neither.

March 17, 1845 - Rubber Bands were invented.

March 18, 1967- "The Pirates of the Caribbean" ride opened at Disneyland, designed by master animator Marc Davis.

March 19, 1875 - Mark Twain admitted in a letter to a friend that he now liked to use a typewriter, a new technology accused of ruining the art of writing. [Although, Twain's most recent best-seller -- his massive, three-volume "Autobiography" -- was mostly dictated by M.T. and typed by others. -- Hulett]

March 20, 1943 - MGM’s “Dumb Hounded” aired. It was the first Droopy Cartoon.

March 23, 1957 - Art Clokey’s “Gumby” Show premiered. [And High Art comes to Television! -- Hulett]

March 24,1943 - The first Japanese anime feature “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles” by Mitsuo Seyo, aired.

March 25, 1989 - “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” earned four Oscars at the Academy Awards. The winning Oscar categories included Sound Effects, Visual Effects, Film Editing and a special one to Richard Williams for the animation.

March 26, 1997 - Turner Animation’s film ‘Cat’s Don’t Dance” featuring the last film work of Gene Kelly aired. Kelly was a consultant on the dance sequences.

March 27, 1952 - U.P.A.’s cartoon “Rooty-Toot-Toot” premiered. Its music score was by jazzman Phil Monroe, the first African American to receive a screen credit for scoring a movie.

March 27, 1952 - “Singing in the Rain” starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor premiered.

March 28, 1942 - Albert Hurter, Swiss designer for Walt Disney’s “Snow White" and "Pinocchio” died of rheumatic fever.

March 29, 1989 - At the Oscar ceremony, Pixar’s short “Tin Toy” became the first CG animation to ever win an Oscar.

March 30, 1968 - In New York’s Bowery district, two children found the body of a homeless drug addict. The John Doe is later identified as Bobby Driscoll, 31, Walt Disney child star and the voice of "Peter Pan".

March 31, 1930 - Reacting to charges that the movies had become too racy, Hollywood producers accepted the MOTION PICTURE CODE. It was regulated by Will Hays, former Republican Party Chairman. The regulation wouldn’t really start to have strength until 1935-36 when pressure groups like the Catholic League of Decency went after Mae West and the "Tarzan" pictures. The Hays Code forbade open sex and obscenity: twin beds only in a bedroom, nightclothes buttoned to the neck. If a couple were seated together on a bed they must have at least one foot touching the floor, rules included "kisses with a duration of no longer than 3 seconds, parting with lips closed.” The Production Code was replaced by the MPAA ratings system in 1968.

March Birthdays:

Ward Kimball, Lucille Bliss, Stephen Chiodo, Ken Duncan, Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Ronald Searle, John Lounsberry, David Silverman, Ben Washam, Ken Andersen, Richard Williams, Chris Wedge, Milt Kahl, William Shatner, Ub Iwerks, Joe Barbera, Carl Barks, Quentin Tarantino, Jack Kinney, Francisco Goya, Vincent van Gogh, Marc Davis, Jules Engel, Ed Catmull.

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Animation Guild Golden Award Interviews #16 -- Bob Carlson and Manny Gonzales

Robert Wilhelm Moritz Reinhold Carlson, Jr. and Emmanuel Martin (“Gonzie”) Gonzales started in animation at Walt Disney Productions in 1936, during a time when the studio was expanding like mad because of work on Snow White and the usual demands from its schedule of shorts. Bob and Manny both started as inbetweeners, but their career tracks quickly diverged.

Mr. Carlson spent close to a quarter century at Disney's and had a long list of credits. He was an animator on Pinocchio, Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty, but most of his years at the studio were spent on shorts.

Bob departed the House of Mouse in 1958. Thereafter, he worked on features and shorts, TV shows and commercials for the next thirty-plus years. Bob C. says in the interview that he "loves animation and has no plans for retirement." He apparently meant it. IMDB lists work that goes past the time of his death -- June 18, 1990 -- at age 83. ...

Manuel Gonzales came to the Unite States from Spain when he was five years old. Growing up on the east coast, Mr. Gonzales attended arts school in New York, then interviewed for work at Walt Disney Productions in California from a remote location in New York City. Based on his portfolio and interview, he was offered employment and journeyed to California and a job in-betweening on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".

Within two years he had transferred to comic strips, where he remained until retirement. (Comic Strips were a long-time category under the Animation Guild contract.) Manny passed away in 1993, at the age of 80.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

About "Zootopia"

Terrific movie. New worlds are created. We care about the characters. The mystery is satisfyingly twisty and the setups pay off. Plus it's a movie that actually has a philosophical point to make, and makes it well.

But a credit at the end bothered me.

An end-credit, way out at the further reaches of the crawl, states: "Made by Walt Disney Animation Studio in Burbank, California (or something like).

But actually Zootopia wasn't made in Burbank. Certainly not all of it. And probably not most of it.

The picture was made in North Hollywood, California, out on Tujunga Avenue, in a large sprawling two-story building owned by Diz Co., a mile from the main runway of Bob Hope/Burbank Airport. This is where a lot of the WDAS staffers work while the Hat Building on Riverside Drive (Burbank!) is renovated.

Tujunga Avenue, which is referenced in Zootopia, is definitely, definitively in North Hollywood, which is part of Los Angeles, not Burbank.

Just thought I would mention that.

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World Box Office: One-Two Punch

This week, two cartoons rule the globe.


Zootopia -- $83,100,000 -- ($431,315,126)

Kung Fu Panda 3 -- $26,400,000 -- ($355,907,868)

Deadpool -- $11,300,000 -- ($708,077,425) ...

And an entertainment journal tells us:

... Zootopia claimed No. 1 international box office bragging rights this frame — thanks in large part to China. In its 2nd week of PROC release, the Disney charmer jumped 139% from last session’s opening in what is a rare feat in that market. With a $56.5M weekend, the Middle Kingdom total is now $109M, setting the film on a potential path to becoming the biggest animated movie ever there. ...

Kung Fu Panda 3 grabbed the No. 1 market share position in all 15 new plays this weekend. With $28.6M from 8,304 screens in 20 markets overall, the international cume has now been punched up to $219.5M. ...

After five weekends of international play, Fox’s Deadpool now has a touch-worthy $380M offshore cume. The current frame was worth $11.3M on 6,097 screens in 61 markets. ...

Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Road Chip: $1.35M weekend; $145.8M international cume. ...

Other recent feature animation releases: The Peanuts Movie's worldwide gross was $246,185,065, with the majority of the take coming from domestic release. American oriented long-form cartoons tend to do less well abroad than pictures not set in the United States, Kung Fu Panda 3 and Zootopia being prime examples.

(Another example would be Hotel Transylvania 2 which made 64% of its $469,236,793 worldwide accumulations abroad).

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