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January 19, 2017

GOULDTHORPE | It’s a New Year Ahead for Animation! Who Should You be Watching?

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We’re two weeks into the new year, and already film studios are putting out their work. Last weekend, Hidden Figures managed to replaced Rogue One at the top of the box office while earning critical praise. By contrast, Monster Trucks did as well as expected — Paramount had taken a $115 million write-down last September, and the movie has in fact bombed. Already we’re having highs and lows, and we’re only through three weekends! The rest of the year will surely give us some fantastic stories, especially in animation. Here’s who I’m going to be watching this year:

DreamWorks Animation: As I’ve already written about before, the studio is undergoing a massive transition with its sale to Comcast. While the merger has already occurred, though, there’s still uncertainty lurking around every corner. As I’m writing this article I find more news breaking: a new CEO has been named, Christopher DeFaria of Warner Brothers. DeFaria has been president of animation at the company for a while, and oversaw productions such as The Lego Movie, Mad Max: Fury Road and the Dark Knight trilogy. That’s an impressive resume to have, and good news for DreamWorks. The future is still a bit muddy for the studio, but DeFaria’s presence may be a guiding light.

The studio has two films slated for this year. The Boss Baby comes out on March 10, and marketing has already hit theaters. I suspect that by the time it’s released, we’ll start getting the trailers for Captain Underpants, which is due June 2. I’m not sure how Boss Baby will do at the box office; it seems very similar stylistically and thematically to Warner’s Storks, which didn’t pull in a lot of money last year. However, the marketing campaign has hit hard and fast, so that may boost the grosses. I’m feeling more confident in Captain Underpants. Quality aside, I expect it will hit a strong nostalgic note and draw people to the theater. DreamWorks’ strongest suit, though, lies in Netflix programming. Their recent success with Trollhunters has solidified their presence on the platform, and I want to actually delve more deeply into the series: I’ve been very impressed with it.

Sony Pictures Animation: The studio will put out three movies, all of which deserve some scrutiny. First of all, we’re getting Smurfs: The Lost Village on April 7. “But wait,” you might be saying, “didn’t the Smurfs get rebooted a few years ago?” You’re absolutely right! In fact, Sony Pictures Animation released The Smurfs in 2011, but it and its sequel did so badly financially and critically that the same studio has to reboot it after only six years. The Lost Village does look superior to its predecessor already. It’s fully animated, instead of an Alvin and the Chipmunks-esque mix of live-action and animation. No New York, no pop culture (hopefully). Maybe they can manage to finally bring the Smurfs to a modern audience?

Perhaps the biggest animation news, though, will surround The Emoji Movie. The first trailer dropped this past December, and the reception has been… less than positive. It got to the point that Sony disabled the comments to stem the flood of criticism. Meanwhile, the press has veered from criticism to outright mockery: FirstShowing.net warned its users “Don’t Watch: Awful Teaser Trailer.” Collider.com pointed out that “The Emoji Movie Trailer Literally Gets Promoted by Meh” (and yes, the main character presented to us is the Meh emoji). The film’s already faces a deep-rooted antipathy, and it doesn’t even come out for over seven more months. I’m willing to bet that it’s going to be a box office bomb. However, they do say that any press is good press. People may end up buying tickets purely to see the trainwreck they expect it to be. The right marketing could still pull a profit out of The Emoji Movie — or at least minimize losses. No matter how it performs, it’s going to be one of the more noteworthy releases of the year. I mean, it’s a whole film about emojis. The fact it even exists boggles the mind. All eyes will be on it for better or for worse.

Finally, on November 10 Sony has scheduled a film titled The Star, an animated adaptation of the Nativity. The concept sounds nice, and could make for a lovely movie. The plot synopsis, though, sounds a bit odd. It apparently involves a donkey who yearns for more from life, “a loveable sheep who has lost her flock and Dave, a dove with lofty aspirations,” and “three wisecracking camels.” I fail to see how these characters really apply to Christmas, much less the first Christmas. Maybe the film will work well in execution, though? I’m going to suspend any preliminary judgments until we see the actual promotions come out. With this being the third movie of the year though from one studio, the quality will very likely suffer across all titles.

Blue Sky Studios: If you look at my previous column, I argued that they were the major losers of 2016 because their only flagship franchise is beginning to peter out. They need something new if they want to survive as a company. This is where Ferdinand comes in. It’s based on The Story of Ferdinand, a children’s book that tells the story of a bull who would rather smell the flowers than fight in any bullfights. Ferdinand is not due until December 22, so we have a long time to wait. But I cannot stress how much Blue Sky NEEDS this to be a financial success. They may not survive another box office flop. As a result, expect an inundation of marketing as they try to get people into theaters as much as possible.

I selected these studios because they have the most to lose over the next year, as well as the most to gain. DreamWorks may rebuild itself as a major competitor to Disney in terms of quality, Sony may shock the world with a good emoji movie, and Blue Sky may end up filling its portfolio with something not Ice Age related. The alternative is closure. I’m going to scanning the news over the next twelve months, and I hope to see good things from them all.

David Gouldthorpe is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at djg284@cornell.edu. Animation Analysis will appear intermittently throughout winter break.

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