Oh boy, did Disney clean up the field in 2016. The four top-grossing movies were all Disney properties. On November 1, they announced that they’d set a new company record for movie grosses, and that was before either Moana or Rogue One hit theaters! They now sit on six billion in global revenues and counting. With such strong financial success, plus warm praise from critics on virtually all fronts, Disney has done very well for itself!
Walk into any kindergarten classroom in the English-speaking world, and you will find a Dr. Seuss book. I will bet money on it. Theodore “Seuss” Geisel has cast his spell over the world’s children for decades now; his whimsical wordplay, curious characters and surreal settings win over hearts young and old. “But David,” you wonder, “What on earth does this guy have to do with animation?” Well, this year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the classic Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the perennial holiday favorite that gave us the oft-applied “You’re a Mean One.” The 1966 Grinch is certainly the best-remembered adaptation of Seuss’ work, but it’s not the only one. Let’s delve into the long history of Seuss’ relationship with animation, and see where it’s going in the future.
In the strong professional and career-centric atmosphere here at Cornell University, one piece of wisdom has become common knowledge: first impressions matter. Anyone who’s walked into career services, trained for interviews or opened a self-help book on the topic can tell you that. First impressions are important for impressing those internship recruiters, and also for winning over audiences. Hundreds of films come out every year; every single one has to sell itself to us. Their first impressions matter so very much, and they usually come in the form of teaser trailers.
I had a friend the other day say when I like a movie, my metric ranges from “good” to “coma-inducing.” Well let’s just say Disney’s Moana made it hard for me to wake up in time to write this review. Moana follows the story of a young girl on the island of Mata Nui. She’s the daughter of the village chief and will become chief herself someday. But ever since she was young, she has had a deep desire to explore the ocean. The villagers of Mata Nui live in paradise.
A couple months ago, I delivered my thoughts about DreamWorks Animation, a studio that’s grabbed the industry spotlight — not through any smashing successes this year, but because of their recent acquisition. I don’t want to go through that whole rigamarole once more, but some recent developments have grabbed my attention and deserve to be brought to the discussion table. First of all, some good news: Trolls seems to be doing very well in theaters. After two weeks, it’s brought in $226 million worldwide. With a budget of $125 million, it looks like there’s some profit in DreamWorks’ future.
Autumn is perhaps my favorite time of year. The gentle embrace of cool winds push away the harsh heat of summer and herald the coming ice. After late September the night overpowers day, and we spend the majority of our time in shadow for six months. In October we await All Hallows’ Eve, also associated with the Día de Muertos, as a way to connect with the departed and blur their world into ours. In November the trees have nearly shed their leaves, their green replaced with scarlet and gold; the harvests come in, covering fields in their own mosaic of colors set against the earth; and Thanksgiving punctuates the season with a grand feast that brings together family and friends.
I owe DreamWorks Animation an apology. Since February, I have been criticizing its upcoming movie Trolls. Between a strange visual style, a bland-looking synopsis and, worst of all, twerking trolls shouting “YOLO!”, I have not been looking forward to its release, and I still dread the day I have to review it. But I have been consistently framing it as a low point for mainstream American animation. Recently I’ve seen the error of my ways.
In 1951, Walt Disney Pictures released Alice in Wonderland, a tale of absurdity and surrealism that wonderfully demonstrated the unlimited realities that animation can create. In 2010, Walt Disney Pictures released Alice in Wonderland, a live-action film that is kind of a sequel even though it doesn’t follow Through the Looking Glass. It transformed the Mad Hatter into an emotionally tortured Johnny Depp, crammed Alice into a cliched “chosen one” journey and tried to insert politics, war and worst of all real life into a world where fantasy is supposed to dominate. Needless to say, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the 2010 remake, and it currently sits at 5.7/10 on Rotten Tomatoes. Nevertheless, it made enough money to warrant the remake of several Disney animated classics into live-action films. In the past six years, these remakes have included Cinderella, Maleficent and The Jungle Book (note that the 2016 Tarzan movie is not a Disney film, but a Warner Bros.
In an otherwise relatively lackluster year for film, animation has been doing very well for itself. Disney and Pixar put out incredible successes earlier this year, and Laika delivered a lovingly crafted epic tale. And now Warner Animation Group has stepped up to the plate with Storks. Written and directed by Nicholas Stoller, with Doug Sweetland also joining as director, this film is WAG’s second feature production. Their first, The Lego Movie, was a smash hit that frankly blew away my expectations.
One of my favorite animated films of all time is DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt, and one of my favorite animated sequences of all time is the opening song “Deliver Us.” Right from the beginning the movie delivers a powerful and visceral experience, adapting one of the most famous Biblical stories in a sincere way that captures its heart and essence. With beautiful music and visuals, it holds a special place in my heart. That’s why it pains me to admit that I have mixed feelings about DreamWorks Animation: I admire a lot of work that they’ve done, and I feel like they’ve impacted the industry in beneficial ways. At the same time, their missteps have been many, and I feel like they’ve been losing their edge for a long time. Given the fact that they’ve been making the news lately, I want to take this time to meditate on DreamWorks and their importance.