Animation Update: Spring 2014 Edition

I haven’t been to the cinema in a long time and probably won’t be going any time soon because of the high prices and the non-availability of original English versions around here, but that is not going to stop me from having a look at one of my favourite movie genres once in a while. I really love animated movies and I’m always interested in what’s going on in the business, but I wrote an Animation Update article once in Spring 2012 and never followed it up. Let’s see if I can make this into a semi-regular feature since I’m not really in the mood to write long reviews at the moment and there also won’t be much Oscar coverage from me this year – except for a little bit of genre-specific speculation at the end of this post.

Dreamworks Animation had its hits and misses in the past, but at the end of 2012 the studio had run into unexpected trouble when Rise of the Guardians turned out to be the first boxoffice flop since a long time. There were even some rumours of a possible bankruptcy until The Croods made big business in the following spring and not even the lukewarm boxoffice results of Turbo were a real concern. The biggest change for Dreamworks was, however, the distributor: after their contract with Paramount ended in 2012, the studio had been negotiating for a lucrative deal and surprisingly came to terms with 20th Century Fox, who also owns BlueSky Animation. But Dreamworks still remains independent and only lets Fox distribute their movies. The studio will be exceptionally busy in the next three years, in which they will release three films each: 2014 is opening with the adaption of a classic, the promising Mr Peabody & Sherman, followed by the surely amazing How To Train Your Dragon 2 and closing with the science-fiction tale Home, which was originally named Happy Smekday. 2015 will finally bring The Penguins of Madagascar to the big screen in spring, the ghost-hunting comedy B.O.O. Bureau Of Otherworldly Operations will come in summer or autumn and the hopefully better than its predecessor Kung Fu Panda 3 will be arrive shortly before Christmas. A still very unspecified movie called Bollywood Superstar Monkey or Mumbai Musical is scheduled for early 2016, How To Train Your Dragon 3 is penciled in for the summer of that year and Trolls, which seems to be partly based on Terry Pratchett’s Truckers, will probably also come later that year. There are still a lot of other projects in development, among them the Barry Sonnenfeld project The Pig Scrolls and sequels to both Puss in Boots and The Croods – Dreamworks Animation has a lot on its plate in the next few years.

Pixar seems to have lost its groove lately and appears to have become just a subsidy of the Disney Animation empire, now headed by Pixar boss John Lasseter. The studio is still producing just one movie per year with other projects and even spinoffs outsourced to other Disney animation departments. While their last three movies were certainly profitable, they were not really up to Pixar’s former glory – Toy Story 3, Cars 2 and Brave were just more or less going through the motions and even the much anticipated prequel Monsters University was not the sensation it could have been. 2014 will even be completely Pixar-less, because their latest project The Good Dinosaur is in such trouble that director Bob Peterson was fired in late 2013 and no new director has even been announced yet – the tentative release date is now November 2015. One of the only two known movies in development at Pixar is Inside Out, an ambitious project from Pete Docter apparently playing out in the mind of a young girl, which will be released in summer 2015. The other one is Finding Dory, the inevitable sequel to Finding Nemo, slated for 2016.

Blue Sky Studios, once the first newcomer after Pixar and Dreamworks, is now also firmly entrenched into the franchise business with its debut movie Ice Age slated for its fifth incarnation in 2016 – which will hopefully be better than the dreadful and childish Continental Drift from 2012. But first, 2014 will see the colourful latin-american bird tale Rio 2 coming in April, which will be the only movie of this year since Blue Sky still only does one movie per year. Of more concern is the curious 2015 announcement of The Peanuts after Charles M. Schultz comic strip. While Charlie Brown, Snoopy & Co have already been animated plenty in traditional 2D, I have my doubts that this is going to work as a CGI production – but the inclusion of Schultz’ children as writers gives at least a little hope. The studio also still seems to be working on a CGI adaption of Patrick McDonnells comic strip Mutts, but no release date has been set for this.

Aardman Animations has successfully survived the split from Dreamworks in 2007 and has since partnered up with Sony Pictures and released its first 3D animated stop-motion picture The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists based on Gideos Defoe’s books. The movie was not a complete financial success, but thanks to low production costs and very good reviews it still became one of Aardman’s little triumphs. Since then the studio has been working on multiple projects like a new series of Shaun the Sheep, who will also come to the cinemas in 2015 with the help of not Sony, but Studio Canal. Steve Box and Nick Park are both working on separate projects and there are still rumours than Wallace & Gromit will return in some form. Peter Lord has also embraced Kickstarter as a means to bring back their old favourite Morph, a campaign which has worked phenomenally well and brought in over 100.000 pounds to produce new Morph episodes!

Studio Ghibli is celebrating its unofficial 30th anniversary in 2014 and will release its 20th movie, Omoide no Marnie (The Memories of Marnie) this summer. For the first time, Ghibli released two movies in one year in 2013, the biographical drama When the Wind rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya – but only the former has been released outside of Japan yet. Studio founder Hayao Miyazaki has announced his retirement after When the Wind rises, but this is by no means certain because the 73-year-old director and writer has done this several times before and always returned after a well-earned break. Ghibli still has ties to Disney, who are dubbing and releasing their movies in North America, but the popularity of their movies in western countries has waned somewhat after the huge interest in their movies generated by the Academy Award win of Spirited Away in 2002. Miyazaki’s son Goro is also slated to direct and produce a computer-animated television series based on Astrid Lindgren’s Ronja the Robber’s Daughter.

Sony Pictures Animation is still the new kid in town, but has been extraordinarily busy, turning lots of their output into franchises like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 which already came in late 2013 and probably will be good for at least another sequel like The Smurfs 3, which has been announced for 2015. The financially, but not very critical successful Hotel Transylvania will also get another installment in 2015 and Sony will even branch into the classic comic genre with a new Popeye incarnation in the same year. Curiously, there are no movies scheduled for 2014, but more than fifteen projects are rumoured to be in preparation. Overall, Sony Pictures Animation seems to be geared more towards younger viewers than adults at the moment, an attitude which seems to be continuing.

Illumination Entertainment is one of the newest studios enterting the market, but the Universal-owned studio’s 2010 smash hit Despicable Me was actually animated by the french studio MacGuff, which later merged with them. After producing the easter bunny tale Hop and taking over the Dr. Seuss franchise from Blue Sky with The Lorax, Illumination turned their debut film into a franchise and released Despicable Me last summer, with another sequel slated for 2017. There are many projects in development from Illumination, among them more Dr. Seuss material and even an accompaniyng biopic, but most of it seems geared more towards the younger market than adults. Despite the business of the studio, Illumination will have no movie in the cinemas in 2014.

The big surprise of 2014 is, however, the Lego Movie, which is not coming from any of the big animation studios, but from the resurrected Warner Animation Group and the Australian animation studio Animal Logic. The movie has garnered surprisingly good reviews and seems to be astonishingly compatible with older audiences – it has a definitive Dreamworks slant and while I won’t be seeing it until it comes out on DVD, I think I will like it very much and a review will be definitively coming.

And the Oscar goes to… who knows? Nominated for this years Animation Academy Award are Dreamworks’ The Croods, Disney’s Frozen, Illumination’s Despicable Me 2, the traditionally animated french production Ernest & Celestine and Ghibli’s The Wind Rises – but Monsters University has surprisingly been left out, probably because the Academy didn’t want to nominate two Disney movies at once. I’m not sure which movie will get the Oscar nod – if it’s going to be all-american the Academy will probably go for the Disney movie, but I would not rule out Ghibli’s entry because it’s supposed to be Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement farewell. [Update: Looks like I was right with the all-american stuff, Frozen won indeed and also took the Oscar for best song. Apart from that, no major surprises this, but also no unjustified awards.]

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