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The Current State Of Computer Animated Movies, According To Me

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

That’s one crazy family

Okay, so I’m almost caught up on my animated films of 2006. I only have The Wild, Ice Age 2, Barnyard, Flushed Away, Open Season, Happy Feet, and The Ant Bully left to go – wait a sec, I don’t want to see any of these movies, and holy crap that’s a lot. It seems every week a new computer-generated movie arrives in theatres. It was only ten years ago that you were lucky to have two animated movies come out in a single year. What a difference ten years can make. Back in good ol’ 1996, Disney was still making movies the old-fashioned way, as in drawing everything by hand (Hunchback of Notre Dame came out at this time).  Seems ridiculous, I know.

Beginning with Toy Story in 1995 and its almost 200 million gross at the box office, the age of CG animated films had begun. In the five or so years that followed Toy Story, very few CG movies were released, because it’s an extremely lengthy process, and was (and remains) an extremely expensive one too. A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2 and Antz were the only other CG films of the late 90s, bringing in a combined total of almost 500 million at the box office. In the last 6 six years, the success of Dreamworks’ Shrek  and Shrek 2 have been gi-normous, claiming the number one and number three spots respectively on the list of top-grossing animated films, with Finding Nemo at number 2, and other worthy notables such as Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles rounding out the top five.

The current glut of animated movies seems to show that CG films just aren’t that special anymore. Take this year’s top hits (so far), Cars and Ice Age: The Meltdown. Cars brought in a respectable 244 million, and Ice Age, 195 million. Not too shabby, but neither managed to even break Toy Story 2’s sum of 245. And them’s 1999 dollars.

While it’s too early to tell for a few movies that haven’t been released yet, the majority of animated films from this year and last are struggling to make a decent profit. And while I haven’t seen them, just a quick scan of the plotline of some of these films indicates that there is a severe lack of creativity out there: movies about cows in a barnyard, or ant colonies, or a bear that befriends an elk to avoid capture by hunters, or tap-dancing penguins.

Of the three that I have seen this year, Monster House (which uses the motion-capture technique, where real actors are hooked up with all kinds of sensors that record their movements) proved the most enjoyable; Over the Hedge had very funny moments (Steve Carell as the hyper-active squirrel was brilliant), but Cars was exceedingly boring (and shockingly, nary an imported car to be found, except for some European models). Cars certainly wasn’t as fun as I thought it was going to be, especially with all the vocal talent they had at their disposal. I mean, if you’ve got George Carlin and Cheech Marin and Michael Keaton in a movie together, would you give Larry the Cable Guy the larger part?

In 2004, The Incredibles proved that more ‘sophisticated’ stories could be told through CG, and hopefully more imaginative tales for children will be made, but at least in the foreseeable future, the majority will mostly be films we’ve seen before: another Shrek, a spin-off of Shrek, another Madagascar, another Toy Story, another Hoodwinked, a movie about bees with Jerry Seinfeld (okay, this could have potential) and another movie about penguins. And probably another Ice Age, and I wouldn’t discount another Incredibles either.

But I have hope. The CG film world is in its infancy, and there are plenty of interesting stories still to be told. Zemekis’s Polar Express had a refreshingly different feel to it (also using the motion-capture technique), and, while I didn’t really like the movie, at least it proves that new things can be done. Early next year we’ll be getting a CG Ninja Turtles (as mentioned by colleague Mr. Beal), and Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are could be a watershed moment. Time will tell. llewopemearg

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah permalink
    Wednesday, November 15, 2006 2:15 pm

    I wish I could share the same optimism with you about the Seinfeld movie. Have you ever seen his kids books (also with cg illustrations)? Weak! I think he’s counting on the adults willingness to take their kids to a Seinfeld movie because they expect to be entertained as well. His books seem that way — and they are LAME.

    I do believe you’re right about the value of motion-capture technique. It adds something, something you can’t even pinpoint while watching the movie. I think more than just helping in animating the movements, it gave the actors the feel for the words when it came to the voice-over work.

    Frankly, if any animated movie is going to work, it has a lot less to do with the realism, and a lot more to do with the story. Open up the kids VHS drawer of the classic Disney videos…the stories in there are worth a dozen Cars.

  2. Sarah permalink
    Wednesday, November 15, 2006 2:18 pm

    Oh yeah, a good story AND Steve Carrell!

  3. Wednesday, November 15, 2006 8:27 pm

    Basic agreement across the board, though I wouldn’t be so quick to write off Happy Feet — yeah, it’s another damn kid-friendly talking animal movie, but this one’s co-written and directed by George Miller, he of the Mad Max and Babe movies. And Hugo Weaving‘s in the voice cast, and if that man doesn’t have the best voice ever, then I’ll eat my hat (Note: My hat is made entirely out of s’mores).

    Oh yeah, in terms of next year’s CG’s: Brad Bird’s working with Pixar again for Ratatouille. Yes, it seems to be talking animals again (rats, if you can follow the pun), but we have to give the man behind The Iron Giant every benefit of every doubt, or else where are we as a society? He’s the Incredibles guy, too, so there you have it.

    Also, may I draw your attention over here, where I talk of a CG film that does not follow the Disney anthropomorphomold, Free Jimmy, which still hasn’t come out Norway, and doesn’t have a North American release. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real — I didn’t dream this one up, people!

    You also neglected one previous attempt to break the kiddie tradition — Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a film which everyone hates, except me (me love), and which took a grandiose dump at the box office. These movies are so damn expensive to make, that risks such as these — movies that exclude the kid audience — just aren’t going to come along until someone takes the risk and finds a hit. And I don’t think a simple malaise of over-saturation is gonna do it, because even if the mediocre CG movies don’t make Toy Story money in the NA box office, they always clean up on DVD, and I think they do well internationally, too (we get every single one of them over here, often dubbed for the kids instead of subtitled like most imports).

  4. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, November 15, 2006 9:16 pm

    Pff – we all know you don’t have any hats of any kind at all.

    Personally, I say bring on The Incredibles 2. I’ve been eagerly awaiting that one for years. Two years, I guess you could say. Two years and a bit.

    There was also the direct-to-DVD Final Fantasy VII CG movie. But it sucked.

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