Friday, January 27, 2006

January 2006 is 1994 continued....

As we roll on toward the close of January 2006, I think it's safe to say that it will be remembered as one of the most pivotal and defining months in modern animated feature film history. But I think it's merely a continuation of events that occured way back in 1994. Let's review...

In the summer of 1994, feature film animation experienced a clear historical event with the release and subsequent monsterous success of The Lion King. The uber successful film set the expectations benchmark for all feature animated fare for the next 7 years. Everything was measured by how it ranked against TLK. The bar was set unreasonably high. Later that same year Jefferey Katzenberg left Disney with his nose permanently out of joint, which led to the eventual founding of Dreamworks SKG. Also in 1994 Disney released it's first DTV sequel adaptation of a recent feature film hit with Alladin2: Return of Jafar. The "Cheapquel" train left the station that year only to gain speed at an alarming rate. It's not a stretch to say that the landscape of feature animation was forever changed in 1994.

Shortly on the tails of 1994, the feature animaton biz experienced another bellweather. November of 1995 we saw the release and subsequent unexpected rave success of Toy Story. Made by some unknown little technology company named Pixar, the CGI animated film was born and a new era was ushered in.

By 2003 the consequences of the events of 1994/95 had reached a point of stasis. CG was king. Traditional feature animation had been bannished to the dungeons. The upheaval was monumental. Who knew in '94 that the perfect storm of coincidence would have born the fruit of misery in traditional feature animation that we have seen? Or that Cg would become the only form of animated feature film in the US? Oddly enough Hollywood still measures animated film success by comparing it's revenues to the wildly off the "bell curve" Lion King. Only now the idea is that only CG can hit those marks. Sooner or later the reality will settle in that you can't plan your entire business around a level of success that happens only once every 10 years. But that's material for another post, I think. :)

Now we sit in January 2006. First Hoodwinked carries forward the Alladin 2: Return of Jafar momentum, only this time in CG. It was only a matter of time before something like Hoodwinked - a very cheaply made film done overseas that does a respectable (and highly profitable) business with the animation buying public- was going to happen. Will Hoodwinked have the same downward pull on the CG feature market that Alladin 2 began in traditional? Time will tell, but the clock is running.

Then came the big news that Disney has bought Pixar. This is obviously a play out of the rest of the watershed events of 1994/95. I see Disney buying Pixar as the culmination of what was set in motion back then. What was that Lion King theme song again? Something about the circle of life? Indeed.


Tim said...

O, brother Keith, the Circle of Life starts much, much earlier than 1993.
Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1937. Here you will witness the first crest of the Disney wave (which started in 1927 with "Steamboat Willie and built bigger with "The Three Little Pigs"). Yes, "Snow White" paid everybody's bills for a long time. And many other studions tried feature animation over the years, as well "Gulliver's Travels", "Hoppity Goes to Town", etc". Those other studios never got very far, feature-wise. Even the Disney films after SW didn't turn a profit (during initial release) until the 50's with "Cinderella". And that was just a small wave of success. The next profitable film from Walt was his last, "The Jungle Book". Then throughout the 60's and 70's there was a loooooong drought. Classically trained animators were churning out TV gems like "Superfriends" and the "Tom & Jerry/Grape Ape Show". Disney feature animation was not very profitable and mostly served to feed the theme parks. Other studios produced such classics as "Fritz the Cat", "Lord of the Rings", Charlotte's Web" and more. But the Hollywood money machine didn't perk up it's ears until the late 80's when "American Tail", "Roger Rabbit" and "Little Mermaid" came out.
Definitely this has been the biggest feature animation wave to date. But it was doomed to fail when the budgets of films like "Treasure Planet" were equal to or more than the domestic box office take of "Little Mermaid" just a few years before.
The Circle of Life became rather cannibalistic. Oh there were other factors, naturally. We were in the middle of the dot com boom and there was more money floating around than anybody but Enron executives knew what to do with.
Let that be a lesson to us all. Let's just take it easy this time. Let's all just produce great art and not try and get rich.

Tim said...

Oh, I totally forgot to say... Great post, Keith! I really enjoyed your take on things.
Obviously, I, too, am really curous how things will play out this time around. Surf's up, dude! Hope you catch a big one!
- Tim
P.S. In my first post, I put a stray "n" in "studios" making a new word "studions" which sounds like an alien outpost for training bodyguards for the Empress Ognal.

Anonymous said...

Great posts, both of you. Very astute indeed.

Anonymous said...

Great read Lango. I kept checking here for when you would respond. It's about time. =)

2 pods over,


Tim said...

Check this news out from over at Jim Hill:

gcastro3d said...

great post keith.


Matt Ornstein said...

Hey Keith! Way to articulate what I have been feeling all year but couldn't manage to put it into cohesive sentences. Good read.