Monday, June 16, 2014

Box Office Analysis: The Problem With DreamWorks

Poor little Toothless probably won't be so happy
when Shareholders start getting mad at DreamWorks this week
This weekend, the excellent feature How To Train Your Dragon 2 was released to glowing reviews, eleven months of promotion and a cinema landscape that hadn't seen a CGI animated movie in two months (I'll forget Legends of Oz even existed due to that one being unable to hit $8 million) And yet, it only made $50 million at the box office, way below my $72 million predictions and far beneath most other animated releases that debuted in the month of June. At least it managed to beat its predecessors opening weekend, unlike fellow quality DreamWorks sequel Kung Fu Panda 2, although that's slight comfort for the company that I'm sure will be badgered by jittery stockholders this week by this performance.

 But perhaps this opening coming in below expectations is a good thing.  You see, I think it's time for a game change. In fact, we should have had a game change way before this. For a few years now, DreamWorks has been trying to play this "multiple films a year" game, and man, is it just not working. It's reducing not only the movies uniqueness in the marketplace, but also hurts the quality of the films themselves. There's a reason DreamWorks Animation is the only animation studio to produce more than one animated feature a year. It's not only difficult to do from a working standpoint, it also can drain things creatively when you're balancing so many different films.

Want proof? Just take a look at this little timeline.

While they'd been doing 2 films every year starting in 2004 (which started off with the terrific Shrek 2 and the entertaining Shark Tale), the next two years only contained one exclusive DreamWorks Animation title. For 2005 and 2006, that second movie came from Aardman Animation, who produced the delightful Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of The Were-Rabbit and Flushed Away. When those clay-motion geniuses left the company, DreamWorks had to not craft two features a year, and they utterly failed creatively in their first time up to bat. 2007 brought the financially huge Shrek The Third, but that movie still remains one of the worst comedies, animated or otherwise, in recent years. The second movie, Bee Movie that year was only marginally better, with some amusing moments being sandwiched in between storytelling that was as middling as they come.

The trend continued in 2008 (Kung Fu Panda was amazing, but Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa replaced the first movies fun with dreariness), but in 2009, DreamWorks released only a single motion picture, Mosnters Vs. Aliens. The movie was decent, but it inspired hope that maybe DreamWorks Animation was reevaluating themselves in order to produce quality movies. No such luck. 2010 would now be the first time they produced three movies in a year, with the plan being to do that every other year, and maybe, perhaps, potentially do it every year starting in 2012. Once again, only one project came out of it looking good; their best feature ever, How To Train Your Dragon. The other two just couldn't match up; Shrek Forever After was a messy finale and MegaMind, while watchable and even occasionally entertaining, was inconsistent in tone and characters.
Rise of The Guardians : A movie so infuriating in what it did wrong, and
namely, in what it did right
It's pretty obvious that DreamWorks, like any other animation studio, really only has the capabilities to produce one good animated feature a year. That hasn't changed in recent times as they've strived for more artsitic endeavors like Rise of The Guardianss; over the past three years the good (Kung Fu Panda 2, Madagascar 3 and The Croods) have directly contrasted with the middling (Puss In Boots, Rise of The Guardians, Turbo). What's interesting to note is that DreamWorks pours so much energy and money into these releases that aside from Bee Movie, Madagascar 2 and the last two Shrek movies, none of these films wind up being bad per se. They just feel underwhelming in many facets that soon add up and managed to bring the whole project down. Perhaps if they just concentrated each year on creating one major event movie, they could earn some respect back both artistically and financially.

Another little thing they should take note of is please, for the love of God DreamWorks, go dark, or don't even bother. The Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon sequels have managed to go into more complex emotional areas to great success, while an original feature named Rise of The Guardians that needed a bit of dark edge was let down by it's inability to let any moment go by without some little kid having to seemingly reassure the audience "Don't Worry! Everything's just fine! It's all happy and nice!". If only they had truly swung for the fences constantly in that one, it could have lived up to all it's potential. Take that to heart for future endeavors DreamWorks; concentrate on quality, not quantity, and be dark when need be.

That way, I won't ever have to suffer through Shrek 5: The Legend of Donkeys Gold

UPDATE (June 16, 10:30 AM): Can I call 'em, or can I call 'em?

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