‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ Opening Continues DreamWorks’ Mild Streak

The DreamWorks feature Mr. Peabody & Sherman, directed by Rob Minkoff, opened in the United States this weekend with an estimated $32.5 million. The film settled for second place behind 300: Rise of An Empire.

As DreamWorks Animation has aggressively expanded into YouTube channels and series production, its core product—animated features—have suffered from lack of audience interest. Peabody’s $30M+ debut can be attributed in large part to the massive advertising effort supporting the film since the film had very little organic audience buzz. Its box office numbers promise to fade quickly when Muppets Most Wanted opens in two weeks.

Between 2007 and 2011, 8 out of 10 DreamWorks CG films opened above $40 million in the U.S. Since that time, only 2 out of its 5 films have opened above $40 million. The average global gross of its four films prior to Peabody have been around $70 million less than the films that DreamWorks released between 2007 and 2011. The studio will score a much needed hit with How to Train Your Dragon 2, and will shift back into safer territory next year with franchise favorites like Penguins of Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda 3.

The LEGO Movie took fourth place with $11M (est), and a massive five-week gross of $225M. Frozen held onto eighth place in its 15th weekend with $3M (est). The film is inching its way closer to a $400M gross in the U.S. with a current total of $393.1M.

Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises grossed $871,000 from 496 theaters, upping its domestic total to $3.3M. Its per-theater average of $1,756 was less than Frozen’s per-theater average of $1,813 in its fifteenth weekend. The reality is that Americans, outside of an animation-savvy crowd, don’t care (or know how) to process animation that contains mature subject matter. The Wind Rises was the top-grossing film in Japan last year, live-action or animated. Its disproportionately weak U.S. performance says more about how animation is perceived in America than the quality of Miyazaki’s filmmaking.


  • Michael Howe

    “The reality is that Americans, outside of an animation-savvy crowd, don’t care (or know how) to process animation that contains mature subject matter.”

    This seems to be a neverending battle that has plagued animation since the early days. It feels that only in Europe or Asia, will they take animation into more serious realms, or those in which you can go outside or normal expectations.

    Whenever something new has come along in animation in this country, non-Disney executives always seem to go, “how do we market this to kids? Animation is for kids, and if they aren’t going to go with families, it’s got no chance.”

    I really wish he likes of Laika’s work would get more attention. Why is it on a general basis, stop-motion films just seem to peak around $50 million in this country?

    • Anthony Dean

      Well, I’d say it’s “animation is for kids” or the opposite idea that “adult animation must be like South Park/Adult Swim (i.e., adult = immature/adolescent/crude).”

    • IJK

      The thing is though all those adult-oriented stuff you mention from foreign lands aren’t trying to garner millions and millions and even a billion dollars. It’s very hard to compare anime tv-shows to American animated cinema because they’re on different platforms, their marketing is different, production is different, budget is different, etc.

      Even Miyazaki’s films in Japan don’t make nearly as much as Pixar or Disney does here. Our Hollywood is just insane and all about being big and epic and it’s very hard to convince studios who NEED to make films with a profit of 500+ millions just to greenlight their next project to do something small or take a chance.

      It’s also part of what Dean said, that if you were to compare some of the adult animation we have on equal grounds, very little of it would be Venture Brothers quality.

      • SarahJesness

        You’re right about the movies. Hollywood these days is all about big blockbusters and franchises. (it’s easy to forget that there was once a time when it was hard for a movie to get a theatrical sequel) There’s less room for things they expect to be moderately successful.

        Most American adult animated works are comedies that pander to idiots. If we want something other than that, we have to start with TV. And I think quality adult animation like that does have a chance. Adventure Time and Regular Show, while technically made for and marketed to kids, have large teen and adult followings. The Legend of Korra is clearly made with an older audience in mind. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, while primarily made for young girls, has an older following that Hasbro is more than happy to acknowledge and cash in on. Disney Princess stuff is popular with adult women, and like Hasbro, Disney doesn’t have a problem making stuff for them. (and judging by how much of that stuff Hot Topic has, it probably sells pretty well)

        • Funkybat

          While I prefer the more refined, fluid look of traditional feature animation, the fact is television and the web are currently more fertile ground for risk-taking. Even though there is a certain range for TV animation (one for kids, another for adults) that execs will greenlight, TV seems to allow a broader range of topics, art styles, and senses of humor than most features in the U.S. Something like Gravity Falls could make a great feature, but would never be greenlit for such unless it had already been successful on TV. Steven Universe works well as a series, but a feature (even an “origin story” one) would be beautiful. I consider that idea far-fetched, and count myself and the rest of the audience lucky that it was even greenlit for TV.

          There are a lot of riskier (from a financial standpoint) ideas on TV or via online media because the barrier to entry is lower, budgets are lower, there is not this insane pressure to make every hit a home run or grand slam. The idea that Peabody & Sherman, a movie that made $32 million opening weekend and will go on to make many millions more, could be considered “middling performance” says a lot about the expectation bloat of theatrical animation. In any sane universe, The Princess & The Frog would be considered a hit, but not here.

  • Some Reflections

    I can’t help but think that the problem with how the North American public perceives animation has to do with the fact that people don’t think they are able to emotionally invest in the lives of animated characters. I hear people all the time saying “yeah, but I like movies with real people.” When it comes to comedy, adult animation is widely accepted. A lot of people watch Family Guy and South Park. But those shows are satire, and can be appreciated at a cynical distance from the characters.

    I find the public perception of animation to be a very frustrating issue. I’ve heard tons of people talking about how they cried when watching Up or Toy Story 3, yet they can’t imagine watching an animated drama made for adults at the cinema.

  • Stranger

    I wish the Wind Rises had a wider opening. I live in Ontario and the only place it was playing is Toronto.

  • SarahJesness

    Yeah, it’s harder to pitch an animated show when it has a premise that can be done more easily (and more cheaply) in live action.

    But with that said, it’s perfectly possible to create emotional, dramatic stories with fantastic elements. Toy Story 3 and The Iron Giant made me cry like a bitch, and did the same to many other adults. Adventure Time, while silly and crazy and random most of the time, has had multiple moments that just stabbed me right in the heart. (“… where everybody know your name…”) It’s all in the story and the relationships. A post-apocalyptic setting where we follow a man who is slowly going insane thanks to a magic crown that also gives him ice powers, but he’s trying to hold on to his sanity so he can continue to protect the little half-demon girl he’s picked up on his travels. It’s a crazy premise that justifies animation, but it still manages to have genuine emotions and character relationships, moreso than what you see in a lot of live-action programming. (I would totally watch a Simon and Marcy TV series, for the record)

  • SarahJesness

    With Ghibli films, part of it is the Disney distribution deal, I guess. Disney primarily markets animation to children, so unless they’re holding a particularly kiddie Ghibli movie, they don’t really advertise it as much.

  • Inkan1969

    Go to http://www.ernestandcelestine.com to find a theater list.

  • Marsha Riti

    Thank you for bringing up advertising. I did not see ANY advertising for “The Wind Rises.” Honestly, I think advertising in addition to other factors has far more to do with the film’s poor boxoffice numbers than American audience’s predilections. Think about all the factors before making blanket statements.

    • Jules

      “The Wind Rises” was a challenge to market in America: an adult (non-sophomoric) story, told in stylized, 2D animation, showcasing the creative nurturing of an airplane used by Japan (despite the film’s anti-war message) to bomb Pearl Harbor to smithereens. A unique film on many levels and one on a substantially more elevated intellectual plane than its animated competitors. For all the talk of animated television series product being part of an ‘animation ghetto,’ the term also applies to much of the American theatrical product in 2014.

  • Brittany

    My friend was finally gonna get a chance to see The Wind Rises last week, but it had already been removed from all the theaters in his city, even the cities surrounding! It was barely there one week! I got to see it but I don’t remember any advertising for it at all, at least making money was obviously not what miyazaki cared about. It’s understandable that it would be hard to market since people are touchy about anything slightly ww2.
    The fate of Mr. Peabody doesn’t surprise me though. I have’t seen it but on the trailer’s surface it just appears bland, I’m glad it didn’t totally bomb though thanks to the ads.

  • cetrata

    I guess dreamworks wanted to promote their upcoming film, home, since there is a chance this could struggle like rise of the guardians. I’m hoping the short comes out on video with peabody and sherman.

  • Frank

    I kind of stopped reading about half way, but I agree with what I did read. People’s opinions on animation are not going to change that’s just how it is.

  • Some Reflections

    This is a response to both Zac and IJK.

    Zac, I have seen all of the Ghibli films. Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday, both stories that could have been easily shot in live action, are some of the studio’s most beloved fan favourites.
    (parenthetical note; The Ocean Waves, a TV movie by the younger staff at Ghibli, is similar because it has no fantasy elements, but that movie sucks, don’t see it first)

    I think it’s a mistake to think “if it is more fantasy oriented, it should be animation. If it’s a realistic story, it should be live-action.” With today’s advanced CGI technology, any fantasy story can be told in live-action. Mind you, CGI in live-action movies is animation. However, the aims of visual effects in a live-action film differs from the aims of a 100% animated cartoon.

    I think I remember reading/hearing Brad Bird say something like “The reason a director would want to choose animation is because of caricature.” I can’t remember the exact quote, so I’m paraphrasing. Anyway, even though I wouldn’t strictly use the word caricature, I think Bird’s thoughts on animation strike at the heart of the matter.

    Cartoons, according to Scott McCloud’s definition (so no, not necessarily kiddy funny animals), are an interpretive way of looking at the world. I think we should take a look at the world of comics to see that just because something is a cartoon, doesn’t mean it is a fantasy. Maus has very powerful dark imagery. A true holocaust story told through simplistic cartoons. Would the comic have benefited if the story was drawn in a more realistic style? I’m definitely not convinced.

    Waltz with Bashir is a very grim and serious documentary told through Flash animation. Although I personally don’t like Flash, this is a really powerful movie because of it’s stylized imagery.

    And let us return to Only Yesterday. This film uses animation to it’s advantage in wonderfully subtle ways. The film follows two narrative threads, one in present day, and the other narrative tells of the memories of the protagonist when she was 10 years old. Both threads have a different animation style, but it’s not obvious with just a casual glance. But you begin to notice that in the flashback scenes, the background paintings are more minimalistic, and the characters have more simplified, less realistic facial expressions. A wonderful, subtle visual symbol that was executed well, because it was an animated film.

    I don’t want you to think that I dislike fantasy. I love fantasy. Spirited Away is still my personal favourite Studio Ghibli film. I’m a huge Tolkien fan. I play Dungeons & Dragons. I write fantasy.

    But as much as I love all kinds of speculative fiction, I wish that the animation community would welcome other genres into the family.

    • zac leck

      Only Yesterday was the film I was thinking about. I saw that a decade or so ago and found myself asking why it was animated. Grave of the Fireflies, like I said, could be argued for being animated because you react differently to the characters than if they were actors. Especially in the time it was made when big CG effects wasn’t common or even really heard of to some degree. Taking the viewer out of reality allows them to connect with the style and the characters in a more immediate and intimate way. So I wasn’t arguing against Grave being animated. I was just saying it was one of those films that was so rooted in reality that the question came to mind.

      I don’t think a movie needs to be quirky talking animals or fantasy to justify animation. I think any story could be told in animation with varying results. But coming back to Only Yesterday, animating it seems like a very expensive way to tell that story.

  • ToonWatcher

    Most of the perception animation in the US has to do with the tiny box that they keep it in. For far too long, it has been kept in a “kid-friendly” box. So the execs only see it as a way to sell toys. Meanwhile, all the “adult” cartoons all have dialogue-driven comedy with adult language. In that case, they make money from the ads.
    -
    Those models have been given to Americans for so long that we actually believe it now. Animation is desperate to climb out of the hole we put it in.

  • zac leck

    I was gonna make this point too. I think marketing a movie’s success or failure based on how much money it made is so misleading it’s laughable. I never understood why Amid seems to get such a thrill reporting an animated film’s success on that merit alone but those posts pop up constantly on here. Not his fault of course, I’m sure ‘how much money it made’ is the only information you can get on box office sales. Number of tickets sold is far more useful in my opinion.

    • Funkybat

      A lot of people in America judge film success by these metrics. Sad, but true. I know a guy who won’t consider seeing movies in the theater until he sees the box office, figuring the “market” will tell him what is worth his time. And the sad fact is the money game *is* important even to us artists, because it shows what types of films are more or less likely to be approved for production by the studio heads. If you’re a John K. and don’t give a crap about trying to work within the system, that’s fine, but most of us animators are trying to do creative work within a system of commercially-driven filmmaking.

  • IJK

    Think about it like this:

    It takes let’s say, $150 million to your average animated feature. Plus $50 million to advertise it. That’s $200 million to break even and another $150 million to fund your next project.

    $350 million. Now take into account that Dreamworks would like to have enough money to have more than one project going on (Not just feature, tv series or anything at all) and would like to invest money in developing technology and techniques for future films. As well as the costs to keep their building and staff up…

    I hope you can see why $300 million is considered a “failure”.

  • IJK

    “But Walt never seemed to care as long as the work was good.”

    Also Walt cared. He almost went bankrupt quite a few times. I’m sure he cared very much during those points in his life.

    • Funkybat

      Of course “Walt cared,” but I believe Floyd’s point was that he did not let that issue become a key component of his creative discussions with his artists. I also believe that, while Walt very much wanted to “give people what they wanted” he wanted to make what they wanted something they had never seen before. The most successful innovators make their fortunes selling people something they “never knew they wanted/needed” until you presented it to them. Walt was also very risky, at least early on. He was full-on behind Fantasia despite the valid concerns that it was not going to be a big moneymaker, and initially it was not. I don’t think he ever regretted having made it. THAT’S the kind of artistic integrity that is absent most C-suites these days.

      • Mark Walton

        Well said. Fantasia, Bambi, Pinocchio, and particularly Snow White and Disneyland (i.e., the birth of American animated features and theme parks) would never have happened if people like Walt weren’t willing to take extraordinary, crippling risks, have extraordinary patience and faith in the quality and inherent merits of their product, despite the naysayers and sometimes long waits to be validated by the public and financially profitable.

  • Rufus

    Devil’s advocate here – what advantage does an animated “real life” dramatic film have over a live action dramatic film? In the comedic/fantasy realm, animation allows visual caricatures, wild visual exaggerations and faster visual recognition due to less extraneous detail, which give it an advantage. For a biopic like “The Wind Rises” there is virtually no advantage, particularly given modern FX. I’m a great admirer of Miyazaki’s work, but it is misapplied in this case.

  • Funkybat

    “The Wind Rises was the top-grossing film in Japan last year, live-action or animated. Its disproportionately weak U.S. performance says more about how animation is perceived in America than the quality of Miyazaki’s filmmaking.”

    —————————————————-

    It also shows how little the Disney marketing machine is willing to do to promote Ghibli films. Maybe it’s because they are seen as artistic competition, or maybe it’s just cluelessness, but there seems to be no real push for these films when Disney distributes them.

    I’m not saying that they should Happy Meal-up the joint, but to rather take the same marketing approach used for more indie adult live-action films. Go after the audience, which in this case is teen-fiftysomething adults who have somewhat refined taste in films, or at the very least are hip to follow metropolitan indie trends. Go after hipsters, go after the Wednesday afternoon matinee retirement crowd, go after the people who see movies like “The King’s Speech” or “Philomena” or the films of The Coen Brothers. Those movies don’t succeed just on Internet chat board word-of-mouth, they are marketed to their audiences, albeit in a less crass, over-the-top way than your typical tentpole feature.

    When Disney (and other Anime distributors) get serious about working the proven marketing techniques for these demographics, they will get more box office and more word-of-mouth that ultimately spreads beyond it, as happens with the biggest indie hits like Spike Jonze’s or David Lynch’s movies.