Imagi Shuts Down US Studio

Astro Boy

Imagi, the studio responsible for the TMNT and Astro Boy features, has shut down their American studio in Sherman Oaks, California. The company, which is still working on a Gatchaman feature, has been struggling both at the box office and in its financial operations. From HotStocked.com:

Imagi International Holdings Ltd has announced large scale review of operations which has mostly negative effect towards the staff. The company has cut off their US subsidiaries from any funding, the working contracts for 30 employees were terminated and the Los Angeles based office closed. The company was left with only a few important staff members being utilized as consultants and has transferred the functions of the closed office to other contractors . . . With their US office closed the company still has two more in Hong Kong and Tokyo as well as continues trading under the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. Their stock is poorly traded in both the exchanges.

Take-away lesson: artificial Christmas trees are easier to make than animated features.

(via TAG blog)


  • http://tillmyhands.blogspot.com Adam VM

    That’s unfortunate. Good luck to all of the Imagi employees who’re left in the lurch now.

    I would still prefer the studio bounce back somehow. I liked that teaser they did for..argh, I can’t remember the title, but the anime had a young boy who controls a giant robot by shouting into his wristwatch. It looked like it would be fun.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tony Mines

    I still like Imagi.

    I haven’t, and don’t particularly want to see Astro Boy, because I’m sure it’s awful. But I still find individual design elements of what I’ve seen, more interesting than almost any US CG movie of late. I still consider Imagi a really creatively interesting company doing really different things, and I think we should be encouraging them.
    TMNT had some of the best production design and the best background environments of almost any such film. The reason for the first weekend drop-off described in the linked article, is because the STORY was garbled saturday-morning drivel.
    I can’t help think that everything that Imagi does wrong (and they clearly make a lot of wrong moves) is as a consesssion towards an Occidental audience. That article image is quite attractive (bar the eyes), but compare it to the UK poster for the same, which deliberately strips away the production design to leave one of those red-on-white posters we associate with Eddie Murphy comedies. Its a deliberate attempt to pretend its a similar film to surprise hit Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.
    If Imagi, and indeed their distributors had the balls to decide to be ONE thing, and not a concession to the other – then their whole output would be as good as some of their production art promises, and they could truly be an Asian Pixar.

  • Terry

    That’s probably another remake of Giant Robo/Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot.

  • Andrew gothicson

    So I guess this means were not getting that gagaman movie? {Buy the DVDS of astro boy like Now when it comes out}

  • squirrel

    Oh, making animated shows is a REALLY natural direction to go into after making artificial Christmas trees! Just like following up after being a lawyer and journalist for a Korean newspa– oh wait.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    The local Everything For $1 stores just put the Astro Boy movie toys on display. Some of them are big fancy robot ones. $1. Wow.

    From the article linked above:
    the studio aspires to make U.S.-quality animated films in Asia for far lower costs

    Doesn’t Lucas already do this with CLONE WARS? And Dreamworks did it with FATHER OF THE PRIDE? And etc?

  • Smudge

    Trailer was from Tetsujin 28 (although it looks like all the villain designs are from Giant Robo–course, never saw the original T-28/Gigantor series so Giant Robo might have ‘borrowed’ those designs ;) ). The trailer you refer to is here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNr9ZkOSLxo

  • http://tillmyhands.blogspot.com Adam VM

    Oh, so it -was- Tetsujin 28. Thanks.

    Looking at it again, I still think it looks like it would have been fun, though it’s disappointing, now that I think about it, at how generic and pretty the boy is. That villain looks great, though.

    Well, maybe the studio will limp along long enough to get it done.

  • http://www.pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

    FP – The toy business is a brutal one. Much worse than animation. Very, very cut throat. Be glad that all we have to do is keep drawin’ them little Mickey Mouses.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    Years ago, when I heard of the Christmas tree origins of the company, I thought it was foolish to dive in to film making. But every new industry is built by someone who was doing something else previously, so why not? It’s movies, not cancer surgery.

    They followed their dream, they got competent work done right out of the gate, they gave employment to people who might otherwise not have been, they haven’t left anyone unpaid for their work… at least they are honorable if not successful.

  • Scarabim

    That picture of Astro is an early concept picture. The actual character design used in the film is much better, much more like the original anime character, and is very appealing.

    Astro Boy wasn’t “awful”. It’s one of the most moving, enjoyable, FUN movies I’ve seen lately. The craft in it is incredibly smooth and accomplished, and it’s got some of the best CGI animation I’ve ever seen. Imagi’s artists aren’t to blame here; their distributor, Summit International, killed the movie with its terrible advertising (those trailers it put out were confusing at best) and it scheduled it at a terrible time of year and against higher-profile competition (Where The Wild Things Are). Had the movie been handled by Disney (as per its work with Miyazaki’s films) it would have done much better. Disney knows how to sell a foreign animated cartoon to American audiences. Summit doesn’t have a clue. (Its Hurt Locker movie was a flop too, yet it’s being tapped for Best Picture by various movie societies). Astro Boy’s troubles bum me out. I’d love to see a sequel…

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com FloydBishop

    “Take-away lesson: artificial Christmas trees are easier to make than animated features.”

    Wow…

    I’m sure the artists here in the states that have just joined so many on the unemployment lines are the exact same people who built the Christmas trees, too.

  • http://www.sexymecha.com Hal

    They got two animated features out the gate, that’s something to be proud of! But the fact remains that Pixar and Dreamworks both made the wise decisions to embrace original concepts (to varying degrees of success) – adapting pre-existing properties is a great idea on paper with investorts, but I know from experience the living HELL that is adapting liscensed properties. TMNT’s success isn’t a surprise – it has remained a relatively modest BUT STABLE franchise since its 80s heyday, so the film succeeded on exactly the expected level. ASTRO BOY and GATCHAMAN are both so far removed from their shining glory that neither really has much more than fanboy nostalgia going for them – it was a poor decision by Imagi to hedge all their bets in two old anime properties when they had Western sensibilities. This is not to say reviving a franchise is a mistake, its simply that an average film with a pre-existing liscense isn’t going to cut it (which Astro Boy certainly was – an average kids movie that undermined most of Tezuka’s classic character for the sake of the “mainstream audience”). Unless you have the magic touch (or a franchise like TWILIGHT which is a bona fide phenomenon of the moment) I think you’re always better off going with something original, or at least new to the screen – either you START a franchise and reap the rewards directly or at least have room to continue forward after modest success without the scorn of a pre-existing fan base.

  • NoTimeForThat

    Well, if they had made a decent movie, they wouldn’t have had this problem.

    They get no sympathy from me. Both TMNT and Astro Boy were HORRIBLE films that were gigantic disappointments that utterly failed. From a scriptwriting point of view, they were very bad films, but their character design, direction and animation were both cheap and ugly.

    Good riddance to them, personally. Imagi is right where they belong, now.

  • Scarabim

    NoTimeForThat, you sound like a bitter bitter person. If you were in the industry, I hope you’d be more compassionate towards artists who put their best into a project, only to see it mishandled and unappreciated.

    I disagree, Hal, that Astro Boy was in any way undermined. I’ve read the manga and seen some of the various animes, and I think Imagi did a good job of bringing the character to life and making him sympathetic and lovable. Do you seriously think that a letter-for-letter adaptation from the 1950′s manga would have worked any better? Some of that stuff is damn strange by today’s standards. I think the script was sharp, emotional and clever, particularly in comparison to real shite like that Chipmunks sequel. And the character design, in my opinion, was a cut above some other movies, like the muppety designs from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – feh!!

    Anyway, I hope Imagi eventually pulls itself together, and that people give Astro Boy a chance when it comes out on DVD – although that may be a tall order, since Disney’s scheduled the underwhelming Princess and the Frog DVD to premiere the same day…

  • wgan

    they dont have a style, that’s the only problem

  • Josh

    It’s all personal opinion but Astroboy was frankly a high quality looking disaster of a movie. While the animation and look of the film was quite good, the script and some of the scenarios in the film were just plain aweful and didn’t belong in an Astroboy world (ie the gladiator sequence). I think what totally killed it though was Nicolas Cage who’s voicework had me almost walk out. Nicolas Cage, the story and the complete irrelevance of the last 30 seconds of the film were why this film failed completely in my eyes. A company can’t justify their existance, even if they are employing lots of people to make films, if the films are horrible and unprofitable, sooner or later they’re going to have to close down.

  • Scarabim

    Josh, the gladiator sequence in the movie is practically a mirror image of scenes from the original manga. In the very first Astro Boy story as written by Astro’s creator, Osamu Tezuka, Astro was sold to a circus and forced to fight other robots, something he was reluctant to do. Imagi found a way to incorporate that iconic scene – and others – into the movie, as a homage to the source material. It was very well done in my opinion.

    I really don’t get the Nicholas Cage hate I see out there in cyberspace. In my opinion, he did a stellar job as Dr. Tenma. Some complain that Tenma wasn’t deranged enough. I disagree. Imagi chose not to have Tenma go off the deep end, but to be deeply grieved and confused about his son’s death, and also by his attempt to rectify it with Astro’s creation. Imagi shouldn’t be faulted for this, because Tenma has been portrayed differently in just about every anime version (there have been 3 so far) he’s been in. Imagi quite correctly decided that Tenma’s rejection of Astro had to be brought to a satisfying conclusion in order for the movie to work emotionally for audiences. And indeed, Tenma’s eventual acceptance of Astro was a very touching moment that gave the movie a great payoff. Disney/Pixar couldn’t have done it any better.

    As for the movie’s ending, it was random, but it did show Astro as having found his destiny – as a defender of the humans he loves. I don’t think Tezuka would object to it. Loving and accepting others, despite differences, was at the heart of much of his manga.

  • http://www.sexymecha.com Hal

    SCARBIN – comparing ASTRO BOY to ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS is comparing apples and oranges crapped out after being eaten. ASTRO BOY was solid enough to warrant comparison to Pixar films – and it doesn’t measure up to those or the source material. The problem is yes, I think all the elements from Tezuka’s manga you define as “strange by today’s standards” are what make it resonant and charming to this day. The problem is dismissing those oddities as “acceptable casualties” and you get the worst kind of Astro Boy – one that is simple “ok” and not memorable. The “updates” you mention are stock Hollywood attempts at making something different generic and palatable – in this case, attempting to graft Astro Boy onto some sort of bizarre chimera of Gladiator, David Copperfield, Meet the Robinsons and (coming from bleeding heart me) insipid political stances instead of outright adapting Tezuka’s rich body of work. As you said – these things are in there not as real story elements but instead as “homage” to placate the pre-existing fan base without producing a legitimate film that is a part of the franchise legacy. That is the Hollywood way, and sometimes it works wonderfully (see IRON MAN) other times it comes off half baked. ASTRO BOY is a solid movie, but didn’t achieve the heights necessary for Imagi to keep going forward for very good reasons. Hedging bets on a franchise targeted to a small core audience was a gamble that did not pay off here or internationally (a situation that will determine the future of the TIN TIN movies from Spielberg and Jackson as well).
    As for your bitter dismissal of MEATBALLS, its style worked just fine for itself. If ASTRO BOY’s aesthetic had any failing, it was the fact that the robots and characters felt like they fluttered between Pixar and Tezuka designs to varying degrees – the new characters added to the narrative felt bland and stock compared to the holdovers from the manga.