“LA Times” Writer Stupidly Suggests That Hollywood is Making Too Many Animated Films

Well, it’s that time of year again. A couple animated films perform below-average at the box office and the mainstream media begins asking, “Are Hollywood studios cranking out too many animated films?”

The article is filled with alarmist descriptions of the film animation industry, like “a flood of computer-animated movies” (because five films apparently constitutes a ‘flood’) and eye-roll worthy quotes like this one from DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg:

“We’ve never experienced this level of animation congestion in a period of time.”

and this gem from Illumination chief executive Chris Meledandri:

“[A]s more films are planned, it’s inevitable that there will be more acute cannibalization of each other.”

Cannibalization? Let’s get a grip, here. There are only eleven major animated releases planned for this year. That’s compared to hundreds of live-action releases. How is it that the feature film market can support hundreds of live-action films but less than a dozen animated pics?

The problem isn’t that there are too many animated films; the problem is that every single animated release is targeted at the same family demographic.

Yes, there were five animated releases this summer in the span of a couple months. That’s hardly newsworthy considering that there were dozens of live-action releases in the same period. The issue is that all five of those films were targeted to the exact same audience. I suffered through a couple of them, and if you have an intellectual capacity beyond a seven-year-old’s, chances are you’re going to want to watch something more stimulating.

A far more illuminating article would have been to ask why film executives ghettoize the animation art form and refuse to cater to a broader range of audiences, as animated filmmakers in Europe and Asia routinely do. Hayao Miyazaki’s controversial new animated feature The Wind Rises is geared toward adult audiences, and has not only been the number one film in Japan for the past month, but will likely become Japan’s number one film at the box office for all of 2013.

The writer of the LA Times article, Richard Verrier, who should know better considering that he covers the film industry for a living, erroneously refers to animation as a genre in his piece on multiple occasions. But, as we’ve discussed many times before, animation is NOT a genre. It may be perceived as a genre by Hollywood execs, but animation is as much a genre as live-action is.

To quote the animation industry’s patron saint of common sense, Brad Bird:

I think that there is more misreading of trends in animation than any other of the film community. If Cool World fails, then all adult-themed animation is doomed. And if Disney fails, all of animation is doomed. And it’s not like, “Well, hey, man, you know, maybe people are tired of five songs and a familiar story.” … That’s like if George Lucas hit a rough patch, somebody would suddenly say, “Well, people are tired of science fiction.” It’s ridiculous! It’s the kind of idiotic statement that never seems to go out of style in Hollywood… Animation is not a genre. It is a method of storytelling. People are constantly analyzing it and misanalysing it as if it is a genre. It isn’t a genre. It can do horror films, it can do adult comedies if it wanted to, it could do fairy tales, it could do science fiction, it could do musicals, it could mystery, it can do anything. Because Disney has been the only one that’s lavished any care on it, people [then] think it’s the only kind that can be told successfully.

And even if you want to lump all animation as a genre, the argument is still flimsy and incorrect. How is there a glut when two of the top four films at the American box office are animated this year:

  1. Iron Man 3 / $408,195,474
  2. Despicable Me 2 / $346,642,075
  3. Man of Steel / $289,694,329
  4. Monsters University / $261,134,998
  5. Fast & Furious 6 / $238,464,720

On top of that, Despicable Me 2 is the single most profitable film in the history of Universal. The financials alone would suggest that the success rate in animation is far higher than live-action’s hit rate. Perhaps then, the writers of the LA Times should be exploring whether there’s a glut of live-action films in Hollywood.


  • Charlotte Rinderknecht

    Maybe they are cranking out too many animated films that all look the same?

    • Dana B

      And this is way I miss 2D animation. Many different and unique art styles can be pulled off through it. Not so much so for CG :/

      • jmahon

        “CG all looks the same and is killing 2D animation.”

        …boy, it hurts to still hear this after all this time. And I thought this article might be a good thing, as more people might suddenly realize that animation wasn’t a genre and it was possible to make animated films for different audiences. This comment right here is the entire article alltogether- “Animation is all the same, it’s a genre” There are no unique styles in 3D movies? Rango, Horton Hears a Who, Tangled and many others are only a small deviation, and they’re totally different. I hoped this was more obvious.

        • Kirby

          To be honest the only person I seem to recognise for making something unique to the current industry with the 3D medium is David O’reilly (But this is just strictly style and aesthetic).

        • Dude

          I think it’s that many of the current crop of CGI films share the same problems:

          1. Human eyeballs in non-human characters are creepy, but they keep doing it.
          2. “Cartoony” is often at odds with hyper-realism (like the Smurfs, which are proportioned like cartoon characters, but who have textures that include cloth weave and skin pores).
          3. Animation, like special effects, is often used to cover up for bad writing.
          4. Animation is often used to cover up the fact that we’ve seen these plots a bajillion times before, just not with, say, animated racing snails or Pixar-esque planes.
          5. Sequel-itis.

          A lot of this is a failure of the industry, really. Nobody wants to try something new except for Pixar, whenever they’re not making prequels/sequels to their existing movie franchises. If this sounds familiar, it’s the same stupidity that’s plaguing pretty much the rest of Hollywood’s output. Just look at the roster of films in 2014, and try to find a major release that isn’t a sequel, reboot, or based on an existing IP.

          • Ant G

            “Human eyeballs in non-human characters are creepy”

            hmm I disagree with that notion, I think if done right (which many of them have) it looks passible and pleasant.

          • Matthew Koh

            Dude, let’s just wait until someone breaks this mold.

          • Alec Dever

            Dude, I’ve seen hyper-realistic artwork. The ones you’re referring to aren’t it. However, these are: http://www.boredpanda.com/hyper-realistic-art/

      • Paul N

        Not true. 3D can be every bit as malleable and varied as 2D. And just like 2D, it takes someone thinking outside the box to make it happen.

        • z-k

          Requiring someone to think outside of the box somewhat suggests a box to begin with.

          Depends on the production, but offhand, be it acting, posing, composition, shape choices, seems fewer happy accidents are as easy or possible with a pre-rigged model rather than someone quick gesturing a character on paper or Cintiq in less than a minute. As far as I know, most CG film (or Flash productions) still rely on drawn boards to map out a scene. Same with initial fleshing out of character designs – illustrated.

          Of course, tradeoff benefits for a production going CG are numerous, no denying that. Is just the usual artist’s lament seeing their abilities seemingly pushed aside by new production toys and sensibilities. Not completely off stage, but nowhere near the main player in the limelight anymore.

          • Dan Wilson

            And of course limited by it’s own technology….sad face….think PLASTIC….

      • Jessica

        Ugh, not this again. Whether it’s CG or 2D has nothing to do with this issue. It’s the storytelling. Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University target the family demographic, but tell unique, fresh stories with characters that everybody loves. Films like Turbo, Smurfs, and Planes are only targeting kids and/or are tired rehashes of older films with uninspired characters and uninspired stories.

        CG can have varying styles, just the same as 2D. Rango, Kung Fu Panda, Despicable Me, and Frozen all have very different visual styles.

      • Dan Wilson

        I have to agree with u Dana, I also think by American studios killing off 2D styled films it’s limits the “look” and style to a very boxed plastic coated feel that sets the design back.

    • Krypton Keeper

      Japan never dealt with this BS. Friggin SOAP OPERAS there are animated.

    • mutsbug

      it’s kind of sad that despicable me is the most different looking major cg film. illuminate needs to hire Sylvain Chomet to do character designs.

  • cartooncolin

    And of the other three in the Top 5 Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel used massive amounts of the “genre of animation” to tell their stories.

    • Paul N

      All of them did, if you count the VFX animation from F&F6

      • cartooncolin

        True …. The top 10 of 2013 makes it even more impressive.

        And the top 50 of all time worldwide …..

        I think Hollywood’s biggest sin is simply releasing too many crappy films altogether.

        • Dan Wilson

          BINGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Guest

    You have to consider how the marketing of the films plays out in the public’s perception of ‘quantity’; animated films cost more than a large majority of live action films and are a bigger investment for studios, so they tend to require a lot more advertising, marketing, toy and kids meal tie ins, etc. to draw in audiences, leading to the perception that there are many more films than there are. (not to mention domination at the box offices)

    What there needs to be is more small animated films alongside bigger ones that take advantage of different demographics with lesser budgets, where experimentation and unique storytelling can take place. It could even open up other potential markets if sales in areas are good, rather than always going-big-family-flick-or-go-home.

  • Alex Printz

    You have to consider how the marketing of the films plays out in the public’s perception of ‘quantity’; animated films cost more than a large majority of live action films and are a bigger investment for studios, so they tend to require a lot more advertising, marketing, toy and kids meal tie ins, etc. to draw in audiences, leading to the perception that there are many more films than there are. (not to mention domination at the box offices)

    What there needs to be is more small animated films alongside bigger ones that take advantage of different demographics with lesser budgets, where experimentation and unique storytelling can take place. It could even open up other potential markets if sales in areas are good, rather than always going-big-family-flick-or-go-home.

    • http://www.owlboy.com/ Bryan Bortz

      “…they tend to require a lot more [...] toy and kids meal tie ins, etc. to draw in audiences.”

      No, the movies sell the toys, not the other way around.

      • Dude

        There’s a franchise called “Transformers” that I’d subject you to if it wasn’t a crime against humanity. We can follow that with any number of Hasbro-licenced movies, TV shows, etc.

  • Rumble

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  • Paul N

    DM2 and MU are much easier sells, as they have established, familiar characters. So their larger ticket sales compared to Turbo and Epic really aren’t that surprising.

    • https://vimeo.com/channels/wharton Brett Wharton

      I think they also had higher Rotten Tomatoes ratings. So I think it’s a combination of the two factors – better filmmaking and franchise recognition.

    • Jessica

      Plus, Epic was awful and Turbo was a rehash of Cars and Ratatouille, but with snails.

  • tedikuma

    Are Hollywood studios cranking out too many live-action films? Story at 11.

  • Dana B

    As long as people think animation is “for kids”, we’ll never see a film targeted to other then that :(

    What if there was an animated film based off a well-known character/franchise that is more akin to live action, would folks actually see it or pass it it for something “more mature”?

    It’s also a shame that the big name studios are too chicken to venture into more mature/dark themes when they know the kiddie-fare will fill their pockets. Problem with dark-themed films is that sometimes takes itself too seriously and comes off as boring in a way…

  • http://www.moviecappa.com/ Mike Caracappa

    The Brad Bird quote would be inspiring if it weren’t for the fact that it’s 15 years old and that now he’s walked away from animation for live action. He’s not a player in the animation industry anymore except to show up at a couple of events once in awhile. I’m sorry, no offense to the guy, but we gotta rely on somebody else to shake up the animation world and make films that are more than just for kids. And if we find somebody out there whose doing that and still playing in the animation game, I would like to hear from them.

    • barney miller

      Yes, every one look the other way. Quotes that are more than 15 years old can no longer be inspiring. Just look to the poetry of Yeats or the bible as proof that old quotes are no longer inspirational.

      • AmidAmidi

        “When discussing animation on the Internet, use only the newest quotes.”—Gandhi

        • https://vimeo.com/channels/wharton Brett Wharton

          I think it’s not so much the age of the quote itself, as the fact that in the time that has elapsed, Brad Bird has apparently moved away from animation, even though he’s the director a lot of us look to for proof that animation can break outside the narrow genre box we’re seeing.

          That said, I think there are actually a number of interesting-looking projects, particularly from Disney and Pixar coming up. Hopefully they’ll continue pushing boundaries with their work.

      • http://www.moviecappa.com/ Mike Caracappa

        I’m just saying its an ironic statement, considering he’s supposedly “animation’s patron saint of common sense”. But the reality is Brad got away with breaking the mold once, and when he couldn’t do it again he left animation altogether. The guy has pretty much given up on animation and is playing with the live action boys for a bigger paycheck. Animation is the one place he could have helped change things and made a difference. Just maybe the formula filmmaking in cartoons wouldn’t be so continuous if he had stuck it out. I mean come on, is anyone really still talking about his Mission Impossible movie? I’m sure most of you will agree it was a good movie, but people don’t glorify it the same way as The Incredibles, which broke storytelling boundaries in the medium of animation. How is he going to break the mold in live action if he’s making movies just like everybody else? When he’s working with guys like Damon Lindelof (the writer of Prometheus for god sake), it gets warning bells going off in my head. What happened to all those messages in The Incredibles about embracing what makes you special? Animation made him special to everyone. I’m not against the guy, he’s my hero, but so sue me if i sound bitter that he’s walked away in favor of being a live action filmmaker where the competition is heavy and there’s no way to really own the medium. He will not make the same impact on live action as he did with animation. In that quote Amid posted he said those things when he was in the heat of the game, when he was still working in animation and trying to make a difference. If he said that today as a live action filmmaker, it doesn’t have the same kind of power. I’d rather hear quotes from someone who never actually gave up on their word.

      • http://lifeincartoonmotion.org/ Tünde

        Oh come on. When old quotes are still true that makes ‘em all the more inspiring! It means the problem hasn’t been solved up to this day, which is sad and eye-opening.

        Very inspiring article by the way! I’m positive it will be just as inspiring to me next week.

  • IJK

    Stop comparing the amount of animation releases to live-action ones, Amid. The point is that each year, the number of animation releases keep rising. Going from 1 film release and most likely by Disney to, how many is it, 11? 13? That’s some stiff competition amongst the studios.

    If anything, this will only encourage them to go cheaper (Despicable Me budget) and be even less risk-taking (Sequels and never striving from the formula), causing studios who aren’t doing as well to forcibly follow.

    That’s that concern Katz and Chris have, who were ALREADY big on sequels/cheaper budgets.

    • AmidAmidi

      This sentence you wrote, “The point is that each year, the number of animation releases keep rising,” is patently false. In fact, there are less major animated releases this year than the prior 7 years (except for 2010). That means there is actually less competition this year, not more.

  • Jen Hurler

    The film industry is the first one to criticize how homogenized animated features have become, but it’s that very structure that prevents creatives from taking risks without fear of bankruptcy or mass layoffs and truly broadening the medium into genres other than family/kids film. Kind of hypocritical.

  • http://www.boogatech.com/ Markham

    Better go make some more superhero movies, then.

  • wendy

    Being a mother of 2 young children, we need these animated film. There is a huge market for children 3 – 12 that need to be accommodated for. Without animated films, there are hardly any “G” rated movies being made. Try looking in the paper and try to find a live action film that you would take your kids to. There are none that you would want to see as a parent. When you make a film for a 5 year child, you’re making a film for the parents as well.

    • Brent Tyler

      I totally agree with you. I grew up in the 90′s and there were tons of “family” films being made. Home Alone, Hook, Cool Runnings, Mouse Hunt; where are these types of movies now? The family friendly comedy is gone and has been replaced by the animated film.

  • Nick

    Animation for adults has proven to be successful for television, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be successful on the big screen. It would probably need a smaller budget than what most animated films have today, but I think an animated film aimed at adults could be successful if marketed properly.

    • SarahJesness

      Perhaps. Guess it depends on what you’re doing, really. Would it be a comedy? Most of the successful adult animated TV shows are comedy. But it’s harder to justify the making of an animated movie to studios unless you’re doing a lot of crazy things that, in a live-action movie, would require extra funding for special effects.

      • Nick

        Yeah, that’s probably one of the reasons why you don’t see them being made. I think something in the vein of Futurama, where the setting is fantastic even though it’s a comedy, would work well though.

    • Roberto Severino

      I completely agree with this idea! There are lots of unexplored topics that adult animation has yet to really take on and cover and really animation in general. Time for some new, innovative ideas as well as making the kind of adult animation people generally like on TV and adapting that for the big screen.

  • George Comerci

    Animation definitely isn’t a genre, we’ve seen proof of that through the amazing films Pixar provides us. Like a lot of the comments below me, I’m agreeing that a lot of animated films coming out all do look the same. But I’m sure we’ll get out of this rough patch soon :)

  • Cindy Gagnon

    As an artist, I can see the subtle style differences in CG movies, but the average person can’t see that. I have a friend who still doesn’t understand the difference between 3D and 2D animation. And it is true that animation may seem like a genre, because they all have the same basic story, rated for the family.

    I can’t wait to see how the “Lego movie” does. That will be a different style, but probably the same genre as Team America.

  • SarahJesness

    I agree with ya, Amid. A dozen animated films only looks bad because, like you said, they’re all aimed at pretty much the exact same audience. Hell, we aren’t even getting any of the “darker”, more dramatic animated kid’s movies this year. Everything seems to be kind of in the wacky kid’s comedy subgenre.

    What really sucks is that we currently have this generation that grew up on anime, many of which were aimed at older audiences as opposed to the child ones American animated works are made for. If there’s any time to release a mature animated film, it’s now. I always hope that a studio will soon release a PG-13 animated film, and it will be such a massive hit that other studios will start making animated films for older audiences. Oy, I can dream…

    • John

      “A dozen animated films only looks bad because, like you said, they’re all aimed at pretty much the exact same audience.”

      As if the same wasn’t also true of live action films. Only much more so, because there are so many more of them… but no one says the same thing about live action films.

  • SarahJesness

    Oy, yeah. That’s a big problem with Hollywood in general today: movie budgets have gotten bigger and bigger, but as a result, it makes studios less prone to taking risks. So we end up with sequels and movies that stick to “safe” formulas, like superheroes. You may be asking “Well why don’t they just spend less money on making movies?”. My guess is that, like what’s currently going on in the video game industry, every studio wants their work to be the biggest hit. It’s no longer good enough for a movie to simply make a decent profit and be a moderate success, everything needs to be a blockbuster or it’s a failure.

    So, how long until that bubble bursts?

  • SarahJesness

    I’m not really a fan of Michael Bay, but hell, if his name on the credits of an animated film aimed at an older audience will bring in the cash, I’m all for it.

  • https://vimeo.com/channels/wharton Brett Wharton

    I think that’s a good point. Spielberg and Jackson did pretty well with TinTin. Part of the problem with asking studios to try different genres in animation is that it looks like when they go too far, they often get punished (ParaNorman, Frankenweenie). Maybe working with bigger name directors who have credibility with adult audiences could be a good solution?

  • IJK

    Horton is as different to Tangled as Looney Tunes is to Mickey Mouse shorts.

    Someone who can’t see style will just come around and go “They all use the potato body shape, they look the same!!!” but there IS a style difference. Just because it isn’t as blatant as Aladdin to Yellow Submarine doesn’t mean it’s not there.

  • IJK

    They would only talk down to kids if they were already cynical adults. When a kid watches Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, they aren’t going “Ugh! I hate this ditzy girl character. It’s as if Hollywood thinks the only way to make a woman funny is if she’s ditzy!”, they’re laughing at her and Flynn awkwardly kissing and going “Cool!” when they see a giant jello dome.

  • Lars Haugseth
  • Brent Tyler

    I think the fact that so many come out within a month of each other is the monetary problem. I didn’t see Turbo because I saw Monsters and Despicable Me and am waiting for Cloudy 2. I for one enjoy a good family animated movie that doesn’t talk down to the audience.

  • Mike L

    Thanks for repeating the article

  • Kurt B

    As much as I agree with your Animation part of the comment,
    I think you are the one confused with the comic books. Western comics and graphic novels broke through that cage of single genre years ago. Just because you only know super-hero comics, that doesn’t mean they are the only things out there. Check Craig Thompson, Neil Gaiman, Gabriel Ba, Tardi and countless others who each do their own unique thing. You will be surprised.

  • Giovanni Jones

    Hollywood always follows the big money makers. In the ’60s, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music were megahits, so studios almost went bankrupt with three-hour extravaganzas like “Star” and “Hello Dolly.” Now, with the exception of “Chicago,” it’s generally said that musicals are not viable — though like adult-oriented animation, musicals have had more recent success on television.

    In the ’70s, “The Poseidon Adventure” begat endless disaster films. In the ’90s, many studios were producing princess animated films because of “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The examples go on and on. If something is a proven success — especially in this era of quarterly corporate reports — it stands to reason that one success is followed by similar projects. And even though some may be similar, that does not mean they turn out to be lousy films. Some can transcend their formula with a fresh approach.

    It does seem odd that some of the folks who are saying there are too many of these animated features are also the ones greenlighting them. I guess you can have disdain for something that makes you a fortune one minute and fails to do so the next. “Naughty, naughty movie!”

  • smoothoperator350

    I wholeheartedly agree that more animated films should be made with different genres in mind, families can’t afford to pay $50 for every Cars or Planes 2 that gets released.

  • DarylT

    Animation is a medium and technically you could remake every live action film ever made in animation but why would anyone make a film in animation when they can make it live action for cheaper. Only certain types of films can only be made in animation. Thats why there isnt a lot of adult animated features.

  • Jazzy

    The problem with movies today isn’t the number of animated films, it’s the lack of original concepts for films, I think. All 5 of the top 5 movies listed are sequels or reboots.

  • JoelCave

    There are probably more horror films a season than animated films.

  • http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com/ Cory Gross

    Ironically, Disney is far more experimental than even Brad Bird gives them credit for. Yes, all of their films are directed at a family audience, but they’ve always tried out new ideas and genres. It’s actually Pixar that has been pretty stagnant with the movies they make: my go-to experiment has been to compare the first 10 films of Disney and the first 10 films of Ghibli against the first 10 films of Pixar (one of which is even a sequel). Consequently, Pixar did far more to petrify the genre of CGI animation than Disney ever did to petrify traditional animation.

    The problem for Disney is that for as much as everyone complains about them “only making fairy tales,” they won’t pay to see anything else they do. I’m one of the rare people who actually really liked Atlantis, Treasure Planet and Tarzan. Even Fantasia was a flop originally. Disney is a handy scapegoat, but there is something endemic to North American culture which established “cartoons” as a children’s medium the way it didn’t in Japan.

    • GW

      Japan wasn’t always so friendly to adult animation. I don’t know if you’ve heard of manga’s gekiga movement but without that movement, anime would be very different. Without that movement, there wouldn’t be Mamoru Oshii, Katsuhiro Otomo, or Satoshi Kon. I don’t think there’s anything that keeps adult animation from being popular except for good storytellers not given a chance. I was in the theater for the movie 9 a few years ago and the crowd was pumped but they just didn’t like the movie very much. After seeing that movie in theaters I knew that the audience was there but simply wasn’t catered to.
      As for Pixar, I wouldn’t blame them for petrifying 3D computer animation, I’d only blame them for their own output. It’s not their fault that nearly everyone in the industry is shortsighted and after an easy buck. It’s up to each company to be innovative for themselves, not for somebody to show them the way.

  • Krypton Keeper

    ITS THE “HIP TALKING ANTHROPOMORPHIZED WHATEVER GENRE….AND FARTS”

  • DarlieB

    Ask the actors in Avengers , Iron Man and virtually every film out there how much fun the stunts were. They wont know, they actually were probably n only 40% of the actual film while their CG doubles do the hard work. As CG takes over live action film (that was what it was chasing anyway) it’s replace hundreds of aspects of all films anyway and I love that it has made the “studio in a box” so much more possible. Editing, FX , color timing, virtual scenes , matting , sound, background mattes, artwork, titles , everything you can think of is done on computer. 3D is becoming film, it is altering us in the process. 3D games are reaching a max too by crushing the watch only aspect and making it interactive. The game industry beating out the movie industry in sales. When everything has CG in it , are we making too many CG films ?

  • Ashnard

    Another writer, for Forbes of all places, claimed that this summer had too much animation: http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2013/08/29/good-news-and-bad-news-of-2013-summer-movie-season/