A Christmas Carol pulled in $30 million last weekend, falling short of industry expectations, which had ranged from $35 to $40 million. According to Box Office Mojo, the film sold fewer tickets than other recent holiday-themed films like Elf, The Santa Clause 2 and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Seventy-four percent of the film’s gross came from 3D presentations, and it was the best opening weekend of Zemeckis’s career. The opening was nearly identical to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, though that film opened in 500 fewer theaters in a slower box office period and had no megastar anchor like Carrey.
Speaking of Cloudy, while no longer in the top ten, but it added another $1.3M over the weekend for a total of $121 million. It has surpassed Disney’s Bolt at the domestic box office, and will end up grossing in the range of Bee Movie and Robots. It’s Sony’s first animated feature to cross the $100M mark.
Meanwhile, Astro Boy is officially a bomb. After three weeks, the film’s cume stands at a measly $15.1 million. Its final gross should be somewhere in the low-to-mid twenties, putting it alongside Titan A.E. and The Iron Giant, and far below last year’s Space Chimps, which took in $30.1M.
Boy, this looks strange. An upcoming hand-drawn feature from Argentina’s Illusion Studios that advertises itself as “sexist, violent and sadistic” and if you check the gallery on its website, you’ll also find it’s racist.
Last week on Late Show with David Letterman, Ricky Gervais shared this clip from his upcoming HBO animated series that uses audio from his popular podcast series with Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington. The show is being produced out of Wild Brain LA. The lead designer on the series is Craig Kellman.
Here’s some GOOD Cartoon Network news for a change. The classic Looney Tunes will be returning to Cartoon Network next Sunday. They are already running promos for a six-hour marathon on Sunday, 11/15. Then starting the next day, CN is showing an hour of Looney Tunes each weekday from 11am-noon (Eastern). It’s been nearly seven years since they had a regular TV time slot – and all it took was a disastrous experiment with a live action block to get them back.
Meanwhile, a new Looney Tunes series in production at Warner Bros. has shut down, according to the Animation Guild blog. After four months in production – with a great crew at the helm (that’s a Jim Smith gag drawing, above) – the show, tentatively titled Looney Tunes Laff Riot, will undergo a redesign. Apparently, the first completed episode was screened for higher ups who didn’t like the UPA-esque revamp. The show is expected to resume production in a few months – with new model sheets.
Production continues, however, on a series of 3 minute CGI, 3-D theatrical Looney Tunes shorts – the first one featuring the Road Runner.
If any Warner Bros. artists or Cartoon Network insiders want to write in to clarify or correct any part of this post, we welcome your comments below.
Flip the Frog, Oswald Rabbit, Koko the Clown and Toby the Pup will return to the screen Tuesday night, at the Billy Wilder Theatre in the Hammer Museum in Westwood, CA. Ragtime pianist Reginald Robinson will play in concert with a screening of 1920s and 30s animated cartoons from the UCLA Film Archive. Films will include Koko’s Earth Control, Homeless Homer, Swing You Sinners and Room Runners in 35mm. The program is being presented in conjunction with an exhibition of original art from R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis. The screening is FREE (parking is $3.). For more information visit the Hammer Museum website.
Sometimes I think the most creative place in TV animation is in pre-school programming. Here’s a preview of Flipos from the Chile-based PunkRobot studio. Animation director Antonia Herrera says the project is “a labor of love, made with little money and a small, talented team”. A production blog features concept art and storyboards, and the trailer is candy-cane sweet:
The soundtrack of Fantastic Mr. Fox, like all Wes Anderson films, is loaded with great music that punctuate the situations. Anyone who combines Burl Ives, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and the Wellingtons’ classic Ballad of Davy Crockett in one film is okay in my book.
Anderson also pays homage to Disney’s foxy Robin Hood (1973) by using its Oscar nominated song, Love. Huston Huddleston edited this video (embed above) using a discarded, unreleased recording which his late father, Floyd Huddleston, co-wrote (with George Bruns) and his mother, Nancy Adams, sang. Huston says:“…quite frankly I prefer this to the one they used in the finished Disney picture. This alternate country version was recorded in 1973 in Nashville and it was just released on the soundtrack of the new Wes Anderson film, Fantastic Mr Fox.”
Huston has also uploaded a rare alternate country version of Phony King Of England written by Johnny Mercer, with additional lyrics by Floyd Huddleston for this version, and sung by Phil Harris, Andy Divine and the Do Gooders.
To put it bluntly, if Scroogely, Disney’s 3-D animated version of “A Christmas Carol” is a calamity. The pace is predominantly glacial–that alone would be enough to cook the goose of this premature holiday turkey–and the tone is joyless, despite an extended passage of bizarre laughter, several dazzling flights of digital fancy, a succession of striking images and Jim Carrey’s voicing of Scrooge plus half a dozen other roles. “Why so coldhearted?” Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, asks the old skinflint. The same question could be asked of Robert Zemeckis, who adapted and directed the film, and of the company that financed it. Why was simple pleasure frozen out of the production? Why does the beloved story feel embalmed by technology? And why are its characters as insubstantial as the snowflakes that seem to be falling on the audience?
And that’s just the first paragraph of his review. I watched this short clip from the film, and it is sufficiently inept enough to prevent me from wanting to see any more. What did it for me is the scene at about 1:15 in which a ghost floats rapidly towards Scrooge and knocks him backwards. Scrooge then does a backroll and pops up off the floor in a way that is so comically devoid of the laws of physics and inappropriate to the physical movement of a realistic human that all dramatic impact is instantly drained from the scene. This film may technically qualify as animation, but good animation it isn’t.
Zemeckis’s desecration of this holiday classic comes at a reported cost of $180 million, and box office projections range between $35 to $45 million this weekend.
My favorite site of the moment: Curious Pages, a newly launched blog about obscure but outstanding children’s books from the 1800s all the way up through today. The brief descriptions of the books are often quite funny, and the selection is eclectic, such as this Czech version of The Wizard of Oz painted in a Paul Klee style or the Art Deco-ish etching of A Head for Happy, which is about a headless doll. There are even a couple of animation-related items, like Mel Crawford’s adaptation of UPA’s Gerald McBoing Boing (picture above). The impeccable curation can be attributed to the blog owners, who are two talented children’s book authors and illustrators in their own right, Lane Smith and Bob Shea.
The potential gamechangers in the Oscar race (clockwise from upper left): The Missing Lynx, A Town Called Panic, The Secret of Kells, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure
As Jerry pointed out a few weeks ago, the big question for the animated feature Oscar category this year is whether they’ll reach the magic number of sixteen qualifying features, which triggers the five-nominee playing field. Fifteen qualifying features or less results in only three nominees. It will be close. One of the films that entered, Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone was recently disqualified on a technicality, and it’s unclear whether all of the other films that have been released this year have entered for qualification. The rules are confusing and just because a film is released theatrically in LA doesn’t automatically qualify it; last year, films like Space Chimps and Star Wars: The Clone Wars didn’t bother to enter, thus limiting the category to three nominees.
A five-nominee field is beginning to look like a real possibility. Director Raul Garcia is currently in the process of qualifying his feature, The Missing Lynx: Paws on the Run, while Disney gave Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure a one-week LA run before its dvd release. Jerry reported yesterday that the French-Belgian co-production A Town Called Panic is moving through the qualification process, and Tomm Moore, director of The Secret of Kells, mentioned on his blog the other day that they’re trying to get the film qualified.
According to today’s trades, Dan Aykroyd has been cast as the voice of Yogi Bear in Warner Bros. new CGI hybrid flick, Yogi Bear, and Justin Timberlake could be vocalizing his longtime companion, Boo-Boo. Eric Brevig, a veteran visual effects supervisor, will be directing the film.
Anna Faris (late of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) will appear in the film, playing a nature documentarian who meets up with Yogi in Jellystone Park. The film is scheduled for release next year, in December 2010.
Sixteen animated films are needed to enter and qualify in order for five animated features to be nominated for a Best Animated Feature Academy Award. This might be the film that tips the scale in favor of five nominees.
Zeitgeist Films is opening this French-Belgian co-production in New York next month and in Los Angeles in January. However, the distributor had not scheduled the required L.A. qualifying run, so filmmakers Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar took matters into their own hands, filled out the Oscar submission forms and booked the film into L.A.’s Claremont 5 to play there between December 11th and December 17th.
The Film Forum in New York will play the film December 16th-29th. The Nuart in West L.A. will open the film on January 22nd. Check out the original TV episodes on Hulu.com.
An article in National Geographic discusses the results of an “uncanny valley” test on monkeys. Researchers showed monkeys three versions of a monkey on a monitor–one video of a real monkey; one stylized CG model; and one realistic “uncanny valley” animated face. Guess what happened? The research suggests that “given the choice, monkeys prefer to look anywhere other than at a realistic fake monkey.”
The monkeys looked more often, and longer, at the real deal and the unrealistic fake, study co-author Asif Ghazanfar said. “This is anecdotal, but they seemed to even avert their gaze from the realistic fake face, like they didn’t want to look at it,” said Ghazanfar, a Princeton psychology professor.
The article goes on to say:
The discovery may be important, for a couple of reasons. First, Ghazanfar said, it provides evidence supporting the theory that the uncanny valley is not a result of cultural preferences–it’s hardwired into our heads.
Here’s something the great Art Babbitt uttered in 1941.
“I look forward to the day when real artists who are more than craftsmen, who have developed their art, will come into this business, will pay it the attention it deserves as a potentially serious art medium…Disney and other studio heads have actually held the industry back by years by their ‘out-of-the-world’ fantasies, by their refusal to deal with real life and by their enchantment with ‘calendar art.’ I want to see those days go by the board. I want to see real artists assume leadership in this game.”
One could say the exact same thing about today’s mainstream animation, and sadly, it would all still apply.