Imagi, an animation studio that thought it could compete with the big boys, has suffered a major blow after the abysmal opening of Astro Boy which debuted in 6th place with
barely over $7 million. UPDATE: The actual opening weekend box office gross for Astro Boy was $6.7 million.
Hong Kong-based Imagi entered the animation industry with grand ideas, but little production know-how and the uninspiring idea of applying TV production models to CG animated features by preparing the pre-production in the US and animating the films in Asia where labor is cheap (well, cheaper, since Astro Boy still cost a ridiculous $65 million). The company’s first film, TMNT, debuted modestly with $54 million in 2007. Astro Boy will have difficulty matching even half of that figure.
Even more embarrassing, Astro Boy is a big flop in its home country of Japan, where it barely made it into the top ten on its opening weekend, and dropped out of the top 10 in its second week. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that when you attempt to Westernize a distinctly foreign product, you end up alienating everybody. The more important lesson is that just because you’re basing a film around an existing property doesn’t guarantee a hit. The other part of the equation is that you also have to make a good film that people actually want to see. Then again, it also helps if the property you’re remaking isn’t an obscure mid-century relic that no normal human being under the age of 35 (and definitely no teenager) has heard of.
As readers may recall, Imagi was experiencing major financial difficulties late last year, which resulted in the loss of many of their top talents in the LA studio. They were given a temporary reprieve after Chinese investors stepped in at the last minute. The tradeoff, according to The Hollywood Reporter, was that the company had to revamp its production slate (Tusker was dropped), and begin searching for a “hero concept of Chinese origin” to produce as an upcoming feature. (Their next feature, Gatchaman, was already well into production, and is still slated to follow Astro Boy.) The Chinese are keeping Imagi on financial life support for the time being, but it’s becoming obvious that they lack the vision and passion for animation that results in films that audiences will pay to watch.