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3-DBusinessFeature Film

Hand-Drawn Animation Tops Box Office for 1st Time since 2009

Lion King 3D

Disney’s re-release of The Lion King in 3-D defied both box office expectations and the downward trend of 3-D by taking over the American box office last weekend with a FINAL total of $30.2 million. 3D screenings of the film accounted for an impressive 92% of the gross. The 1994 feature, which remained the highest-grossing hand-drawn feature of all-time even before this re-release, is the first number one hand-drawn animated feature at the American box office since the theatrical run of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, which held the top position on December 11-13, 2009 with with $24.2M.

  • I wonder if the percentage of the box office take for 3D was so great because there weren’t many non-3D showings of the movie offered? Locally, your only option was 3D (so I skipped it).

    Also, I think this proves that if a film is appealing, audiences will flock to it regardless of whether it’s hand-drawn, CGI, puppets, or whatever.

  • Now they’ll start 3D-ing all of the animation. How far down the rung will they get? Beauty & the Beast is already ot there; Aladdin has to be next; what about Hercules and Hunchback? Will Dreamworks rerelease The 10 Commandments?

    None of this gets any future 2D films made.

    • Chel Traynor


      Can’t we just be happy for hand-drawn animation for FIVE minutes?? Chill, dude!

      • What’s there to be happy about exactly? All that’s being said here is that people like “The Lion King”. We already knew that 17 years ago. You should be upset about this. All this means is that more likely than not, Disney will invest whatever profits are made from this into more re-imaging of their back catalog. Money (which originally), should have been invested in creating new and (hopefully, albeit unlikely) exciting new films.

      • Brandon

        Some theaters gave the option of seeing The Lion King in 2D. I took that option. As long as theaters give us options, I see no problem with Disney re-issuing their movies. I’d love to see The Great Mouse Detective on the big screen.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        I’ve already suggested this a few times elsewhere, but I kinda think we need to go back to a time when these animated classics were only in the theaters once every 7-8 years and never on home video. Watching them again or for the first time felt so fulfilling I feel we’ve ruined it because of the many times these things had gotten video releases that can be rented at any time and all that. That sort of enjoyment and patience is certainly lost today.

      • Ergo

        That’d be horrible! Having those movies on blu-ray is amazing, and much better than seeing them in the cinema.

    • Marie

      I think the cue that needs to be taken from this (which I know they love to ignore and come to their own conclusions) is that this movie was a phenomenon back in the 90s and it STILL is today. Which means people still want great films, people still want great traditionally animated films, and they are willing to go see them. But what I am sure the suits will come up with is: “People love 3D!” and “Why should we put time in effort into making NEW quality films when we can just keep riding the coattails off of past success?” Although most of us by seeing this film again are trying to tell them differently they only want to hear what they think. I loved this film when I was younger and it is still my favorite Disney film along with 101 Dalmatians, and it’s a huge part of why I have always wanted to be an animator, but I have resolved to the fact that unless there is a HUGE power shift and sudden wake-up call within American animation and the entertainment world in general I will never have the chance to work on something so amazing and that makes me very sad.

  • cbat628

    I’m thinking this had more to do with the film than the fact that it’s in 3D.

  • While Disney will undoubtedly will take this as a cue to 3D-ify it’s vault (something that actually really excites a 3D fan like me :) ), what we all really need is for Warner Brothers to take this opportunity to 3D-ify and theatrically re-release Iron Giant! A film which unfortunately too many of us (myself included) weren’t even aware of until it hit DVD.
    Put Iron Giant back on the big screen! Please!!! :)

    • WOW wouldn’t that be a wonder ?! That I can see. If they did a first-rate job on the 3D conversion and put The Iron Giant out with a legit major advertising campaign (now this is Warner’s handling an animated film that we’re talking about here, so I’ll believe that when I see it …) touted as “from the director of ‘The Incredibles’ , ‘Ratatouille’ ,and ‘Mission Impossible’ BRAD BIRD “ then I think they’d have a box-office winner. As you say, most people never saw it on the big screen as it was intended. I was glad I knew about it and did see it in the brief window of it’s theatrical release . It deserves a proper big-screen theatrical release again.

      • snip2364


    • Funkybat

      I’d be happy to see “Iron Giant” in theaters in original 2D. I must have gone to see it 3 or 4 times in theaters, and wondered why the auditorium was often 3/4 empty. At least the first time I saw it the theater was packed!

      • Mike

        Considering The Iron Giant vies with The Incredibles for my all-time favorite animated film, I would jump at a chance like that! Several times!

  • 2011 Senior Citizen

    Yep, first time since 2009.


  • Nic

    As exciting as it is to see people flocking to the theaters to see an animated film, I really don’t feel that one can judge interest in animated films on this Lion King release.

    Nostalgia plays too strong a role in movie-goer’s decisions. As evidenced by the many… so many… sequels and re-releases (Star Wars, I’m looking at you.)

    The re-release is just a very obvious play on people’s nostalgia.

    So yes, it’s good to see an animated film receive so much attention, but we just can’t use the numbers and say ‘See how much they love animation!

  • Production of 2D animation today is cheaper than ever.
    Can be made without paper, even without powerful computer.
    Not to use this source is a great pity.

  • Frank

    It certainly wasn’t number one because it was hand drawn–there’s plenty of weak animation and bad taste in the film. But there is also a simple, easy for kids to understand story, lots of fun humour, and characters audiences care about. Sadly, released in 2D alone it wouldn’t have registered a blip at the box office. The 2002 IMAX release made $15 million in 6 months at only 66 theaters.

  • If the conventional wisdom reads it as: “only ‘3D 2D’ is viable at the box-office” then it leads to nothing but reissues of older hand-drawn films that are converted to stereoscopic projection. On the other hand if what we get out of this is some reassessment of the situation which allows common sense to prevail, i.e. “a compelling , well-told story with appealing characters will be successful no matter if it’s made with Hand-Drawn , CG, or Stop-Motion” then we will be making progress.

    • Mike

      Very unfortunately, I don’t think that notion is correct. Look at (what I think anyway) were the two animated films released so far this year that had the most merit: Rango and Winnie the Pooh. Rango, while somewhat derivative, was a clever story with great nods and fantastic visuals and animation. It was critically lauded, but it wasn’t ‘kiddy’ enough to pull in the numbers that flock to a lighter movie, like Cars 2 or Rio. Winnie the Pooh has to be lauded for its return to a very traditional 2D style and being simultaneously fairly entertaining..however, its numbers were very weak–discouraging for the big execs, to be sure. While to us animation nuts a well-crafted and compelling film should be successful, this seems to be less often the case with the market being saturated by flashy CG films and sequels upon sequels.

      • Ergo

        Winnie the Pooh’s numbers were weak because it was Winnie the Pooh, not because it was traditional 2D. The Disney version of that character has been around forever. You either love it or you hate, and a vast majority of people would know what their opinion would be before seeing the movie.

        As for Rango, it was quirky and it ticked all the right boxes for critics, but its story and character was lacking on a structural level. It was a technical achievement, but that script was not ready to be made into a film. There are extended segments of that film that could be completely cut out with little to no impact on the overall film. A film with such a short run time shouldn’t need padding.

        So, I believe “a compelling , well-told story with appealing characters will be successful no matter if it’s made with Hand-Drawn , CG, or Stop-Motion”, which is why Winnie the Pooh and Rango were only minor successes at best.

  • I suspect this is mostly an effort to create a 3d catalog for 3d TV, as early content producers are going to get a lot of play. Disney would profit re-releasing any of it’s A-list 2d animated films to theaters. (3d or not). There are times I wanted to give a theater my cash, but if it wasn’t around the holidays, there was little age-appropriate for the kids. I like “good” 3d, but know a lot of adults who actively avoid it altogether.

    • The Gee

      “Disney would profit re-releasing any of it’s A-list 2d animated films to theaters.”

      I agree. It is the film, not the fact that it is 3D-ified. The fact that people did pay for higher ticket prices is surely impressive though. But, this may be a beloved movie to a lot of people with young kids and that matters a lot. The parents pre-screened the movie years ago and unlike the Smurfs movie or any other re-imagined summertime movie, they knew what they were taking their kids to see.

      Maybe it will hold up.

  • Scarabim

    The success of the Lion King reissue should tell Disney that audiences really don’t care whether a movie is in 2D or CGI. Good story and good characters are what matter. After all, good story and characters are what Mars Needs Moms (in CGI) didn’t have, and what Princess and the Frog (in 2D) didn’t have.

    I’m hoping that, in light of Lion King’s success, the rumored Snow Queen movie at Disney will again be switched into 2D mode…with 3D added (imagine beautiful 2D animated snowflakes in eye-popping 3D…I would gladly pay a premium to see wonders like that).

    • I agree with your basic idea. But I feel that The Princess and the Frog did have good story and characters. What was it you disliked about he story or characters?

      • Scarabim

        I found myself not much caring about or even liking Tiana after she got turned into a frog. She came off as a bit of a nag during her time in the swamp.

        The songs were meh, with the possible exception of “Almost There”, and it was too short. And Randy Newman’s score lacked the real flavor of New Orleans jazz, and I know because I’m a fan of it. Pete Fountain is THE man. Why didn’t Disney hire an actual Dixieland writer/composer to create the film’s score? They’re certainly out there.

        Louis the Alligator was a complete failure IMO. He was not funny, nor helpful. Useless baggage (or perhaps, given his specie, “luggage” would be a better term).

        Mama Odie was anything but charming. Kind of gross, actually. Her song was more preachy than enjoyable.

        Prince Naveen barely registered. A weak entry in the “snarky modern Disney leading man” a la Flynn Rider.

        And the villain…Dr. Facilier is a great-looking villain, and his voice is good too. But his motives were not very clearly spelled out, and that weakened him.

        The animation was accomplished, but lacked character IMO. I weep when I look at the stuff in “Princess” and then watch “Lady and the Tramp”. Are the days of really great 2D animation truly over?

        As to story, I’m not even sure, aside from needing to go along with the film’s title, why Tiana was diverted into the swamp or turned into a frog. I don’t see it as the redeeming experience it was perhaps meant to be. The transformation that took place in “Brother Bear” made more sense, and that film was even weaker than “Princess”.

        So that’s my answer, since you asked.

      • Funkybat

        I hear what you’re saying about Louis, he really was a fifth wheel, but not unlikable IMHO. I found Naveen a bit light, but a heck of a lot more distinctive and memorable than Flynn Rider. The side characters in “Princess” were a lot more amusing and (again) memorable as individuals to me than those in “Tangled” and Dr. Facilier was at least on par with Mother Gothel.

        I’d say I enjoyed “Princess & the Frog” a lot more as a total experience than “Tangled” even though there was a lot of excellent stuff in “Tangled” mainly art-wise but also with Rapunzel and Maximus. The story, songs, and one-liners from P&tF stick with me a lot more than anything in “Tangled.” But that’s just me I suppose…

      • snip2364

        Randy Newman CAME from New Orleans. He grew up there, and the music from it resonates in music today. I think they made a good decision.

  • Bruce Wright

    “3d is dead.”
    “Hand-drawn is dead.”
    “The movie-going experience is dead.”

    Well, this shows a big “No.” “No.” and “No.” to all those pieces of ‘conventional wisdom.”

    Listen, here was a film that *every family* in America has on their bookshelf. In glorious 2d. Without the funny glasses. Already bought and paid for.

    And bless them, they turned off the HDTV, went out, brought their family, bought the pricey 3d tickets and *went to the movies!*

    It’s a thrill to go out, to see a movie in an audience, to see it on a big screen, with great sound, with 3d! It’s just a great, fun thrill.

    And here is a movie that EVERYONE has at home.

    It’s positively old-fashioned!

    • Thank you for stating my feelings!

  • Mat H

    This is very very good news! Because as long as executives keep making decisions based on the success of a medium, there might be more of this coming. Hopefully, original content. Who knows…I just hope the financial guys get inspired from this.

  • Watch, DreamWorks will drop 3d animation with the conclusion that 2d is the only medium that kids want to watch these days!
    The opening sequence was well worth my 15.00!

  • I’m not remotely surprised it did so well, but I’d be curious to see how much a straight re-release would make (as opposed to a 3D version).

  • Mark Walton

    I just find it amusing that Disney would only schedule a two-week run for this reissue – assuming (I presume) they would make just enough money in that time to cover the 3-d process and make a small profit. I wonder if they’ll reconsider playing it for longer now? Or maybe they correctly guessed that people would come pouring out for a limited run, much as people scrambled for those limited dvd releases, before they went “back in the vault” for another 7 years?
    I think sometimes timing is everything – every formula I’ve heard about what kind of technique, marketing campaign, story, etc., is a sure-fire way to get butts into seats has failed at some point. I think people, for whatever reason, felt like going to see “The Lion King” this weekend, 3-D or IMAX or whatever.

    • Funkybat

      Wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the “two week exclusive run” thing extended a week or two. If I recall correctly, they did the same thing with the 3D re-release of Toy Story 1 & 2. It was marketed as a limited engagement, then extended a specific interval (though to their credit, not extended again.)

      Making it seem like a “catch it before it’s gone” event helps drive the decision to purchase tickets for something “old” and likely sitting on your DVD shelf. It’s an old trick (going out of business “forever”) but it seems to work. I plan to go check it out before the end of the two weeks, just in case they’re not fibbin’.

  • Mic

    I think it’s just wonderful.
    It brings back to good old day feelings.

    When families go see an animated films with happy faces.

  • Rick Kowal

    I miss the old days sometimes when they would go back and re-release the films to the big screen. Hopefully this is will encouragement for Disney to do this again. I remember seeing Sleeping Beauty at the drive in as a child and how amazing Maleficent as a dragon looked on the big screen.

    • Funkybat

      With digital projection more common, it would reduce distribution costs for Disney or others to rerelease old content to theaters. Creating new prints is probably the biggest expense (outside of marketing) for any rerelease, but if it can all be done digitally, it will make it that much more profitable for them to reissue old stuff and all us sentimental suckers will pay money to see it ont he big screen! The best reason to do it would be to give kids/families an option on movie night or matinee afternoon, and help inspire love of traditional animation in the next generations.

  • Justin

    Hopefully they take the money and use it to make a new film.

  • Tim Hodge

    While I am sure the 3D had a significant audience draw, I am certain the simple attraction of seeing a film spectacle on the big screen is also a factor in the box office numbers.

    Back in the late 60s and 70s my dad took us to re-releases of Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music and even a restored version of the original King Kong. It wasn’t just Disney that replayed films for each generation. They just did it more. Before home video, studios would trot out their best films, knowing they would always have a good showing.

    And remember during Lion King’s initial run, Disney pulled it from theaters for a couple of months, then re-released in the fall it as a “back by popular demand” event. And it did huge numbers again.

  • Milo Thatch

    I’m willing to bet the strong majority of people who saw The Lion King 3D went on the sole basis that was THE LION KING and had nothing to do with the 3D aspect of it. The Lion King is one of those rare movies than NEEDS to be experienced on the big screen for every generation — not just schlocked out on various home video releases over time. This is a powerful film, and needs no assistance from the 3D gimmick to bring people to the theater.

    Let’s face it: In the late ’80s to early ’90s, Disney created a string of powerful and magical films of a quality not seen since Walt’s day. I don’t see these re-releases as harming or hindering new Disney films at all — rather, they keep the Disney name as beloved as possible in a climate where new Disney films are inconsistent at best.

  • Keegan

    Wow, popular movie is popular the third time ’round.

  • WHAT IF they start releasing all the 3D movies in 2D???? the universe might fold in on itself.

  • Eric Graf

    Hate to be the cynic in the room, but I think its success had EVERYTHING to do with it being in 3D, as in “I wonder what The Lion King would look like in 3D”?

    I’m not saying it would’ve worked with a “lesser” catalog item, but to conclude that “they just wanted to see the movie on the big screen again” sounds like industrial-strength wishful thinking, not supported by any evidence whatsoever. The audiences went to see it in 3D, so why would you conclude that they didn’t really want to see it in 3D at all?

    I predict there will be another national release of a Disney neo-classic in 3D very soon (either B&tB or Aladdin, depending on whether marketing thinks they can milk a 3D conversion that’s already out on Blu Ray). It will tank, and as usual, they’ll draw some goofy conclusion that has no basis in reality. (“Today’s audiences only want 2D/3D movies with lions and hyenas in them!!” which will lead to the 3D conversion of “The Lion King 1 1/2” or something.)

    The reality? “No thanks. We’re good. We already saw this with The Lion King.”

    • Funkybat

      I’d say that a large minority of people went to see it mainly because it was the Lion King, not primarily because of the 3D process. A lot of people are fed up with 3D, the glasses, the surcharge, etc. Note the 20% who went to see the 2D version! Parents who were teens or young people when Lion King first came out want to take their own kids, and there are probably a good amount of animation and general Disney fans out there who helps with these numbers.

      I suspect next weekend will still be pretty strong, and that Disney will extend the “two week engagement” another couple of weeks. I wish they’d released “Beauty and the Beast” since it is already converted and ready to roll, and they just might if “Lion King” does huge numbers next week. People love good movies, and these early 90s Disney films are just plain good movies, even to non-animation geeks.

  • Lion King and hand-drawn animation is kicking butt and taking numbers at the B.O. I LOVE it!! This made my day! =D

  • Funkybat

    Thanks for mentioning that “Princess & the Frog” opened at #1 at the box office. I think the idea that it was a “flop” has been floating around too much. It didn’t do “Lion King” or “Tarzan” numbers, but on the whole it was more a success than a failure, both artistically and financially.

    • snip2364

      The fact that it was competing with Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Sherlock Holmes, and friggin AVATAR at the time may had something to do with it.

  • Wait until they convert SNOW WHITE. The purists will have palpitations. The public will line up around the block.

    • Scarabim

      Well…what if Disney converted Pinocchio to 3D? Can you imagine Monstro the Whale coming out of the screen at you? Awesome!

      And what about Fantasia? The Night on Bald Mountain sequence? Think of the ghouls and the harpies! In some places, they actually do come right AT you. Think of that in 3D! (And think of all the terrified kiddies… oh well. I still think it’d be awesome.)

  • Kyle Maloney

    The 2D numbers are low because most many theaters only had one a day, and it was the first showing. I enjoyed the 3D, but had the worst theater experience in recent memory. Baby’s were crying, adults were singing and quoting lines during the thing. I’m glad their enjoyed themselves but I on the other hand was too distracted. Also, the sound system wasn’t working properly, the rear channels were either off or very low, and there wasn’t enough bass. I also didn’t care for the changes they made to the color pallet of the film.

  • udx

    I would love to see an older Disney classic, like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan get the 3D treatment.

  • Mark Walton

    I would like to hear more reviews of how the film looked in 3-D. I remember the preview they did of Beauty and the Beast in 3-D. I may be alone in thinking this, but, just as I suspected, the backgrounds and props looked pretty cool, but the characters mostly looked indistinct and weird, because they’re flatly-colored with no texture. There are not enough details for the eye to latch onto to complete the 3-D illusion – the drawings end up looking like bent wires floating in front of pools of flat color. If they found a way to improve this for The Lion King, I’d be interested to see it.

    • Kyle Maloney

      I’d say your description matches the 3D in the lion king perfectly. I haven’t seen beauty and the beast in 3D though to compare. I don’t mind the wire look, but what did stand out to me was any time an object or character had specular highlights along the edges it would suddenly look like a raised sticker, for lack of a better term. Only way around that I think would be to redo the tone mapping for the entire film.

      Hand drawn animation in 3D is always going to look a bit off putting, our brains can’t make sense of it, but I still say its an interesting look.

      • snip2364

        Hand-drawn animation in 3D could benefit if someone came up with a technological way to add simple, cel-looking textures that conform to wherever an animator wanted them to mesh. This would probably need to be done after completed animation, and the animator would need to have a perfect grasp on form from the beginning.

        In this version of The Lion King, I loved how whiskers branched off into their own plane (claps!). Little details like that make all the difference. I had issues with trying to make out forms in the colored part many times, especially if it was tiny on-screen. It was easier to see where 3D really helped if something popped out extremely well (noses, muzzles, sharp camera moves, long extensions in general). I was disappointed that Mufasa’s ghost wasn’t breathtaking at all- a wasted moment. Yeah, 3D on solid color still needs work. The backgrounds looked perfect like always.

  • People love traditional animation, period. I ask, all the time, and that is always the answer. Is this so difficult to understand? And when I was growing up, it was “animated film”. There was no 2D, 3D, or 3D versions of 2D, etc. etc. As Briz Lotz, one of my pals in our many free-lance animation jobs escapades used to say, “It’s all animation”. Walt was right (again), and Lasseter learned that lesson perfectly: touch people’s hearts, period.

  • Laura

    I believe its success was owed to quite a few different factors. Mainly for its great storytelling. I’m a firm believer that audiences don’t care whether or not a film is traditional or CG animation. As long as it has a good story with solid characters, people will flock to the cinema to see it. Yes nostalgia did help, but ultimately it was regarded as nostalgic for so many because it is such a good film.

    • Good story yes but animation is art and you can’t just have a story wrapped in shitty art… for something awesome i believe you need a balance of great art along with story and everything else…