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The Continuing Media Bias Against Animation

And so it goes: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was the number #1 film in the country last week, grossing $30.1 million dollars in its first three days of release. However, Ben Fritz of the LA Times choose to report the story this way:

Sony’s animated film opens at No. 1, but its $30.1 million is so-so. Although it’s relatively strong for the historically slow movie-going month of September, the opening of “Cloudy” is decent but not spectacular compared with its $100-million budget.

Animated features are earning big bucks, but what does it take for animation to earn some respect? Cloudy had a $30 million dollar opening, coming in at #1 – with #2 (Soderbergh’s The Informant) grossing almost $20 million dollars less, $10.5 million. Hollywood would declare any live action flick earning $30 million over three days in September, beating the competition two-to-one like Cloudy did, a major blockbuster. Instead, the film’s opening gross was “decent, but not spectacular.”

Instead of comparing Cloudy to other movies in the marketplace, or maybe to previous live action comedies, the LA Times rated its success against Dreamworks, Pixar and Blue Sky’s CG films – and judged it poorly against them. To quote again from Mr. Fritz:

It also keeps Sony behind several of its more experienced animation competitors — DreamWorks, Disney’s Pixar and Fox’s Blue Sky — all of whose movies usually have bigger openings.

For good measure, Fritz decides to remind us of how poorly Sony’s previous film did – and despite Cloudy’s number one status in South America, has doubts about its chances in Europe:

The studio’s second animated movie, 2007’s “Surf’s Up,” was a box-office flop that opened to just $17.6 million. It remains to be seen how Sony’s new animated film will perform overseas, although it did open at No. 1 this weekend in four countries: Britain, Mexico, Chile and Ecuador.

It never ceases to amaze me. You can have the biggest hit in Hollywood, and the industry trade reporters will still treat your film as a second-class citizen – if its animated.

Now, for a second week in a row, Cloudy came in again at #1 – with a 19% drop-off in attendance from the previous week. Word of mouth is clearly kicking in; and 19% is a record low for a second week of any Hollywood film. Still, several industry pundits are now tying Cloudy’s surprise success to the fact that it was released in 3-D.

Has it ever occurred to these geniuses that maybe, perhaps, possibly… that this non-Pixar-Dreamworks-Blue Sky animated film could actually be “good”. That audiences might conceivably want a funny story, with crazy characters, spectacular visuals and great animation?

Until they figure it out, animation will remain Hollywood’s biggest mystery. And like Rodney (or Rover) Dangerfield, animated features will still be waiting for respect.

  • Mark Sonntag

    Go CLOUDY, I haven’t seen it but am looking forward to it. Competition is what’ll make the industry expand, I love PIXAR, DREAMWORKS and the rest, but hey. . . . there’s always room for someone else.

  • Animation is to the film industry what handheld gaming is to the video game industry. We always hear “Oh, it’s good for an animated film” or “good for a DS game.” Why can’t people realize that something can be a good FILM without having to attach “animated” to it?

    Shame really.

    I have seen Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs twice in theaters. Both times in 3D and both time with other people and I paid for the ticket and for concessions. So, overall, I have spent well over $50 on seeing this movie. I like it a lot and I will buy it on Blu Ray when it comes out on Blu Ray.

  • Okay, Jerry, readers, internet, world – here’s an idea.
    How about WE, the creative community and the casual audience, stop obsessing over Box Office takings? These are the numbers games that Hollywood uses exclusively, to evaluate its successes and failures, because its business structures preclude making decisions informed by, say, opinion. That is, they look at these numbers INSTEAD of looking with their own eyes at what they might be doing right or wrong.

    Sure, THEIR analysis of these numbers affects us, dictates what will come out next and when – but by buying into the game ourselves, we only validate and encourage it. We only invite more terrible, ill conceived movies upon ourselves.

    So stop it, people. For our own sakes, just stop it. Leave the numbers for the number crunchers and vote with your souls.

    That said, I think $30mill IS a decent but unspectacular success, illustrating only that the movie wasn’t playing against much that week.

    ..which is actually to read the numbers for what they are, and not to blindly assume they equate with value or popularity. You pay on the way IN, remember…

  • I would amend this article only slightly to say that there is a media bias against non-Disney/Pixar animation. I’ve seen a trend lately that Disney/Pixar always get a free pass because their budgets -especially their marketing budgets- are in the stratosphere. UP had many weak spots as far as I was concerned, but I never read anything about them in every glowing review I came across.

    Industry analysts are always comparing weekly grosses to the budget, so if a film does not make back its budget in the first two weeks its deemed a ‘failure.’ 3-D is the gimmick that is supposedly saving the industry during this recession, so of course they are to attribute MEATBALLS’ success to it.

    More movie industry mumbo-jumbo.

  • Mike!

    This sounds like grasping at straws to me. Animation getting recognized as a medium rather than a genre is probably a long way’s away, but in terms of comparing a movie’s pull to get people into seats to other movies similar to it, it’s not far off to compare it to other animated movies. I mean, the same people who went to see Up and Ice Age are gonna see this, kids and their families. And perhaps they weren’t sure if a $30 mill opening could recomp the large budget. But thanks for the outstanding second weekend lack-of-drop, I can easily see it turning a profit.
    …movie was great, by the way. Go fighting chicken!

  • It’s all in the marketing Jerry ;)

    Consumers have a mental “Top 3” list (or ladder) in their heads for just about everything you can imagine. For CGI animation, that list goes like this: Pixar > Dreamworks > Blue Sky.

    Out of these three, it’s the top 2 that get the vast majority of the attention (or money, if you prefer) and anything outside of the top 3 rarely (if ever) factor in people’s decisions. The same goes for reporters and their newspapers, if they don’t pay much attention to Sony, why would they think their readers will either?

    I admittedly wasn’t expecting the best when I went to see the film but I came out rather gobsmacked. It really can stand up to the best of Pixar because it takes CGI and moves it in a different direction.

  • To date, Cloudy has grossed a bit more than $60 million in 10 days in theaters. At this rate the film is unlikely to recoup its investment (negative cost plus marketing) or, at best, break even. I don’t think the LA Times was doing anything more than the math and reacted appropriately. The Informant had a significantly lower budget and is also doing poorly, as was expected.

  • J. Shamblin

    The man never watched cartoons as a child…

  • Viridis

    $30 million is a decent opening but not blockbuster, and currently we’re in a lull of movie releases anyway. I know I was less than enthused by the trailer of Cloudy, and am saving my money so I can go see Where the Wild Things Are opening night, instead of waiting for it to hit the $5 list like I usually do. I wouldn’t be surprised if others are doing the same.

  • ask

    And when it remains in the #1 spot on the third week, they’ll talk about how people had to rush inside the theaters because of bad weather?!?!

    I quote someone who I discussed the film with online: “I hope people remember what cartoons are!”

  • 19% drop not really a record although way better than the 30-40% drop a typical film will do.

    Judging from the BoxOfficeMojo chart…

    …animated films unusually well in this regard.

  • Chris J.

    Your point is well taken. If I can suck up for a moment – this is why efforts like Cartoon Brew TV are so important. The more you can free yourselves from studio money and distribution, the more you can sell your work directly to real animation fans, and bypass silly Hollywood types who think animation that’s not Disney hasn’t got a chance.

    Having said that, “Cloudy” came out of nowhere and has held #1 for two weeks. It will KILL on DvD and Blue Ray. It will be profitable, as most 3D animated movies seem to be. Hollywood may hate it, but they’re also very aware.

  • As far as children’s movies go, Cloudy has had no competition for the past two weeks. I’d wager that the upcoming Toy Story double-feature will earn more money in its two-week run than Cloudy will earn overall.

  • Marc Baker

    This is just one more reason why i never trust the press when it comes to animation. if all the news papers would just come out of their typing rooms, and just admit that they ‘don’t like cartoons’. then their integrity would remain intact. I guess ‘not liking animation’ is one of the many ‘requirements’ for getting a job in the news media.

  • Hal

    I read a fair and balanced economic assesment, not a bias against animation. Consider that DISTRICT 9’s production cost of $30-40 million was matched by its opening weekend, then YOU ARE ALREADY ON TRACK TO PROFIT. Once again, I’m shocked at the naive discussion of ART where FINANCE is involved on this site. Sure it was a #1 film, BUT as Mr. Sporn pointed out – the budget alone doesn’t cover the expenses on a film of this scale. $30 million IS so-so for a budget that large considering SHREKS make over $100 million in the same amount of time. Once marketing figures in, these massive productions really DO have to make significantly more to break even, sweat, blood and tears that go into it be damned. That article did not negatively discuss THE ACTUAL MOVIE. Everyone’s impressed with the lack of drop off, AND if the movie actually maintains its grosses we’ll see a completely different article down the road. Having said that, everyone in this industry knows animation (unlike live action) has a much better shelf life in terms of home entertainment sales. “Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution president, described the “Cloudy” opening as “a pretty wow number” and compared it to Disney’s “Bolt,” which had a $26.2-million opening weekend last year and went on to sell $114.1 million worth of tickets domestically.” Explain how that factual information is biased? If MEATBALLS cost only $50 million (OR if 9 had opened as strong as MEATBALLS did) the media would be singing a different tune about non-Pixar and Dreamworks animation. Having the biggest hit in Hollywood AT THE MOMENT doesn’t mean anything to the studio’s long term numbers (and believe me, I’m sure SONY WANTED “Shrek” style money) so don’t get sucked into this kind of an argument until the dust has settled. If anything Jerry should be arguing for the quality of content in MEATBALLS on the more restrained budget of say, Shane Acker’s 9. THAT is the new Hollywood model for a profit.

  • I actually did not get to see it in 3D. My wife and I went with our two kids, and we absolutely loved it. The writing was good. The animation and silhouettes were fantastic. And the art direction was very well suited for this story. Hollywood critics can be lame sometimes.

  • I’ll have to say I enjoyed the film and so did my 5 year old. Old Columbia UPA house style brought to 3D, and a lot funnier than any UPA film. Wacky story, stock characters, and very entertaining animation execution. (This was Mr. T’s best role). I had the pleasure of seeing it in overpriced stereoscopic 3D as well, quite a step up from the first 1985 animation effort in “Viewmaster 3D”, “Starchaser: The Legend of Orin”.

    The “Cloudy” scenes with the mayor were especially well directed, as well as the action and fx scenes. The effect is still puppets, digital puppets not drawn UPA graphic flatness. The idea of held elements with rubber hose extremities animated wildly ala Bobe Cannon and Grim Natwick was evident throughout. It’s good to see another contender in town that can conquer the 3D animation game. Sony Imageworks is still essentially ILM South, so I’m not surprised. I also liked the 2D end credits by Duck Soup Produckions (Duck Studios).
    Wonderful entertainment, go see it.

  • The fact that Cloudy did not drop in value so much was a big factor that many people are forgetting about. I just think that people feel that the film should be doing better because it is animated. Just because a film is animated does not mean that it will be a success. If you look into the case of Delgo you’ll understand. More people actually heard about Delgo through the similarity of the Avatar trailer to Delgo then when it actually came out!

    I’m hoping that the film continues to do well at the box office. I enjoyed it (i saw it in 2D and it looks amazing even in that form) and hopefully it’ll suck people away from “films” like Jennifer’s Body, Fame and …Beer in Hell. I will admit though that hopefully I’ll be recommending people to Zombieland along with Cloudy after this weekend.

  • Havent seen the film yet

    It opens in Colombia this weekend. But Im sure It will be a lot of fun.

    We have to fight people like this,
    and also we have to teach common people that Animation is
    NOT just A GENRE (for kids only)!

  • Giovanni Jones

    Actually, CLOUDY did not come out of nowhere. It’s was based on a children’s book that has been around for years, and more importantly, it was well-marketed. We’ve been seeing trailers for this for months and have been looking forward to seeing it.

    The tralier for CLOUDY looked like fun from the start. I wish I could say the same for two films that I thought were outstanding too — BOLT and especially MEET THE ROBNSONS, which had probably the worst spots ever (what was with the nicotine patch gag?). It’s nice to see that a decent markting campaign properly sold the film and the film turned out to be good too.

  • Brad Constantine

    Well said , Jerry.
    Being an animator in video games, I can relate. I hope you send him this link!!
    As for budgets, these days studios factor in the dvd releases, international box office, and the television rights when they budget these things. When a movie lives or dies in the first three days you have plan past those, and get back what you can. Wow! 100 million to make that movie…that’s gotta be at least 10 grand per meatball dontcha think? if you haven’t seen it, go see it..It’s Great Fun!!

  • maguilla

    It’s Disney’s machinery at work. It doesn’t matter how much Disney suck. $omebody will come out to their defense. The animation of Ratapewey is epileptic and exaggerated, UP is nothing but a guilt trip, no kid understood the true meaning of that movie ( and don’t come saying “my kids deserved to be treated as thinking individuals” BS ).

    Every kid wants only one thing from cartoons: HAVE FUN, PERIOD. And Cloudy delivered, good for you Sony.

    And all you Disney fans are just a bunch of sheep.

  • elan

    Who cares what the haters say. The money still spends the same, doesnt it?


    I loved Cloudy too…but calling Ratatouille’s animation epileptic and exaggerated? Cmon…that movie’s animation was super tame.

  • maguilla


    Pay attention to some scenes where Rata-whatever speaks to his brother. Look at the face, play the sequence without audio and you won’t be able to tell what is going on. Those eyebrows and eyes move like crazy and if you fast forward it is even worse. Williams says when animating faces things should happen one at a time, that’s the way the audience digests what is going on.

    The humans were ok, sorry for the generalization but the frigging rat has more screen time than any other character (is the star? I guess).

    The movie showed for the lack of involvement of Brad Bird from the get go. He saved the movie no doubt but still was like huh?

    In a nutshell, when I saw the truckload of BIAS the press said about Rata-awoie, and then read this frigging LA reporter saying what he said about Cloudy, it really boiled my blood. What? they don’t mess with disney just to sell ad space for stupid disneyland? C’mon!


  • Honeypearle

    I do like competition for Disney maybe competition will encourage them to do better. I also think Cloudy should be given a chance merely because I hate how Hollywood and Media Elites think they can influence the making or breaking of a film or company.

    I think Hollywood can suck eggs!

  • Honeypearle

    @ maguilla
    As a Disney fan I take offense at your comment. I not only like Disney movies I even love Don Bluth Films too. I don’t think Don Bluth has made any in a while but they’re good too.

    I’m only considering watching Cloudy because that arrogant and dismissive review of Cloudy’s success.
    I wasn’t interested in Cloudy at first.

    I own a ton of animated films both Disney and non-disney films alike.