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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.