2006 Animation Predictions

Better late than never. Here are a few thoughts from your Brewmasters – Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi – about what might happen in animation during 2006. It’ll be difficult to top the excitement of last week’s Disney-Pixar deal, but we think there’s still room for other interesting things to develop during the next eleven months.

FILM
→ 2006 will be the great shake-out of computer animated features. More CG films are planned for release in 2006 than ever before, and most of them (at first glance) range in quality from mediocre to awful. As we earlier noted HERE, there are at least eight films planned for 2006 release that are about a group of anthropomorphic animals on a grand adventure. Throw in FOODFIGHT, MONSTER HOUSE and YANKEE IRVING, and it’s a virtual guarantee that there’s going to be a lot of animated flops this year. We feel that these poorly conceived, hastily executed, unoriginal CG features will erode the cachet of CG animation, while at the same time leveling the playing field and creating new and exciting opportunities for films of different techniques, styles and stories.

→ Pixar’s CARS will be the most financially successful animated feature of 2006. CARS may not be the envelope-pushing artistic achievement of THE INCREDIBLES, but it looks like solid entertainment. Furthermore, the weak slate of animated films this year will only will reaffirm Pixar’s dominance in the field of computer animation, and remind us why the studio has yet to fail at the box office.

→ Los Angeles, which used to be the only major center of feature animation production, is increasingly losing that distinction. Feature production has been slowly moving northward for a number of years. Pixar and Dreamworks/PDI are already producing animated features in the Bay Area. Now, the Orphanage and Wild Brain are joining them in 2006, and the Bay Area is on its way to becoming a major center of feature animation production. A little further north in Portland, Laika is also staffing up for feature production, and the feature industry is becoming less LA-centric than ever before.

TV
→ If a 20-year-veteran of the cable industry and the president of the #1-rated kids’ network (Nickelodeon) resigns from his post, wouldn’t the number #2 and #3 kids cable networks be lining up to grab him, no matter what the cost? The reality is that Herb Scannell is either talking to (or already has a deal with) Disney Channel or Cartoon Network to become the new boss. Both are rumored to be undergoing major shake-ups this year. With Jobs and Lasseter in control at Disney, Scannell at Disney Channel seems like a perfect fit. If not CN or the Mouse, where then? Perhaps Comcast. The cable giant has long announced plans to create new cable channels using its programming content acquired as a result of the Sony-MGM merger. Herb could come in and launch a slew of new networks for cable, Internet and broadcast TV. Wherever Herb lands, he’ll do a great job. A beloved creative exec with a proven track record won’t be idle for too long.

→ “Adult Swim” will spin-off into its own channel by the end of the year, due to changing cable laws and the “a la carte”-ization of the cable industry. Cartoon Network proper will continue its decline, if not in ratings then in quality of programming. Once a powerhouse of ‘creator-driven’ animation, it has increasingly lost its focus and sense of direction. There is so much confusion that the network has taken to screening live-action programming in recent months. The network’s vice president of development, Sam Register, recently stepped down from his post, highlighting the internal turmoil and lack of clear consistent direction for the network.

→ The new CW Network (combining the WB and UPN) could have had a Saturday Morning combining Nickelodeon cartoons (recently ousted from the CBS Saturday Morning schedule), Kids’ WB! animation and Cartoon Network originals. The combined Viacom and Warner Bros. Animation library is a goldmine of classic cartoon greatness: Looney Tunes, Terrytoons, and Tex Avery to name but a few. Just imagine a new special featuring Spongebob beating the crap out of Coconut Fred, or THE MIGHTY HEROES taking on the LOONATICS – now that would be worth getting up early for. But forget about that. Word on the street is that Kids’ WB! alone will continue to supply the Saturday morning block with its own brand of derivative pap. We do hope they will at least allow us to see the thirteen half hours of new TOM & JERRY TALES which WB Animation produced last year for foreign broadcast and is otherwise sitting on the shelf. And CBS has announced a Saturday morning schedule that sounds like an acid flashback to 1975: ARCHIE, SABRINA, THE LITTLES, INSPECTOR GADGET and STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE. The entire line-up produced by DiC. If someone had told us 20 years ago that Filmation and Hanna Barbera would be gone and that DiC would produce an entire Saturday morning network schedule, we’d never have believed it. The bottom line: We predict low Saturday morning ratings for CBS and CW – while the dedicated cable channels continue to dominate the children’s cartoon market.

BLOGGING
→ We previously labeled 2004 “the year of the animation blog” and the summer of 2005 as the “animation artist’s blog renaissance.” What will 2006 be? There is little doubt that blogs will continue to grow in importance within the animation community. Moving beyond a place for showcasing art and sharing opinions, blogs will increasingly become a vital networking tool. Blogs are connecting animation artists all over the globe in ways previously unimaginable, allowing talented artists from around the world to show their artwork to the rest of the animation industry and receive instant feedback on their work. Future animated productions will benefit by having an entire world of talent to choose from, with blogs becoming a modern, more efficient, form of the portfolio. Also, in the second half of 2005, many animation bloggers began adding video to their sites, including Seward Street and Nick Cross, and the video trend will only grow in 2006.