News July 2020 News July 2020

Long pegged as the grand comeback season for theaters, July disappointed. U.S. exhibition remained broadly shut as the country strained under a skyrocketing virus caseload. In most other territories, the number of open cinemas slowly grew. Mulan’s and Tenet’s awkward two-step through the summer release calendar ended with a flourish: Tenet is now scheduled to come out overseas (in late August) before the U.S. — a break with Hollywood norm — while Mulan is heading to Disney+ streaming for a hefty $30 viewing fee.

As society continues to adjust to the pandemic, many find themselves in an increasingly gray area of compromise and innovation, frustrations and breakthroughs. Remote working goes on, but not for all. Awards ceremonies are happening, but not as usual. The Spongebob movie is coming out, but not as you expected.

Let’s start with some good news, by today’s standards…

Animation topped reopened box offices. As theaters returned to business in many overseas territories, animated family fare often led the way. Pixar’s Onward and Dreamworks’s Trolls World Tour did well in several countries, notably the U.K. The Korean production Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs debuted at number one in Spain. Vintage Studio Ghibli titles dominated in Japan. In the U.S., Disney’s Zootopia returned to take the top spot across the few theaters that were open.

Gender inequality returned to the spotlight as discussions about social justice in the industry continued. Loren Bouchard, creator of Bob’s Burgers and co-creator of Central Park, fielded questions about his use of male actors to voice female characters. In the Academy’s latest list of invitations, women were under-represented in the animation and vfx branches. Gaming titan Ubisoft fired three executives amid widespread claims of sexual harassment and misconduct. Meanwhile, actress Julia Sawalha accused Aardman of ageism when they declined to let her reprise the character of Ginger in the Chicken Run sequel.

Remote working started to wear thin for some producers. The CEO of Mercury Filmworks, the Ottawa, Canada-based studio behind Disney series Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure, said capacity is at 75% of pre-pandemic levels; junior staff in need of mentoring are proving especially unproductive. Toon City, a Filipino studio that also does contract work for Disney, has seen a 28% drop, but for different reasons: weak internet infrastructure is an issue in the country.

Skydance Animation set out its plans. The start-up studio set dates for its first two features, Luck and Spellbound, which will both come out in 2022. It also named Disney exec Shane Prigmore as its senior vice president of development for animation — a high-profile hiring that can likely be attributed to the name value of Skydance Animation head John Lasseter and the deep pockets of company founder David Ellison, son of billionaire Larry Ellison. Lasseter’s old studio Pixar unveiled its 24th feature Luca, which will come out in 2021.

The Emmys announced winners and nominees. The animated shows in the running for this year’s Primetime Emmys are a predictable crop, led once again by perennial nominee The Simpsons. Disney dominated the equivalent categories at the Daytime Emmys, winning three prizes apiece for Elena of Avalor and Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure.

Sponge on the Run may come out this year — everywhere but the U.S. After ViacomCBS pulled the theatrical release of the new Spongebob movie, Netflix picked up global rights outside the U.S. (and China). In a surprise twist, the film was then put back on the theatrical release calendar in Canada, where it will come out on August 14. In the U.S., it will be released on PVOD next year, possibly after the Netflix release.

(Image at top, left to right: “The Simpsons,” Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away,” “Bob’s Burgers.”)

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