October wrap-up 2020 October wrap-up 2020

From the perspective of theaters, October played out as a tale of two worlds. The outlook remains bleak in the U.S., whose largest exhibition markets remain broadly shut, and Europe, where several major countries have closed venues again amid a resurgence of Covid. Films continue to flee to later in the release calendar, while the big streaming platforms reap the rewards of the chaos.

Further east, where the virus is better controlled, the sun shines brighter on theaters. Massive animated releases led box-office rebounds in both China and Japan, doing numbers that are impressive even by pre-pandemic standards. By some measures, China has overtaken North America as the world’s biggest theatrical market for the year — the first time it has done so.

To put it simplistically: while some territories step up their experiment with a new distribution normal, others remind us of the power of the old normal. Meanwhile, an attempt to create another new normal — the innovative mobile streamer Quibi — has collapsed. It’s been quite a month…

Pixar’s Soul was redirected to Disney+, becoming the biggest animated tentpole yet to skip theaters. French cinemas (which have since shut again) reacted furiously, but Disney proceeded with a major restructuring that promotes the importance of streaming. In our review of Soul, we praised the film’s narrative ambition but argued that it stumbles in the final act.

Netflix announced plans to produce six animated features a year. “No major studio has ever done [this],” said co-CEO Ted Sarandos. The company’s Covid boost tailed off as subscriber growth fell sharply: 2.2 million paid subscribers signed up globally between July and September, falling short of projections.

Quibi folded. Barely six months after launching, the short-form mobile streamer announced that it was letting its 200-odd employees go. Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, who also co-founded Dreamworks, blamed both the product and the pandemic.

Demon Slayer stormed the Japanese box office. The manga spin-off, whose full title is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train, took $44 million in its first three days — by far the biggest opening in Japanese history. It went on to gross $102 million in ten days, smashing more records. In China, Jiang Ziya — a follow-up to last year’s breakout hit Ne Zha — also broke records of its own.

Titmouse Vancouver unionized, setting a major precedent for Canada’s largely unrepresented animation industry. Of the 87% of workers who voted, 98% voiced their preference to join The Animation Guild, IATSE Local 938.

RIP Marge Champion, dancer, choreographer, and model for Disney’s Snow White, who died at 101.

Image at top, left to right: “Demon Slayer,” “Soul,” “Jiang Ziya.”