Does Animation Face the ‘Meltdown’ Predicted By Lucas and Spielberg?

A while back during a Q&A at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, both George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg predicted that the movie business as we know it today is doomed to extinction. Their view is that video on demand will triumph and that the cinema-going experience will become a rare, expensive event on par with football games and Broadway shows. Are they right and what does it mean for animation?

Where Animation Fits Into Their Prediction

Animation is of course, quite expensive, or rather, it can be. While Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony and Blue Sky aim high with their films often coming in over $100 million (or $350 million in the case of the first two), they are a natural target for what Lucas and Spielberg predict.

It’s true that animated films have suffered as of late from the kind of tentpole mentality that has infected live action. Massively expensive films supporting long term franchises make good money and with the longevity of animation, you have a match made in heaven.

However, those big budgets rely on audiences coming to see them in droves, and as far as animated films are concerned, it (regrettably) means parents being hauled in by their kids. Which is fine until you end up with a situation like we are facing this year in that we have too many such films crammed into too little summer space. Nobody has managed to truly stumble just yet, but we’re not even halfway done and there’s still plenty more opportunities.

What Could Happen To Animated Films

If the prediction is true, the most logical outcome is either drastically fewer films or (more likely) drastically cheaper ones. We all know that cost is not a function of quality, but how will audiences respond to films that do not cost what they used to?

I’m reminded of A Monster in Paris, a film that was made for surprisingly little and which was exceedingly entertaining. It never received a theatrical release in the US although is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. A comment by someone from GKIDS over on Cartoon Brew stated that the film was a tough sell to theatrical distributors because although it looked more expensive, audiences would somehow connect cost to quality and therefore avoid it.

If animated films were forced to be made for less, would they all suffer a similar fate?

It’s unlikely, but a distinct possibility nonetheless.

Are Spielberg and Lucas Right About The Demise of Movies?

It’s easy to take them at their word, given their experience. That said, both have been responsible for numerous tentpole films over the years (Lucas especially) and while both decry them, it hasn’t stopped them making them.

More so than that, we’ve been here before. Back in the 1950s, television was supposed to be the harbinger of death for the Hollywood studios. Predictions ran that the entire industry would be decimated! What happened? Why nothing of course! TV eventually became the saviour of Hollywood studios thanks to broadcasts and licensing of their films.

Almost every studio managed to survive too, and prosper!

Is history repeating itself? Absolutely! Studios will figure out a way to make to new system work for them, and will carry on much the same as before.

Animation will no doubt adapt as well, and the hope is that we’ll have a greater variety of animated films to choose form too.

1 thought on “Does Animation Face the ‘Meltdown’ Predicted By Lucas and Spielberg?”

  1. Emmett Goodman

    Great article, Charles! I never really thought about whether or not audiences connected cost to quality. I mean, there are tons of big budget movies every year that end up not doing too well, but they get distribution and enough people to see if that works. Granted, movies with bigger budgets get more attention, because they have more marketing. But I’ve never heard of anyone seeing a movie because of how much it cost. Its worth looking into.

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