Why Is Animation Taking a Back Seat in Animated Programs?

When we talk about animated content (films, Tv shows, etc.) unless we’re being specific, we’re not just talking about the actual animation but the entire entertainment package. Today though, we are being specific, because, as great as the current crop of animated TV shows are, the actual ‘animation’ part leaves a bit to be desired.

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Fans Attempt Sailor Moon Episode Remake

It’s a long-held tradition that fan-art is one of those things that’s just going to happen whether a studio like it or not. From the professional to the downright weird, fans love to show their love and passion for something by making their own version of it. Apparently, that no includes replicating an entire episode, but what kind of copyright questions does this throw up?

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Reviving the Dead: MGM Devlops Animated Addams Family

The_Addams_family_cartoon

If you’ll pardon the pun in the title, the news is entirely real. MGM as Variety are reporting have in development an animated feature based on the Addam’s Family.

Besides the usual question of ‘why’, is ‘why now’? The Addam’s Family have been around for decades in print, TV and the silver screen. They’ve even been animated before for TV by Hanna-Barbera, twice!

As exciting as it is to see new Addams family material and especially so seeing as it will be animated, it’s not hard to imagine why it’s being done. Far from bringing back a timeless property is the desire to earn money.

That, in essence, is my main problem with such revivals. They’re not new material, they’re rehashing old material into something supposedly new. To explain further, the Addams Family are macabre and dark, but there are just one example. There is a lot of of original material out there that is just as good, if not better.

The problem really lies in the existing studio models that are used to create such film projects, and we’re starting to see them on YouTube as well. In effect, the desire to produce hits on a constant basis becomes the driving factor for output, and variety and originality suffers as a result.

Your thoughts? Am I hollow in the head, or is bringing the Addams Family back really, a good idea?

 

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The Law of Proportional Effort

Here’s something that you don’t often hear discussed: just how many of an animated thing do you have to make? The question may seem confusing, but consider it for a second. When you make an animated feature, you can be successful with just one. A TV series requires at least a few episodes in order to become a success. Are the two linked, and what does it mean for web series if they are?

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The Great Licensed Apparel Question

Licensed apparel (or clothing) has gained prominence in the merchandising puzzle as of late thanks to its simplicity, low cost/high margins and its customizability. Long gone are the days when clothing bearing your favourite cartoon character was only availably in a few, all-round safe choices. Today, thanks to on-demand production and the internet as a sales channel, it’s possible to create clothing with just about anything on it and in just about any batch size. So here’s the deal, given a choice, would consumers rather wear clothes that feature a character or rather replicas of the clothes the character wears?

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What if Feature Films Mimicked Manga And Released a Part Every Week?

Animated features are expensive to make. Could one of the many alternative methods of production out there be to take a leaf out of manga publishers’ book (no pun intended) and release the film a piece at a time?

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Why The Internet Hasn’t Brought About The Exciting Animation It’s Promised

The External World by David OReilly is an ideal example of how internet animation should be influential. Via: STASH
The External World by David OReilly is an ideal example of how internet animation should be influential. Via: STASH

That’s heresy I hear you say; of course the internet has brought about exciting animation! Ah, yes, that is true. YouTube has single-handedly brought about some of the most adventurous, entertaining and stimulating animation ever seen. Yet why does such animation remain confined to the internet, why have we yet to see the influence of the internet break through to TVs and films in the way it has leached into other areas of entertainment like news and documentaries?

Money

The answer in effect, is quite simple: none of the internet stuff has made much money. Now before you jump the gun here, I’ll make some clarifications later on. Just stay with me for now.

Yes, internet animation has been the talk of the town for a while now, and is by far the best place to discover and watch exciting, stimulating animation. Prior to this, you had to visit a film festival or hope you were close to one. Nowadays, anyone with a connection can view and absorb all the animation they can muster.

Yet animation on TV and film remains, uh, boring for the most part. Even series like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls and the coming series Stephen Universe and Wander Over Yonder all lie well within the established boundaries for animated TV. If you want to get argumentative, you could say that animated TV has not moved on since John K’s Ren & Stimpy. Feature films have been moribund for decades, and the current crop have only gotten more homogeneous in the last few years.

Money is yet again the root cause of all of this. While internet animation is as wild and impulsive as it is, the vast majority of the stuff on there does not make much if anything. As such, that’s where a lot of its influence remains also. Traditional studios making either series or films, like to make animation they know is going to be popular but also profitable.

While the likes of Frederator are going full bore with their webseries, no financial information is available. (Although they did just move into a bigger office, so presumably they’re doing OK.) That said, Cartoon Hangover shows plenty of influence from the reverse direction; their shows are heavily reminiscent of what you’d expect to find on TV.

Age Differences

In conjunction with the profitability, there is also the age difference. Many internet animators are young, hungry and independent. Only a very select few are in any kind of position at a regular studio to command either a crew or output. The end result is that the top brass at many a studio remain traditionally minded and mostly familiar with the kind of content they are familiar with, i.e. not anything on the internet.

The Internet’s ‘Issues’ With Traditional Business Models

Lastly, besides the money and the talent, there are plenty of legacy issues like rights, licensing, standards and practices and so forth. All these combine to muzzle many of the wilder ideas put forth by animators and crews. The internet has no such barriers and what flows forth is almost exactly what the creators want. With that in mind it is often tough if not impossible to get even the tamer stuff past and as a result, it is safer to simply ignore it.

To clarify what was said earlier, yes, sometimes internet animation can make it through to TV. Annoying Orange is perhaps the most obvious among others. However, it did not influence TV, it simply transferred to it. There is a difference, and even then, there has been very little evidence that Annoying Orange is having any influence outside of parody and satire at its own expense.

Who’s Willing To Take This Bet About Sequels?

allposters despicable me

The Universal sequel Despicable Me 2 has pummelled the Lone Ranger this weekend at the US box office. Despite the former’s lack or originality and obscene amount of marketing featuring those little rascals that are the minions, it had no trouble beating a $200 million movie about a man and his horse (kudos to whomever it was that made out on the stock of Consolidated Hay.) Here’s the thing though:

Has Despicable Me 2 spurred the production of yet more animated sequels?

It’s still far to early to tell, and Universal is far from DreamWorks in that they aren’t chomping at the bit to announce sequels after the opening weekend, however, it is almost a certainty that we’ll see a Despicable Me 3 being announced sometime in the not too distant future.

Monsters University has already more than proved worthy of a follow up in terms of its box office. The other original films coming out this year are a bit more of a toss up.

Epic performed admirably but far from monster-hit status. Disney’s Planes is apparently so awesome that the studio has already created an opening slot for it in 2014. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 is looking good but not a definite and Frozen stays so close to the Disney formula that it there’s little point in even guessing.

That means that in all likelihood that Despicable Me 2 has done nothing to reduce the incentive for studios to keep producing sequels and an unprecedented rate. Even taking out Jeffrey Katzenberg’s monstrous appetite for the things, that leave almost every studio creating at least one. Pixar has none lined up for next year, but I unequivocally guarantee that either another Monsters or Cars movie is on the horizon.

The worry is of course that with such wobbles like the Lone Ranger, studios will concentrate even harder on proven winners; so averse to creativity that they willingly head towards extinction because it continues to bring in some money.

The key takeaway from all of this is that it leaves a massive door open for a cheap animated film to slide in and clean up shop. The original Despicable Me did it back in 2010. That was three years ago, it’s time for a repeat.

Did The Marketing Save Monsters University?

MU website

Currently doing quite well at the box office is Pixar’s latest effort, Monsters University. It’s currently certified fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes (77%) and has been popular with audiences. However, thanks to an article by Steven Zeitchik over at the LA Times, I received a bit of a revelation: just how much of the film’s success was down to the marketing?

How So?

If you read Zeitchik’s article, you’ll see that he attempts to find out if there is a link between a Pixar film’s rating with the critics and its financial success. (He concludes that yes, there is a correlation based on the quality of the film.) However, what really interested me was how Monsters University has bucked the trend.

It is only the twelfth best-reviewed Pixar film but has had the second biggest opening weekend. Of course that means nada in terms of overall financial performance, but here’s what grabbed my attention and forms that basis for this post:

On one level, that spread is a testament to what Pixar has been able to do with this movie on the marketing end. Even though “Monsters University” isn’t as strong, the company was able to use clever promotional devices to bring us in. And why not?  There’s nothing wrong with a studio ginning up a broad crowd-pleaser the critics don’t especially like.

Yes, The Marketing Was The Key

Pixar (and by extension, Disney) really pulled out the stops when it came to the marketing for Monsters University. Oh sure, there were the usual teaser clips, the onesheet posters and the usual smug game of wink wink with news outlets, but it was what they did differently that seemed to seal the deal.

From the Movie Marketing Blog:

The site for Monsters University is, what else, but a website for Monsters University, a college exclusively for monsters. Fictional (or real, your choice) Arthur Clawson founded the University, located in Monstropolis, in 1313. Today, Monsters University continues a tradition of academic excellence and the relentless pursuit of monster potential.

On the site you can apply for admission to MU, which boasts the top-scaring program in the country. Once admitted, you will have access to the Monsters University scream energy, door technology and business programs.

But don’t worry; MU isn’t entirely about academics. At Monsters University, you will enjoy a well-rounded collegiate experience full of clubs like Monsters UN and activities like, “Making Beautiful MUsic together.” Here are some of the other MU events you can look forward to if accepted.

Yes, they set up a real, fully-fledged website and had a lot of fun with it. You could create your own MU college ID, you could buy merchandise and on April Fool’s Day, the website got ‘hacked’ by ‘students’ from rival Fear Tech.

In a way, Pixar added a lot of value to the MU experience that did a lot to engage fans and consumers alike. Suddenly, the actual film itself was taking a backseat to all the fun and games of the whole concept of Monsters University itself.

That said….consider the alternative:

Would Monsters University have been such a success without the clever marketing?

If Pixar had done the usual effort with the marketing; posters, giveaways, Happy Meals, website with interactive games, etc. Would Monsters Inc. be near as successful as it has been? Would critics have given it a closer inspection with the microscope?

If one is to consider Monsters Inc sans marketing campaign, what appears to be left is an average Pixar movie and a very average story to tell. In essence, the disconnect between this film and the original could not be greater.

Don’t believe me? Monsters Inc. is pretty much the exact opposite of Monster University. The former relied on a superior story and concept with a normal marketing campaign and did solid business. The latter on the other hand, has a tired story married to an innovative marketing campaign.

Which is better to have? Ideally of course, you want a clever film and a clever marketing campaign. Such gems are hard to come by though , but when all is said and done, the marketing campaign is quickly forgotten only to gradually turn in up car boot sales in the years to come. The film, on the other hand, lives forever, and can deliver a lot of value to a studio in the long term (just ask Disney).

It’s hard to deny that the innovative marketing campaign behind Monsters University was the engine of its success at the box office. Without it, it’s highly unlikely that the film would have pulled in quite as much as it did. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the film holds up as the years wear on.

My concern? That a clever marketing gimmick obfuscates the requirement to produce a superb film.

The Banality of The Animated TV Show Press Release

Lolirock TV show poster

The above is the image released in announcement of Marathon’s latest animated TV show, Lolirock (which, by the way has no connection to what otaku fanboys think it does.) It’s a 52 by 26′ show (that’s 52, 26 minute episodes) that being bandied about the usual licensing markets. I have nothing personally against Marathon (besides the rather gender-bias of the show) or indeed what they create (there was a time when Totally Spies! was broadcast at a convenient time in my TV viewing schedule) but the press release announcing the series is about as banal as they come. Here’s some selected quotes:

On the protagonist:

LOLIROCK follows the journey of young Iris, a spirited teenage girl with a beautiful voice and an unending desire to help others.

On her destiny:

Three new friends are now bound together by their common destiny as magical princesses and their battle for justice.

What the boss thinks:

Vincent Chalvon-Demersay (CEO, Marathon Media) and David Michel (General Manager, Marathon Media) comment, “LOLIROCK is a fresh, contemporary take on what it is to be a girl today, infused with music and magical adventures and the all-important notion of justice in today’s teenage world. It’s a perfect companion piece to Totally Spies!, which has been so successful in this same space.”
Now all this isn’t to say that the show itself is as boring as these quotes suggest (it is, in fact planning on having real ‘bands’ in key markets to support it). Rather, it appears to be Totally Spies! but instead of spies, we have singers. That said, why does the press release read like such generic drivel? It’s supposed to sell the show!

Is the Animation Iceberg Melting?

It’s a rather quaint title borrowed from a book that happens to be required reading this semester:

Amazon.com link
Amazon.com link

Long story short, it is a fable of instigating change within an organisation filled with bodies that are quite resistant to change, until they are convinced otherwise. The lesson at the end is that the penguins, having been convinced to leave their established, unsafe iceberg, must now adapt to the annual moves necessary to sustain their colony. The key lesson is that it is hard to instigate the change and it takes effort to establish it in the routines of normal people (or in this case, penguins.)

And this has what to do with animation?

Well, it actually has a lot to do with animation. Studios are organisations and often they must adapt to change or instigate it themselves in order to survive into the future.

Walt Disney faced this challenge when he moved his facilities from Hyperion Avenue over the hill to Burbank. The top down nature of the move resulted in some grumbling and, in a way, led ultimately to the strike of 1941.

Such dramatic moves are rare within the industry, but change occurs frequently on a smaller scale. Leading the change within organisations often falls to managers and executives, but how many of them are effective in their leadership?

Consider the recent controversy surrounding Merida and her ill-advised transformation for her ‘coronation’. Such change seemingly emanated from the Disney organisation and when it was not well received, there was nary a leader in sight to apologise or announce the change back to the CGI model. What does it say about Disney that not a single person too charge of the brouhaha?

Could you easily say that studios today lack effective leadership when it comes to change? Are they managing the (undoubtedly) negative perceptions that recent layoffs have had? How could they turn such negative vibes into positive ones? It’s not impossible. There are examples of companies instigating layoffs that resulted in workers that were actually happy to leave and go on to bigger and better things.

So who is the animated leader in the United States today? Who is the one man/woman who is instigating and leading change within the industry? Who sees the need for the necessary changes that the industry and studios within it will have to undertake in the coming months and years?

Can you name them?