Out Now! Coraline and Boxtrolls on Bluray DVD combo

New from Shout! Factory are Bluray editions of Laika’s films. Up first are Coraline and The Boxtrolls!

It’s hard to believe that Laika’s fantastic stop-motion films have been coming out for over a decade with very few imitators. Yet that’s positive, because those films retain their uniqueness amongst a vast array of superhero films and by-the-numbers animated comedies.

Now, with advances in HD media and so on, four of the studio’s films are getting proper BluRay releases with lots of lovely features. Up first are Coraline and The Boxtrolls which are out today (August 31st) with ParaNorman and Kubo of the Two Strings to follow on September 14th). Instead of pondering the films themselves, this review will be for the features that are completely new for both films.

However, it would be remiss to not mention how good both films look in HD. The level of detail that’s visible, which adds more to the viewing experience than you’d think, is incredible and if you haven’t seen both films in a while, be prepared for a few surprises. Returning to Laika’s early films after such a long time makes for a breath of fresh air all over again. They hold up exceptionally well and it is a credit to the artists and crew that they exhibit a truly timeless quality compared to such contemporaries as ‘Monsters Vs. Aliens’ and even ‘Up’.

Both boxsets are similarly styled and you get DVD and Bluray versions of the film along with a glossy booklet on each film. The extra features revisiting the puppets and their test footage are all new for home media. For students and fans, they are a true in-depth look behind the scenes that in conjunction with the other features from previous releases, are the kind of things that Netflix simply doesn’t offer. If you have any appreciation for stop-motion, you will want to check them out.

Both Coraline and Boxtrolls are out now on DVD/Bluray from Shout! Factory.

NOTE: I’ll get some images up as soon as WordPress cooperates.

‘Dreambuilders’ Review

Just about out now from Shout! Factory, ‘Dreambuilders’ is definitely one for the kids, but that’s actually OK.

Minna’s life is turned upside-down when her dad’s new fiancée and her daughter move in. Her new stepsister, Jenny, turns out to be horrible and Minna is very frustrated. She wants her gone! One night, Minna discovers a world behind her dreams, where the whimsical dreambuilders create every fantasy and nightmare we endure nightly on their theater stages! Minna also finds out how to manipulate Jenny’s dreams. But interfering with dreams has dire consequences … and when Minna goes too far one night, Jenny can’t wake up anymore. Minna must enter the dream world one more time to face the nightmare she has created in order to save Jenny and her new family.

‘Dreambuilders’ will struggle to hold adults’ attentions but it’s the kind of film that kids will love because they’ll focus on what’s important. Two half-sisters who are more like chalk and cheese can stand in for any sibling relationship with its ups and downs. The animation isn’t Pixar-quality but then which kid ever notices that, let alone complains about it? The story is engaging and although the first half of the film trots along at a leisurely place, it gradually quickens towards the climax. Only the dialogue seemed to be lacking with characters struggling to get their feelings across without sounding mealymouthed. The cast of characters is diverse and for Jenny in particular, touches on a very real factor in many kids’ lives that is rarely if ever shown in children’s films.

Overall ‘Dreambuilders’ is an interesting take on some well-trodden ideas that will keep younger viewers entertained with its daring adventure. ‘Dreambuilder’s is available from Shout! Factory on August 24.

Quick Notes: Shrek & Fox’s NFT Hype

This is just a quick note on two topics that I can’t let pass by but which I don’t have enough to say to warrant a full post.

Shrek


It’s 20 years old and no, I can’t believe it. The film came out just at that awkward point in your life when you’re too old for kids stuff and a bit too young to appreciate more mature fare. I went to see it anyway and I’m glad I did.

The Guardian posted a review by Scott Tobias that’s decidely unflattering but it misses the point entirely. Yes, Shrek doesn’t look so great in hindsight given everything it spawned, but at the time it was groundbreaking.

For the decade prior, all that audiences had were Disney’s renaissance and Pixar’s golden age and that’s not really a choice. Almong comes Shrek with two very important qualities: 1. it goes in the opposite direction and, 2. it mercilessly pokes fun at Disney’s films.

That second aspect was something new to most audinces which made it incredibly fresh while painting the old classics in an entirely new light. Disney themselves had to admit as much and produced films such as Disenchanted and Tangled in the years following Shrek.

From this vantage point, the films holds up rather well. It’s place in animated history was assured a long time ago (despite Mike Myers’ atempts at a Scottish accent).

FOX Hypes an NFT show

Yup, I’m scratching my head too. The news was announced at an upfront which probably tells you everything you need to know.

If you’re reading this post, it’s already too late to get into NFTs. The hype train sailed over a month ago and it sure isn’t going to hang around for this show to be produced.

As for the entire concept, I sort of get it? I think FOX is placing a bit too much faith in the idea that fans will pony up for exclusive content and bragging rights to owning pieces of a show. Cels and original art has been around forever and owning the only copy of something is quite a bit different from owning a receipt that says you own it.

It’s all part of the broader attempt to exploit the value of digital goods which by their nature, have no real value since they can be infinitely and perfectly replicated for extremely little cost. NFTs are just the latest trendy way of doing so. I don’t hold out much hope that this show is described in the future as groundbreaking.

Pixar Employees Learn the Hard Way that their Films Aren’t so Superior

Lots of films go straight to VOD in light of the COVID pandemic, but Disney made a point of upcharging for the latest blockbuster releases. With new Pixar films being released without an upcharge, some employees are upset at their apparent downgrade in status.

Aeons ago (OK, five years ago), I wrote a somewhat incendiary post for Jerry Beck’s Animation Scoop where I argued that Pixar’s films were not the stellar, unimpeachable magnificence they are marketed as. My argument was they while their initial films were, the industry soon caught up. With a rash of sequels [then] scheduled to be released, I pointed out that Pixar’s films were, for all intents and purposes, average films designed to appeal to the broadest of audiences and make the most money.

The responses were, well, not in agreement to say the least.

Fast forward a few years later, and Disney announce that the soon-to-be-released ‘Luca’ will be released on Disney+ but crucially, will not command an additional fee on top of normal subscription charges.

This isn’t sitting well with Pixar employees:

In many ways, this tweet speaks to the ego of cinematic filmmaking. When only a select few films got made let alone receive a cinematic release, those films are seemingly ‘better’ than ever other.

With times a changing, Pixar’s latest and greatest find themselves on the same playing field as every foreign, independent, and two-bit animation studio out there. Does this devalue their work? No, but it clearly stings to realise that you’re not creating superior films based on some grand, artistic purpose that the cinema ordains upon its releases. Instead you’re creating a film that’s just a flash-in-the-pan along with a million others. Vying for attention down in the televisual muck in a dogged, scrappy fight that will never end.

Such feelings are also somewhat disingenuous. Feeling ‘demoralised’ is one thing, but to be so at a time when many of Pixar’s former colleagues at Blue Sky are out of a job and looking for work?

Another flake falls from the facade to reveal a bloated ego filled with hubris and Pixar’s reputation tarnishes a little further.

Nickelodeon Kills the Golden Goose in Search of Avatar Gold

Avatar: The Last Airbender is the quintessentially perfect animated TV series. Its three seasons (or books) set the gold standard with meaty stories and lovable, complex characters. Recent news that Nickelodeon are establishing a special studio to expand the Avatar ‘universe’ is akin to killing the goose in search of perceived gold within.

Here’s the Reasons Disney Shuttered Blue Sky

Deadline are relaying the news many were fearing ever since Disney acquired FOX in 2019. Blue Sky was owned by FOX and its long-term future was in doubt with many wondering whether Disney would retain a third feature animation studio. That question is now answered, and the answer is no. Blue Sky will be wound up in April (two months from writing) and all features currently in progress are cancelled.

Impacts

Blue Sky had about 450 talented employees and was the only major feature animation studio on the US east coast. Far removed from the industry hub in California, but very close to some of the top schools in the country.

With Blue Sky gone, the wider region as a whole will feel the impact. Retaining talent in the greater NYC area will be more difficult, and the pool of resources will shrink as a result.

This is all the more depressing when we keep hearing stories about how the animation industry is booming and business has never been better. There may not have been room for Blue Sky within Disney, but there certainly was room for it within the wider industry.

Disney decided not to simply spin-off or sell Blue Sky, and while this says a lot about Disney (they don’t want to create competition if they can avoid it), it also suggests that they felt they couldn’t find a buyer if they tried.

Is the industry saturated with studios?

It’s certainly possible. Major feature studios are a dime a dozen, especially once you look overseas, and even in the US they are more than a few:

  • Disney Feature Animation
  • Pixar
  • DreamWorks (NBCUniversal)
  • ReelFX
  • Laika
  • Sony
  • Warner Bros.
  • Paramount

and these are just the major ones. There’s dozens of independent and boutique studios putting out their own films or producing on behalf of the likes of Netflix. Throw in the oversees studios such as Illumination and suddenly the marketplace does seem a bit crowded.

Despite the fact that animation is weathering the COVID storm much better than live-action, it has also lost the ability to release films in cinemas; perhaps the last level playing field remaining for film releases. Some studios’ decisions to switch to a ‘digital-first’ or simultaneous digital/cinema release can’t have helped matters either. Streaming is booming, but the economics for streaming services other than Netflix remain a bit murky.

The release decisions behind films such as ‘Onward’ and ‘Soul’ are less about pioneering digital so much as hard economics; studios do after all, have to pay for the films before they earn a cent from them. COVID certainly brought the inevitable changes forward by a good half-decade, but many studios were not prepared for the change and were still producing films based on the expected revenues from a theatrical release. This, I believe, was probably the last nail in the coffin for Blue Sky.

What Likely Killed Blue Sky

As alluded to in Disney’s statement:

“Given the current economic realities, after much consideration and evaluation, we have made the difficult decision to close filmmaking operations at Blue Sky Studios.”

This is true for a few reasons

The first is that FOX never had their own streaming service. They relied on Hulu but that service is very much known more for TV than for films even though it does carry the latter. Without its own service, Blue Sky’s films were relegated to other streaming services and were never able to build their own niche with audiences.

Secondly, because of this, there is no audience eagerly awaiting the next Blue Sky release. FOX never crafted a unique brand image for the studio that spoke to the kind of films it made. Instead, Blue Sky became synonymous with ‘Ice Age’; a single franchise.

Thirdly, because of the first two reasons and perhaps most critically, Disney simply felt they already extracted all the value from the studio already. By that I mean that moving forward, all signs point to Disney+ as being the primary avenue for delivering new content from Disney as a whole. There is also the matter of library content of which Disney has a vast and rich collection of animated features of its own let alone Pixar’s. Crucially, it now also owns Blue Sky’s as well. The main value of Blue Sky as far as Disney+ is concerned is in its library, and by owning that, they can extract revenue without the cost of producing new films.

Yet they are producing new Disney Feature and Pixar films, why not for Blue Sky as well?

Simply put, it’s a combination of all three factors. Blue Sky wasn’t afforded the chance to build their own streaming audience or to build a brand image that aroused excitement from such an audience. Now that they are owned by Disney, that company is not going to spend the time, effort and money to do so because they don’t perceive a payoff down the line (doubly so with COVID) AND because they’ve already paid for Blue Sky’s library which is valuable in itself.

Contrast it with Disney’s purchase of Pixar back in 2006 when the latter was very much firing on all cylinders with audiences salivating at the though of each new film, and heralded a new way of making films that people wanted to see. Disney had neither and saw great value in acquiring Pixar for not only their library of films but also for their upcoming slate AND their way of doing business. Does Blue Sky add any of that to the greater Disney empire? Nope.

The demise of Blue Sky was perhaps inevitable as innovators outmaneuvered not just it, but its parent company FOX as well. There’s a reason Rupert Murdoch decided to sell it after all. What the future holds for the wider industry is unclear, but it does hint that further consolidation is likely.

Although this is not surprising in the least, it’s downright disappointing that Disney did not find a better solution for the sake of Blue Sky’s employees and the east coast as a whole.