Should Dreamworks Make a Sequel to Dragon?

Steven Zeitchik has an insightful post on the Los Angeles Times blog where he makes the case for not making a sequel to How to Train Your Dragon. It’s interesting to observe the changes in attitudes to HTTYD over the time it has been in the public consciousness.

Before opening weekend, it seemed that this would be one of the softer Dreamworks releases which we would go and see and enjoy but ultimately it would fade from our memory, just as Monsters Vs. Aliens has. At this point, there wasn’t much talk of a sequel at all, just the possibility of one.

However, since then, the film has shown remarkable strength, remaining at number two before reclaiming the top spot again. Attention was drawn not only to the resounding quality of the film, but also that strong word of mouth among cinemagoers was playing an important role.

Now, some weeks later (on a fine May evening that may have me going to see the film for a second time), details are emerging of a sequel, spin-offs and a TV series, in much the same vein as The Penguins of Madagascar.

Steven makes the point that HTTYD marks the first Dreamworks film since Shrek that has appealed to audiences on the same level as a Pixar film and that that company is a bit more selective in which properties it chooses to exploit through sequels. On a side note, he points out that the film has performed “…not bad for a star-less spring cartoon.” which as regular readers (all three of you) will know really grinds my gears, seeing as the film very much has all-star “talent”.

This is a fine analysis except that it ignores who instigates the decision to create sequels at Pixar. It would appear that it is Disney, not Pixar that is pulling the strings on that one. Not only was Toy Story 2 originally supposed to be a direct-to-video release, the slate of sequels announced in recent times have all occurred after Pixar’s sale to Disney, even though some films (such as Monster’s Inc) were released while the Emeryville firm was independent.

Steven calls for Dreamworks to hold HTTYD up as an example of their creative capabilities. I myself recommended at the end of my review that you should go and see it before its affect is reduced by the deluge of sequels to come.

Realistically, we will see sequels, lots of them. Besides being based on a series that encompasses seven books in all, Jeffrey Katzenburg has a long history of milking properties for all their worth. Shrek is perhaps the finest worst example and we’ll finally see that flogged-to-death series finally put out of its misery later this year.

Being an engineer means I tend to have more of an analytical mind than creative folks. I like to point out that creative folks are more likely to read The New Yorker while I tend to read The Economist. It also means that from a hard business perspective, sequels are a lot more profitable than the originals, mostly because studios tend to reduce the budgets and stretch everything just to make the extra nickel. In Monsters Versus Aliens’ case, the foreign performance didn’t justify a sequel. Fair enough, but I would rather see that movie succeed and get a sequel than  a superior movie like Dragon.

Right now the success and praise that HTTYD has received from the general public, fans and serious animators alike is certainly well deserved. Enjoy it while it lasts, because the second the sequel is released, the aura will fade.

The Competition Between Dreamworks, Pixar And Sony

CGI. It’s a format that has literally taken over the movie business ever since Toy Story burst onto the scene all the way back in 1995. Today, three companies, Pixar, Dreamworks and Sony dominate the market. How did this come to be and what does the future hold for each of them. Read on as I do a bit of crystal ball gazing.

In order to understand the status quo, a knowledge of market economics is needed. I highly recommend The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Ries and Trout. An excellent book, it outlines exactly why which companies are on top and why they will stay there.

It is important to note that Pixar was the one that started it all off in 1995 with Toy Story. An excellent film that achieved a dramatic amount of international success. It has been debated ever since its debut as to whether that success was due more to the film’s story or the animation itself, being the first feature-length film to be created entirely using computers.

The fact remains that the headstart Pixar got has enabled the studio to create and maintain a formidable market share and become a perennial nominee for Best Animated Feature Oscar.

As any entrepreneur will tell you, it is impossible to create a market and keep it all to yourself. It may have taken 3 more years, but Dreamworks got in on the act with Antz in 1997. This film also garnered substantial success and has spawned no less than four sequels! Since then, Dreamworks has strived to emulate Pixar in terms of animation quality, although Jeffrey Katzenburg apparently believes in a higher output, currently pegged at 3 every 12 months than the more relaxed schedule up the road in Emeryville.

This leaves Sony. Definitely the late bloomer among the majors, it didn’t release a feature until 2006’s Open Season. Since then, they have released two more but have remained firmly in third place behind Pixar and Dreamworks.

The point I’d like to make, is that Sony is perhaps the studio to watch over the medium term. Their breakout hit of last year, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, proved that you don’t need a better product to beat the competition, just a different one! Both Pixar and Dreamworks have gone for the straight story that’s simple enough for kids with some adult humour thrown in for good measure, but then along comes Sony with a flat-out cartoon that knocks the other films for six.

One of the 22 Immutable Laws is that eventually, every market become a two horse race, and no-one ever changes positions unless something exceptional happens. In terms of animated CGI films, this would mean that Pixar remains on top, Dreamworks behind and Sony in third place. Unless, Sony can corner the market for cartoony CGI films, in that case, Dreamworks has a lot of hard work to do.

How to Train Your Dragon, in 3-D!!!!

Having read Gilligan’s advice over on the Retrospace blog yesterday, I’m going to try and up the ante over here, seeing as so far Fantazmigoriuh has been limping along. I update my tumblelog almost every day without fail but it’s more of an eclectic collection of stuff I come across as I “surf the net”…does that phrase seem stuck in 1995 or what, eh? So from now on, I will update this thing daily (except maybe Sundays, I do need a rest you know). Basically I’ll probably just grab one piece of animation news from the day before and comment on it, or indeed comment or review on movies that I have seen recently. Nothing to heavy of course, just a quick blurb with some nice photos. And should I ever score the winning goal, I will be sure to brag about it here!

So, last night we went to see Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon. I chose the 3-D version because I hadn’t gone to one before and I figured I’d give it a shot just for shits and giggles. Long story short, it ain’t worth it. And here’s why:

  • You have to buy the glasses. As for recycling them at the end, heck no. I paid $2 for these glasses, I’ll keep them thankyouverymuch.
  • They make the movie darker, well, darker and slightly yellower by my reckoning. Thumb down.
  • I counted a total of 2 (maybe 3) scenes where it was worth it. In other words, the rest of the movie it was barely noticeable.

At $13 a ticket, rest assured that was the last time I go to see a 3-D movie. There was a family of 8 in front of us. They must’ve been out nigh on $100 before snacks. If you have the choice, plump for the 2-D option and you’ll be much happier.

As for the movie itself, I was gobsmackingly shocked. For a Dreamwork’s picture, Dragon sets the gold standard. While it’s not PIXAR standard, it’s fairly darn close. The plot was certainly better than most DW picture’s have been (possibly because it is based on a book). So juts when I thought things were becoming predictable, the become unpredictable. I like  that.

Visuals were great, lovely design, plenty of colour. I love the character design. The Vikings have their charm while the kids look unique in the their own individual way. Notable is Asterid who dances the fine line between being a hard fighting tomboy and a girl with all the usual traits. On a related note, I’m glad they gave all the dragons a dose of intelligence. It really added to the movie and made me fall in love with them.

The only downside was the voice-acting, and when I say that, I mean Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel. He came off as a bit whiney and rather unsuited for the part. It didn’t ruin the film for me, but he did take some getting used to.

Overall, a fantastic movie that I would heartily recommend. I am sure they’re working on a  sequel already which will only cheapen this gem of an original, so enjoy it while you can!

PS: The music was fantastic as well and added to the experience a lot more than I had anticipated.