Baiting title aside, Mickey Mouse really is more popular than Bugs Bunny. He sells a lot more merchandise, appears in far more places around the world and is lauded as a mascot for the company that operates ‘The Happiest Place on Earth.’ Bugs never even got such opportunities and yet as a character, he is far superior to Mickey. Why is that?
If not, you are most definitely missing out.
Although DreamWorks Animation is already independent, it does distribute it’s films through Paramount, who in return, collect a fee from the gross receipts. Such an arrangement has worked well until now, just one short year away from the end of the current agreement.
There has been a lot of talk about DreamWorks being either acquired or selling itself to a larger corporation as a way to ensure its survival. Of all the big guns, only Warner Bros. seemed likely as they don’t already have a theatrical animation division but the noises from inside that company suggest they are not interested. The question is: Why would DreamWorks feel the need to be part of one of the larger studios anyway? The answer is money, but instead of analysing that reason, I offer you X reasons why the studio must remain independent.
- Katzenberg is not a quitter. He built DW up from nothing and I doubt he would like to sacrifice his independence to be under the boot of a board of directors again. He’s taken the company this far, there are few reasons why he can’t take it further.
- When you’re number 2, you try harder: Yes, it’s an old Avis slogan, but it rings true. If you’re number 2 in the market, you will try harder than the leader when it comes to your products. DreamWorks isn’t quite there yet, but last year’s How To Train Your Dragon was infinitely superior to Toy Story 3.
- It’s been done before: Back in the late 40s, a relatively small animation studio lost their distribution deal with RKO. They managed to haul a distribution team together and form Buena Vista. A distributor I think you all should be familiar with.
- An independent keeps everyone on their toes: As an independent, you have to do your best every time.That means others must compete on at least the same level of quality. If one player ups their game, everyone must. Corporations have a habit of getting comfortable in their shows which can lead to a stagnation of quality.
- The money is in the long tail: Walt Disney himself knew it was better to create a good film that would be popular for a long than one that would be a flash in the pan. Good films make money for decades after they’ve been paid for. DreamWorks can rely on this for income provided their films are up to scratch (see point 4)
- It’s a tougher road , but the ultimate rewards are better: No-one likes to take the hard road, it’s more work for what appears to be less reward. However, that burden of responsibility will ultimately result in a stronger company as everyone shares in the responsibility for success.
- It affords more freedom to experiment: Right now, on the cusp of the digital revolution, DreamWorks has the freedom to go in directions that were never possible before. As an independent, it has the freedom to try and experiment with new distribution and sales models to see if they work. DW can has the chance to become the industry leader in the digital age, an opportunity that should not be passed up.
Sure, there have been animated logos, but what about animation itself as a logo of sorts? What piqued my curiosity in this was a recent post over at Creative Review, the British magazine that is all things design related.
They recently had a discussion among designers to choose their top logos of all time. The woolmark one won in case your curious. Last week, they posted the shortlists from their panel and there was a surprise lurking far down the page.
It was listed by Miles Newlyn who’s reason for including it was:
Nice animation and memorable mnemonic.
A bit short and sweet to be sure, but he is right in that it’s memorable. The image above has been engrained in the public’s consciousness for nearly 80 years, there must be something good about it, right?
There’s a fantastic post over on Cartoon Brew today that details the pitch material sent out by Disney in 1989 or thereabouts to various TV stations around the country who they hoped would air their afternoon block of shows in syndication.
The pages posted are great to read some 20 years after the fact. The present perhaps the worst aspect of some marketing departments: pointing out all the bad aspects of your competitors in the hope that no-one don’t notice your own.
The papers are full of non-comparisons and desriptions so vague, they barely even make sense. Here’s a sample quote:
Warner Brothers has the dubious task of competing with Disney’s superior aniamtion.
Boasting that your shows are better is nothing new, in fact it goes all the way back to the beginnings of entertainment, when you had to convince the public that your show was better than that of the guy next door. The difference here is that there is hardly, nay, anything in the material posted that says exactly, why, Disney’s shows are better.
OK, maybe they do get better ratings because they’re on in the afternoons, but they are also new shows, not re-runs of classics. Perhaps they’re more expensive to broadcast. That’s my best guess. “Disney crushes Alvin”, that’s comparing apples to oranges. You can’t expect to get parity among the results between individual shows and entire blocks.
Frankly, the entire thing has a whiff of dishonesty about it, as if Disney has something to hide about its shows. Content speaks for itself and if your shows really are as good as you say they are, then you should point out how much better they are than all these other, great, shows. Of course, this would prove to be the case with Tiny Toons, wich Disney calls “a pale comparison to the Disney Afternoon”. Hindsight is always 20/20, and the quality of Tiny Toons was all that Warner Bros. needed to prove that they were actually ahead of the game.
It would be really intersting to see the pitch booklets from the subsequent years. Did they contain similar language or was Disney left stuck for words? Either way, we know how things turned out in the end of the afternoon cartoon battles of the 1990s.
Word come through from Cartoon Brew about a feature in the New York Times about the new, upcoming Looney Tunes TV to be broadcast on Cartoon Network leter this year. There was plenty of consternation a while back after the upfront where the show was unveiled. The comments on the Brew then as well as now were pretty much about as big a backlash as you could expect from the animation community regarding classic characters such as Bugs and Daffy. (By the way, I know I’ve touched on this topic before, but this is more of a commentary/opinion post and not nearly as sarcastic as the last one).
The NYT piece made light of the fact that kids these days don’t seem to know much if anything about the Looney Tunes. Quote from the article:
Ask a first grader to identify Bugs Bunny and the response more likely than not will be a blank stare. Dora, sure. Mickey, alive and kicking. But Porky who?
Anyone over the age of 15 will give you a wry smile as all the memories come flooding back. the same can’t be said for youger folks, they may even look at you as if you had two head, or began speaking Japanese!
The distinction was made between the Looney Tunes and Winnie the Pooh in that the latter still pulls in close to $5 billion in contrast to the $1 billion for Bugs & Co. Such a comparison isn’t really fair though. Winnie the Pooh isn’t exactly aimed at the same market, skewing much younger. Additionally, Winnie the Pooh has been longer established and has a seperate set of books to his name, all of which continue to bring in merchandise dollars.
Another aspect that is important to mention, Disney continually markets Winnie the Pooh. In contrast, Warner Bros. (or Time-Warner for that matter) has done little over the last 10 years. Let’s examine it together. Long ago, the Looney Tunes/Merrie Medodie shorts reigned supreme. Not only were the extremely popular, they were broadcast almost continuously, either as shorts themselves or as part of a TV show, e.g. The Bugs Bunny Show.
That time seems like the land of milk and honey compared to now. Would you be able to tell me where I could see a Looney Tunes short on TV today, or even this month? There’s no very many places is there? Sure we’ve had the odd marathon on Cartoon Network, usually on holidays when most people are distracted by turkey or what Santa Claus brought them.
Which brings us back to the age-old problem of “if it’s not readily available, no-one’s going to watch”. A fate which has befallen many fine cartoons and TV shows. Only a fool would try to convince you that an entertainment product can maintain its popoularity without advertising. Now when I say advertising, I don’t mean actual commercials, I mean the shows themselves! If a Looney Tunes short is on TV, that acts like a seven minute commercial that can entice people to watch another short.
The usual plan is to create a “new” TV show, or “update” the characters to the contemporary era, which in itself is a waste of time because within 5 years, the show is outdated. Remeber Lunatics Unleashed? Yeah, yeah I know, it still sucked when it was dubbed into Irish. Well, do you see any shows out there being “anime-fied”, doesn’t that seem so early-2000s? Well that’s basically what happens when you “update” classic cartoon characters, they go stale and end up getting locked in the Warner Vault.
So hear me out. Why not broadcast some of the classic shorts? Instead of, say, starting a TV show on the hour, why not show a short first? Your audience is already there, why not give them something new, or rather not really seen before? They’re still going to stick around for the show they got comfy for, right? The proof is in the pudding, Looney Tunes receipts are higher abroad then in the US. I know myself that RTÉ 2 in Ireland still broadcasts shorts during prime-time children’s programming. Guess how many Irish kids a re growing up with Bugs Bunny in their lives?
In addition, according to the NYT piece, there may be some new theatrical shorts on the way, not unlike “How to Hook Up Your Home Theater”, released in 2007. Well, that’s one thing, but why not plant the seed with some old favourites? Once you’ve guilt up a wee bit of an audience, you can then start throwing on some fertilizer in the form of new stuff. People are likely to be much more receptive to something fresh if they are more familiar with the old classics. Look at Tiny Toons, there was a TV show that gained a following all of it’s own. The classic crowd were mixed with newcomers, who eventually became popular in their own right, giving you a whole new property to exploit.
Personally, I think shorts should be filmed before every major feature film, not only does it increase my theatrical experience, I feel like I’m getting better value for money. That’s never a bad thing, eh?
While a new show is undoubtedly necessary to bring Bugs and Daffy in from the cold, a more comprehensive strategy is needed. Disney is the gold standard in this regard, Mickey Mouse is still as popular and well known as he has ever been, having said that, he as never exactly been out of the public’s attention either. Warner Bros. needs to do the same, starting with creeping the gang back onto screens slowly building their way up to the big stuff, i.e. films.
C’mon guys, Warner Brothers Animation is so much more than Detective Comics direct to DVD movies you still have plenty of fans out here.
Word comes through AWN that Stevcn Spielberg is returning to animation by way of the Discovery Channel and Dreamworks. While things will be different this time, it is surely worth taking a look back at his previous adventures in animationland.
Although Steven was the same well known and respected filmmaker in the early 90s as he is now (well, maybe he shone a bit brighter; War of the Worlds tarnished his reputation a wee bit, at least in my book), his decision to begin producing animation was seen as a bit of a departure for him.
And what a departure! Despite being only the producer and partnering with Warner Bros. he was directly involved with three breakout shows: Tiny Toons, Animaniacs and my personal favourite, Freakazoid!
What made these shows so great to begin with? Well, for one, Tiny Toons drew on Warner Bros. directly for inspiration. Hence the occasional appearance of the numerous Looney Tunes members such as Bugs and Daffy. While this may have been deliberate for the sake of attracting the audience, by mixing classic characters with new ones, a whole new generation of kids came to know about the Looney Tunes and all the great shorts from their parent’s time.In addition, they Tiny Toons themselves became successes in their own right. Indeed, right before I moved to the States (Sept. 2007), Tiny Toons was still being broadcast regularly on RTÉ.
Animaniacs was a different beast. Here were three original characters, supposedly the “Warner Brothers” themselves (and their sister, Dot). Besides being even more off the wall than Tiny Toons, the creators did well to bring to life a vast and varied range of characters that the Warners could, and did, constantly provoke, enrage, degrade and drive insane, all to the delight of the audience.
Lastly, we come to Freakazoid! Again, what a show, besides a genuinely insane protagonist (I can hear Paul Ruggs voice in my head as I write this), the plots were just downright bonkers, as were the supporting characters (Arms Akimbo anyone?). Such a shame it wasn’t to last as long as the others, I’m going to blame the network for that one, no offense to anyone. What was so great about Freakazoid! was that when you watch it, you can’t help but feel that the people working on the show were having fun the entire time. They probably weren’t, we all know how animation works, but at least it appears that way!
Two things stand out about all these shows, first, they were all high-quality shows in every way. The animation, writers (the animaniacs show bible supposedly cost $100,000 alone), and the characters themselves. How do we know all this worked in the show’s favour? You’re reading about them now! Well over a decade later, that’s how. You don’t see me talking about the Real Adventures of Johnny Quest do you? That’s because I’ll talk about it later (with my most grievous apologies to Fred for even mentioning it)
Secondly, another aspect of these shows was that the respective teams were generally left alone to do their own thing by Warner Bros. management. It seems a bit incredulous in this day and age, heck it was incredulous even then as John K. often cites that one of the reasons he was removed from Ren & Stimpy was interference from Niekelodeon executives.
It is generally acknowledged that the teams were left alone for the simple reason that with a reliable guy like Spielberg involved, things would be unlikely to get out of hand. Personally, I think this is probably an accurate enough. The resulting shows are proof that a hands-off approach can bring out the best in everyone involved.
We haven’t seen cartoons like these since, well, the 90s. What a shame. Sure the animation landscape has changed, animation on broadcast TV is as dead a horse as you can find that is still being flogged (albeit because of government mandates). The cable networks, while putting out plenty of fantastic shows, are unlikely to ever repeat shows of the same caliber as those I’ve discussed.
Could we see Steven doing something similar again today? On the Discovery Channel it’s unlikely, but with strong DVD sales of his older shows, there’s always hope. Hey, it worked for Futurama!