Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Big Box Office Derby

And here's how all our fine conglomerates (also non-conglomerates) finished for the year:


-- box office share -- total dollars -- increase/decrease

Universal Studios -- 22.1% -- $2.44B -- +119%
Walt Disney -- 20% -- $2.2B -- +38%
Warner Bros. -- 14.4% -- $1.59B -- +1.5%
20th Fox -- 12.8% -- $1.41B -- -27%
Sony -- 8.7% -- $960.8M -- -24%
Lionsgate -- 6% -- $663M -- -10%
Paramount -- 6% -- $658M -- -38%
Weinstein Co. -- 2.7% -- $294.2M -- +32%

Animation played a big part in several studios' overall performance.

Universal had the billion-dollar Minions; Disney owned the global hit Inside Out; Sony traveled to glory with Transylvania 2.

And Paramount, which was a loong way from having a great year, got considerable mileage from The Sponge Bob Movie. There were also several live-action extravaganzas -- most laden with animated visual effects -- that did wonderfully well at the box office.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tub-Thumping Begins

Okay, the latest from Disney's Emeryville unit isn't burning up the box office, but soon there will be this:

‘Finding Dory’ Introduces New Underwater Characters Bailey and Destiny

“Modern Family” actor Ty Burrell voices beluga whale Bailey, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” actress Kaitlin Olson plays Destiny the whale shark. ...

Robert Iger touted "new originals" in the Disney pantheon, and cited Inside Out as a good example of an original.

For some reason, The Good Dinosaur wasn't mentioned in the same proud way. (Under performers cause that to happen. Box office winners are what corporations talk about.)

But hey, boys and girls! Finding Dory is coming! And we KNOW you'll want to be made aware of that!

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Co-Directors Discuss Shaun

Messrs Burton and Starzak talk about tandem work routines:

Richard Starzak: There was no real separation until production. We worked on the script equally. ...

Mark Burton: We had a traffic light system, which is, “Red light means we have to work together on it. Green light you can go ahead and do it,” and by the time we got to the second half of the movie, we were much more relaxed about it. ...

Richard Starzak: It was a 10-month shoot. I think a month or two in, we had an easy rhythm. There’s a yin and yang element to it, but I think we both equally contributed to the script. ...

It kind of varies between 12 or 25 movements, or frames, per second and so that per animator we were expecting them to do about two plus seconds a day. Again that’s quite fast, but we had the advantage of no dialogue so we could work a bit faster. ...

Mark Burton: It’s a trial and error exploration, in terms of how it all hangs together. ... You’re constantly watching the film. ... What you do is you sort of throw the film up and you’re constantly watching it in very basic form. If stuff is working on the animatic, then you have a good sense that it should work when you actually animate. ....

All animated features have similarities. They get boarded and put on story reels. Most are scripted. The differences, of course, come in the way they move through production.

Hand-drawn features have people working over light-boards or Cintiqs with their drawing instruments, creating characters and environments in two dimensions. The process used to be analog, with cameras, painted backgrounds and painted cels. Now much (all?) of the pipeline is digital.

CG features also have animators, lighters, surfacers, and programmers creating their movies on computers.

Only stop motion animation remains much as it was when King Kong was tromping through the undergrowth on a miniature set, terrorizing Faye Wray. Shaun the Sheep, like every stop-motion feature and short before it, existed in time and space while it was made, with small physical characters in their small physical environments. Shaun had 12 to 20 setups going at any given time. with Burton and Starzak orchestrating (and molding) the movies progress.

The fact that they were doing it much the way Willis O'Brien did the same thing 80-plus years ago is a credit to the durability of the art-form.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Writers Guild Amendments

The WGA is changing its constitution.

Members of the WGA West are being asked to approve three amendments to the guild’s constitution to make it easier for members to run for guild office, and that once elected, for officers and board members to remain in office longer. ...

The first of the proposed amendments would lengthen the terms of office for elected officials from the current two years to three years. It would also change the number of consecutive terms elected officials could serve. ...

The second amendment would reduce the number of board candidates the guild’s nominating committee is required to nominate during each election. ... This amendment would allow the committee to nominate as few as 12. A booklet sent to guild members says that this amendment “addresses the difficulty experienced by recent board nominating committees of recruiting nominees to run in a large field of candidates.” ...

The third amendment would reduce the number of supporting signatures that a candidate needs to be nominated by petition. ...

Lowering the hurdles to serve in office seems like a good thing.

And it's understandable the WGA is doing this. It's a challenge for unions to get volunteers in the best of times. Usually a small cadre of members shows up at meetings over and over, sits on committees, comes in to staff phone banks. These are the folks who end up serving as board members, vice-presidents, and recording secretaries.

We'll see if the constitutional changes are approved.

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The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan Made Easy

Everything you need to know about the Guild's 401(k) Pension Savings Plan in 2 minutes and 48 seconds.

(In case you're wondering, those are Steve Hulett's dulcet tones narrating the above.)

Whoever you are, wherever you are, you're being short-sighted if you don't participate in an offered 401(k) Plan. This isn't because 401(k)s are the end-all and be-all of retirement plans (they're not) but because in this uncertain age, when other pension plans are going away and Social Security and Medicare are under assault, people are idiots if they don't stash money into tax-sheltered accounts for their sunset years. A few tips:

... Maximize your tax break. Traditional 401(k) plans allow you to defer paying income tax on the money you save for retirement. Investors can contribute up to $18,000 to a 401(k) plan. And after age 50, the limit jumps to $24,000. ...

Diversify with a Roth. A growing proportion of employers now offer a Roth 401(k) option in which workers can save after-tax dollars, and distributions are tax-free in retirement. A Roth 401(k) generally offers the biggest benefits to young and low-income workers who expect to be in a higher tax bracket later on in their career, but can also add tax diversification and flexibility to the portfolios of people closer to retirement. ...

Don't cash out. Most workers switch jobs several times over the course of their career, which means they need to decide what to do with the 401(k) balance at their former employer. It can be tempting to withdraw the cash, but workers who withdraw money from their 401(k) account before age 59½ face a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty (Federal), a 2 1/2 percent penalty from the state of California, and income tax on the amount withdrawn. Early withdrawals also cause you to miss out on valuable compound interest. ...

Avoid funds that charge the big management fees. Index funds​ generally have the lowest fees, because they require little or no hands-on management by a professional. These funds are automatically invested in shares of the companies that make up a stock index, like the S&P 500 Index. ...

Last point: Pick an asset allocation with both stocks and bonds (60% stocks/40% bonds; 50% stocks/50% bonds; 40% stocks/60% bonds are the most popular) and stick with it. Understand that, during the course of your career, investments will go up and down. And know that the best thing you can do is ignore the gyrations and soldier on. At the end of your time in the labor force, you'll have a sizable pile of cash*.

* Fidelity Investments -- the second largest mutual fund family -- performed a survey of the most successful Fidelity investors. Fidelity discovered that the most successful investors were the individuals who forgot they had investments with FI in the first place, and never touched or moved anything. (In other words, by accident they weathered every market drop and therefore ended up with more money.)

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Another Small Tale About Leverage

As CNBC tells it.

Studios on average take about 55 cents of every dollar of tickets sold in the U.S. Eric Wold, analyst at B. Riley & Co., said the average has been 53 percent since 2008. But when it came to striking a deal for the new "Star Wars," Disney was able to secure more than 60 percent of ticket sales, sources told CNBC.

The split that theaters and studios negotiate generally slides over a film's lifespan. The studio gets a slightly bigger cut toward the beginning of a film's release, which then generally slides in favor of the theater over time. This is one reason studios are incentivized to spend big on advertising to get a huge opening weekend. For "The Force Awakens," Disney likely holds onto its bigger-than-usual piece of revenue throughout its run. ...

This, ladies and gents (and children of all ages) is what happens when you have a red hot property, a lot of eager theater chains, and the mojo to extract more money for the privilege of screening it.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Robert Iger Speaks

... specifically, to Bloomberg.

He talks about Star Wars performance, the parks, ESPN, and ... oh yeah .. animation.

There are those who are not happy that the Walt Disney Company is no longer "24 karat Disney". But regardless of whether people like how Diz Co. has evolved, Mr. Iger has clearly added value to the company. Sure, he's changed it from "Disney" to "Keeper and Extender of Franchises", and many Disney purists are miffed. But the man has made some very smart business moves, and stockholders certainly like that.

It always mystified me why Fox didn't actively pursue Lucasfilm, particularly since they under-wrote the launch of the original and released the next five movies, but maybe Diz Co. just had more imagination ... and a more pro-actve game plan ...than Rupert and his minions did.

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Pirate Factoid

Not the bucaneering type, but feature film (and tv show) piracy:

... The most pirated film of 2014, Wolf of Wall Street, was downloaded just over 30 million times. The number one pirated film this year, Interstellar, was downloaded 46,762,310 times. It’s not until you get to number ten on the list that you hit download numbers as “low” as 30 million. ...

There are two animated features on the list: Minions and Inside Out. Big surprise. ...

I cannot tell you how many industry meetings I've sat through the last few years, watching power point presentations full of graphs and charts and grim statistics. Watching studio reps flapping their arms and saying how awful all the theft is (true, that), and how its costing the conglomerates millions, along with the entertainment guilds and unions which rely on residual and re-use fees to fund their their pension and health plans, and provide mailbox residuals to their members.

Even with all the angst and hand-wringing, piracy grows year by year. Kids stream high-end cable shows and theatrical movies on their computers and flat-screens, twenty-somethings watch entertainment via their favorite illegal sites, and cash streams out of studio distribution systems in a torrent.

The problem grows steadily larger. I would like to build up some righteous anger, but then I read this:

'Hateful Eight' Pirated Screener Traced Back to Top Hollywood Executive

... A copy of the new Quentin Tarantino movie The Hateful Eight that leaked online earlier this week has been linked to a top Hollywood film executive, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

Andrew Kosove, co-CEO of production-finance company Alcon Entertainment, was sent the “screener” copy of Hateful Eight for year-end awards consideration. That copy was signed for by an office assistant and later shared online, where it is now circulating on multiple file-sharing sites. Sources say officials with the FBI, working in conjunction with distributor The Weinstein Co., have been able to pinpoint Kosove's copy of the film as the source of the leak from a watermark on the DVD sent to him. ...

When a Hollywood Top Dog, or the employee of a Hollywood Top Dog, uploads a new movie into the internet ether, just how upset and beside myself am I supposed to get? Because if Hollywood execs are uploading material, then we're really past the point of no return, are we not?

Maybe the best course is for Hollywood to lobby the government to levy fees on the interwebs, so that money is collected and goes into a pool of money that will pay cash to various stakeholders (and I'm talking individuals, not just the monster conglomerates) in the way Europe exacts foreign levies from distribution channels and pays money back to writers, directors and copyright holders. Because short of something like that, I don't see how the movie creators will ever fish a nickel out of the sea of theft.

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Animation Guild - Golden Awards Interviews #3

Once more Harvey Deneroff takes us back to the 1980s and short talks with animation veterans Tom Baron (who began his career with Leon Schlesinger in 1933) and and Dick Hall (who got into the cartoon biz three years earlier).


Like many fifty-year veterans in the business, Mr. Baron had a string of credits longer than King Kong's arms.

Harvey points out that both men worked both in the realm of screen cartoons and comic books, simply because comic books paid as well or better than screen work through a long stretch of animation history.


Mr. Hall, similar to Tom Baron, had a long work resume over the course of five-plus decades in the business.

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

The International Movie Box Office

Apparently the sequel to an old 1970s title is doing well.


Star Wars VII -- $133,300,000 -- ($1,090,573,000)

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- $8,100,000 -- ($47,499,441)

The Peanuts Movie -- $25,000,000 -- ($172,604,937)

The Good Dinosaur -- $8,000,000 -- ($214,350,000)

The Hunger Games -- $6,400,000 -- ($616,803,061

Hotel Transylvania 2 -- $5,000,000 -- ($456,003,439)

As regards the global movie turnstiles, our fine trade journals want you to know:

... Star Wars: The Force Awakens barreled into its 2nd frame as the offshore gold leader. The weekend added $133.3M to bring the international total to $546M. ...

Alvin and the Chipmunks Road Chip, playing in 13 markets, hightailed it to $8.14M from 2,183 screens. ...

Following a staggered release plan, The Peanuts Movie added 49 markets over the holiday weekend. With $25.15M on 9,332 screens. ...

In total, this frame was worth $8M overseas for Disney/Pixar's The Good Dinosaur, with an offshore cume of $109M and a global take of $214.35M. ...

After crossing $600M this week, The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part w added another $6.4M in 78 international markets to bring the offshore cume $352.2M. ...

Hotel Transylvania 2 released in its final market, Korea, where it came in 3rd for the frame with $4.2M on 685 screens and besting the first film by 83%. Adding a total $5M this weekend from 47 markets, the sequel’s international cume to date is $288.2M. ...

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One of the giants in cinematography ... and no slouch at political activism, either ... has gone.

... Cinematographer Haskell Wexler, the socially conscious two-time Academy Award winner who lensed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and many other masterpieces, has died. He was 93.

Wexler died in his sleep Sunday at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, his son, Oscar-nominated sound man Jeff Wexler, told The Hollywood Reporter.

On his website, Jeff posted:

"It is with great sadness that I have to report that my father, Haskell Wexler, has died. Pop died peacefully in his sleep, Sunday, December 27th, 2015. Accepting the Academy Award in 1967, Pop said: 'I hope we can use our art for peace and for love.' An amazing life has ended but his lifelong commitment to fight the good fight, for peace, for all humanity, will carry on."

One of the most influential American cinematographers of all time, Wexler nabbed his first Oscar for making Elizabeth Taylor look haggard in black and white for director Mike Nichols in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). He garnered a second trophy 10 years later for his work on Bound for Glory. ...

Haskell always fought for the down-trodden, always fought against injustice wherever he found it. He was called a Lefty in his time, but the reality was much more complicated than that. He had a deeply held sense of right and wrong, and an inbred suspicion of entrenched power.

He was a long-time board member of the Cinematographer's Guild, Local 600 IATSE, but even inside the House of Labor, he was a renegade. He backed insurgents fighting against incumbents who, in his opinion, didn't battle hard enough for the people they represented. (I watched him stand up at IATSE national conventions and get into shouting matches with IA Presidents would sometimes cut off his microphone.)

So here's to you, Mr. Wexler, and to your deep-rooted belief in the the people who make the country run, and in their right to be heard ... and respected.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Gay Caped Crusaders

The times, they change.

When the mutant superhero Iceman came out last month — thanks to a one-two punch of his prying telepathic teammate and a time-travel visit from his younger self — he immediately became the most prominent gay comic book character. ...

[October] saw the first issue of “Stripling Warrior,” which features superheroes that are gay and lesbian — and Mormon. ...

“The industry is catching on pretty quickly to the fact that diversity can improve sales of comics,” Josh Siegel, founder of Geeks Out, wrote in an email. “So publishers are evolving their lines of books to showcase queer characters in a number of interesting ways.”

The growing depiction of L.G.B.T. characters comes at a crossroads of passionate fandom and concentrated efforts by publishers to attract broader audiences. Gay fans have long admired the impossibly perfect bodies and chiseled features of their heroes and felt a kinship with some like the X-Men, who fought for acceptance in a world that feared and hated them simply for being mutants.

And publishers, in an attempt to reflect modern times, have introduced a plethora of champions who are no longer primarily straight, white and male under their masks. ...

It's healthy, I think, to have comics reflect the world as it actually exists. White people, gay people, black people, Asian people. ("Gravity! It keeps me glued to the ground!")

The question is, while diversity blossoms inside the pages of comic books and graphic novels, when will some of that rainbow glow into the animated and live-action versions of the comics? I'm thinking that changes might be slow, because our fine entertainment conglomerates are timid when it comes to putting profits and cash flow at (perceived) risk.

When change does come on the animation side, it will be in small dribs and drabs. And once studios discover that diversity helps pull in additional moolah, they will do more of it. Because first, last and forever, it is about the bucks.

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Christmas B.O.

The trend for movies during the holidays is UP.


1). Star Wars: The Force Awakens (DIS), 4,134 theaters (0)/ $45M-48M Fri. (-60% to -62%) / 3-day cume: $144M–$156M (-38% to -42%)/Total cume: $535M-$547M/ Wk 2

2). Daddy’s Home (PAR), 3,271 theaters / $14.5M-$15.1M Fri.* / 3-day cume: $39M-$43M / Wk 1
*includes $1.2M in Thursday previews

3). Joy (FOX), 2,896 theaters / $6.9M-$7.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $21.4-$22.4M/ Wk 1

4). Sisters (UNI), 2,962 theaters (0) / $4.6M-$5.2M (-7% to +5%)/ 3-day cume: $15.1M-$16.1M (+9% to 16%)/Total cume: $38.4M-$39.4M/Wk 2


Concussion (SONY), 2,841 theaters / $4.3M-$4.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $12.6M-$13.4M / Wk 1

Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Road Chip (FOX), 3,705 theaters (+52) / $3.1M-$3.4M Fri. (-17% to -24%)/ 3-day cume: $11M-$14.6M (-23% to +2%)/Total cume: $37.7M-$41.3M/ Wk 2

The Big Short (PAR), 1,585 theaters (+1,577 theaters) / $3.6M-$4.1M Fri. (+3,500% to +4,000%) / 3-day cume: $11.2M-$12.8M (+2,863% to 3,286%)/ Total cume: $16.7M-$18.3M / Wk 3

8.) Point Break (WB), 2,910 theaters / $4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9.8M–$11.1M / Wk 1


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (LGF), 1,813 theaters (-840) / $1.6M-$1.8M Fri. (+7% to 20%)/ 3-day cume: $6M-7M (+2% to +19%) / Total cume: $265M-$266.3M/ Wk 6

Creed (MGM/New Line/WB), 1,518 theaters (-915) / $1.6M-$1.8MFri. (+17% to +32%) / 3-day cume: $5M–$6.9M(0% to +38%) / Total cume: $96.7M-$98.6M / Wk 5 ...

Meantime, The Peanuts Movie and The Good Dinosaur are out of the Top Ten and gliding downward. TPM has now collected $127.5 million domestic, while Dinosaur will pick up $4.5 million for the weekend and a total accumulation of $106,100,000.

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Friday, December 25, 2015

The $100 Million Club

Disney (Pixar) gets a fine Christmas present.

... The Good Dinosaur became the studio’s sixth film this year to cross the $100M mark.

The not-so-little critters now step into the same club as Cinderella, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Inside Out, Ant-Man and, of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which has the distinction of reaching the $100M mark faster than any film in history). The latest Star Wars crossed that plateau in Friday matinees after making history with the biggest preview night ever (logged by Disney as $57M).

The Good Dinosaur is the 92nd title to reach $100M in Disney’s long history. ...

It's still kind of a question if Dinosaur gallops into the black by the end of its global theatrical run, but by the time foreign markets play out, and the Little Silver Disks have been sold to the (diminishing) multitudes, and the toys and games are sold off, Pixar's latest should be into the black, or close to.

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Regarding a Stop-Motion Feature

From the L.A. Times:

How Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa' blossomed into a darkly original animation

Inside Starburns Industries, a castle-shaped warehouse on Isabel Street in Burbank, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson were peering over a miniature movie set at their star, a distinguished, melancholy-looking puppet named Michael.

"It makes me sad, because he doesn't really exist," Kaufman said, stuffing his hands into his pockets as Johnson carried over a set of Michael's tiny martini glasses, each with a twist of lemon in it smaller than a fingernail. ...

It's always nice when a small, independent film gets traction. Even nicer that the feature is animated.

This was done at Starburns Industries in the eas San Fernando Valley; hopefully the crew was decently paid ... or will get bonuses if the movie hits.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Christmas Eve

May the peace and beauty of the Season be with you here on December 24th ... and tomorrow as well.

One more Hulett Christmas card, this one of a New England mill in dead winter. (Does the East Coat have winters anymore?)

Happy Holidays!

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Jones and Seuss Rule

Here's an interesting data point.

... NBC’s rebroadcast of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at 8 p.m. was the top-rated telecast of the night on an evening of comprised entirely of reruns. The classic Dr. Seuss animated special drew a 1.2 rating in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo, according to Nielsen overnight numbers. ...

You won't find a lot of live-action programming from the middle sixties that gets aired, let alone pulls numbers.

But animated shows do it again ... and again ... and again. There's Charlie Brown. There's Rudolph and Frosty and (of course) the Grinch. This might explain why our fine entertainment conglomerates keep making animated product.

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The Stop Motion

A fine trade journal profiles the work and life of a stop-motion animator:

... For puppet suprvisor Caroline Kasteleic, workdays [on the feature Anomalisa] often began at 8:30 AM and lasted 10 hours or more, and were filled with “frantic walkie-talkie calls about puppets breaking,” she says. Her responsibilities as puppet supervisor included figuring out, in meticulous fashion, the puppet needs of the project—scene by scene—assembling the final puppets (hair, wardrobe), and negotiating with all the various departments to meet the day’s goals. The crew consisted of 10 to 20 people depending on the stage of production. “At one point we had about 20 stages running at once,” Kastelic says. ...

[S]top-motion is one of the most intensive crafts of all, and comes with its own unique set of problems. “With a lot things, materials just take time to dry,” says Kastelic. “There’s nothing you can do if something takes two hours to set, so a lot of times you stay late and get all the things you can done, and then get back here. It feels like you never left.” ...

Actually it sounds a lot like other forms of animation. Where people stay late. Or sleep under their desks. Or come in Saturdays and Sundays.

Federal regs have long said that "animators" are non-exempt from overtime rules, meaning that somebody who is animating has got to be compensated for overtime.

Of course, in the real world that often doesn't happen. People stay late on their own volition or because of peer pressure, and the company takes the stance of "hear no evil, see no evil." And how often are labor regulations enforced anyway?

I've talked to a number of stop-motion animators over the years, and most are passionate about the craft and love what they do. And almost all of them are over-worked and underpaid.

That's true of a lot of stop motion studios in Los Angeles and elsewhere. LAIKA appears to treat staff pretty well, and on some features the working conditions aren't bad, but television work offers low wages and long hours. As an L.A.-based stop-motion animator said a few months back: "We'd do better working at Starbucks!"

This holiday season, here's to the artists who are enthusiastic about their art. All of them, every one, deserve better than the pay and working conditions at Starbucks.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Cartoon Steeple Chase

Animation box office at Christmastime.


Alvin and the Chipmunks -- $25,208,031

The Good Dinosaur -- $100,810,283

The Peanuts Movie -- $127,114,332 ...

If you're scoring at home, Alvin and the Chipmunks is #2 with six days of release, The Good Dinosaur sits at #4 after twenty-nine days in theaters, and The Peanuts Movie has been out forty-eight days and currently clings to #12.

Hotel Transylvania 2, released September 25, can still be found in a few theaters hiter and yon and has a domestic total of $167,803,439.

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Free Money, United Kingdom Style

The Brits broadcast their giveaways.

Government support for the UK film industry through its film tax relief programme reached $372m (£251m) in 2015.

According to HM Treasury, the initiative generated more than $1.5bn (£1bn) worth of investment in the UK this year.

It also revealed that the total amount of investment secured since the scheme was originally introduced in 2007 has now reached $10.2bn (£6.7bn).

Earlier this year it was reported that film tax relief would be increased to 25%, regardless of budget level. ...

It isn't just the U.K. Various states of the union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other geographic locations give away free money in the never-ending quest to lure conglomerates.

There's really no end to this. Everybody will need to jump on the bandwagon and start throwing money at our fine, entertainment conglomerates. Because whoever who doesn't play quickly discovers that the conglomerates pull up stakes and go where the tax breaks and subsidies are.

You can rail and rant against this socialistic practice all you like, but the practice is here to stay.

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Corporate Payday

A little less than the previous twelve months.

Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger earned $44.9 million in 2015, according to public documents.
While that sounds like a lot, the executive’s pay, which was disclosed in an SEC filing on Wednesday, was down from the $46.5 million from the previous year. ...

I have no problem with Mr. Iger and other corporate chieftans getting a fat paycheck. The "magic of the marketplace!" ... "The glories of capitalism!" and all that.

But I have a large problem with the high rollers paying less in taxes than I do. Income is income is income.

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Such a Deal

There were plenty of critics who thought Diz Co. way over-paid for Pixar, but there were plenty of others who argued at Disney, with its own animation business under stress, really had no choice but to make a deal with Steve Jobs.

It seems to have worked out okay. And Disney's two other corporate purchase, first Marvel and then the Lucas Company, appear to have been considerably more than okay:

Star Wars’ $4 Billion Price Tag Was the Deal of the Century

... Once you add up all those movie tickets, action figures, and limited-edition Coffee-mate creamers, billions will come back to replace the billions spent.

Just how do those billions stack up, though? While the exact math is fuzzy, the long-term picture is clear. Disney immediately started making money on an investment that will continue to pay off in a huge way—likely for years to come. ...

Now that the first movie has opened, I think it's clear that the movies to come ... and all the affiliated merchandise ... will make Diz Co. major profits.

There are many old-timers who think it's awful what the House that Walt build has become. It's no longer small and cozy like it was in the forties, fifties and early sixties. It has long-since stopped being pure Disney, but the company stopped being that about fifteen minutes after Walt was put into his crypt at Forest Lawn.

Nothing, after all, remains the same.

But if the veterans who long for the "old Disney" would relax and learn to let go of ancient emotional attachments, to simply accept that Diz Co. is now a keeper of different entertainment brands, and that the company as the Founder's instrument to carry out a creative vision is dead and buried, they will feel a lot better.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lawsuit Motion

The Mouse asks for a dismissal.

Disney Board Members Seek End to Shareholder Lawsuit Over Anti-Poaching Pacts

Robert Iger and others defend their roles overseeing a company that allegedly conspired to deny workers in the visual effects community better work opportunities.

... Disney stockholder Eugene Towers brought a stockholder-derivative complaint on behalf of the company. He is asserting Sandberg, Dorsey and other directors breached their fiduciary duties for having "allowed or permitted the Company to affirmatively violate antitrust laws, allowed or caused the Company to disseminate false and misleading statements in the Company's SEC filings and other disclosures" and to have caused "internal control failures."

On Tuesday, Disney board members led by Robert Iger demanded an end to the shareholder lawsuit.

In a motion to dismiss filed Monday, the board members say that the lawsuit is fatally flawed because Towers never made a demand on the board of directors to investigate and determine whether the corporation should bring action against its very directors and officers. ...

I get asked about this from time to time: did the studios conspire to restrain wages? I always say I believe so, but a non-lawyer (me) believing something to be true doesn't make it true.

You also have to prove the allegations. In court.

There's evidence that Pixar and Lucas worked together on the "no poaching" (aka "wage suppression") maneuver, back in the day. There is evidence that Pixar execs worked to get agreements not to raid employees from other studios. There are depositions by Dr. Catmull and George Lucas that point to collusion.

But what the Disney Board of Directors should have known or not known? And when they should have known it? That's a kettle of different-flavored fish. And we'll see what the court does in response to the Mouse's demand.

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"What Would Walt Do?"

It's a time-honored game. An ancient game. A tired game. But an easy one on which to hook an article.

What would Walt have thought of "Two More Eggs"? ... What would Walt have made of the modern day Disney Company? ... Disney XD? ... etc.

Here's the answer, Jim.

When Ward Kimball created Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, Walt didn't like the short much. He wasn't into the limited animation thingie, believed that it looked bad. He had an aversion to the short because he'd already been in the cheapo animation game during the twenties, and didn't want to go back. To Walt, this was going back.

But when TWPaB won the Academy Award for best short subject, Walt Disney graciously accepted the Little Gold Man.

And Walt didn't like the art direction and Xerox lines of 101 Dalmations. He complained to art director Ken Anderson about it (which caused Anderson to go into a funk, but that's another story.)

But when Dalmations became a sizable hit, Walt graciously accepted the box office returns. And kept the company doing animation with Xerography.

So when I hear "What would Walt think of the current Diz Co.?", I think to myself:

That's an easy one. He would have grumbled, he would have disliked some of the bigness and impersonality of the mega conglomerate, the sheer "corporateness" of the whole enterprise, but he would have graciously accepted the billions and billions flooding in from the parks, and television, and the movie franchises. Because Walt might have been "the old Maestro" and an artist, but he was also a businessman. Who liked money. (Mostly because money enabled him to do more and bigger things. Also, too, he wasn't above enjoying the corporate plane.)

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Billion Dollar Club

The Mouse claims the second position in the box office derby.

... Disney crossed the $1B mark at the domestic box office this year in a studio-record 174 days on June 25, beating the 188-day previous record set on July 8, 2012, by two weeks. That was driven by the spring/summer releases of Disney/Pixar’sInside Out, Marvel’s Ant Man and Walt Disney Pictures’ Cinderella. ...

Animation had a lot to do with Diz Co.'s banner year. Inside Out made a potful, while the live-action version of the well-loved Cinderella also performed well.

And the space opera was also helpful.

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TAG Golden Award Inverview -- Rudy Zamora

One more video interview, this time with animation veteran Zamora.

The second in a series. ...

The interview above took place three decades ago, one of many quick interviews done at the awards banquet of the Animation Guild (which was then known as "The Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists".)

Rudy Zamora had a looong career in the cartoon business. Born in Mexico City in 1910, he began work with the Sullivan studios and was still going strong in the 1980s at Hanna-Barbera. Mr. Zamora passed away at age 79, six years after this interview.


The Glow Worm (short) -- 1930

Boy Meets Dog (short) -- 1938

1001 Arabian Knights -- 1959

The Bullwinkle Show -- 1961

A Charlie Brown Christmas -- 1965

Super Friends -- 1980

The Smurfs 1981-85

The Jetsons -- 1985

Johnny Quest -- 1986

Yogi's Great Escape -- 1987

And on and on. ...

You will find the first of these Golden Awards interviews (courtesy of The Animation Guild, Harvey Deneroff and Cartoon Research's Jerry Beck) right here.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Training Animation Artists

Per Variety:

Disney Television Animation wants to make sure there’s a steady stream of talented animators in the industry pipeline, so it has sponsored a course at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.

The Master Class Character Design Workshop was taught by former Disney animator Caroline Hu and featured weekly speakers from DTVA’s large bullpen of showrunners and creators. It took the students from the inception of their big idea to their big pitch. The course just finished for the fall semester. “What I’ve been doing is very collaborative. (At the beginning of the semester,) the students come up with their ideas. They pitch it in front of the class, every class, as it develops, and they get feedback from each other every class. And they get feedback from the Disney people. ...

“The class is centered around developing a show for television,” explains mid-term speaker Sonnenburg. “What most students think it is to develop a show for television or film is very different in reality. There are a lot more elements and politics and collaboration and notes and on and on that you have to deal with when you’re trying to develop something, or pitch something. ...

Over the last couple of generations, the animation business has changed a lot.

It used to be a lot smaller and lots more laid back. It wasn't unheard of that a high school artist could drive up to a studio gate and get an audience with a recruitment administrator inside.

And a week later, have a job.

But that happens a lot less frequently now. Few people were being trained for animation jobs in universities thirty years ago. Now colleges and art schools are turning out animators, tech directs, board artists, and designers by the busload. Competition is downright fierce. And the studios -- Disney, Warners, Cartoon Network and hosts of others, are considerably more corporate.

None of this means that it's impossible to break into the cartoon industry, but the various goat paths in are a lot twistier than they used to be, and the climb is steeper. The talented and dedicated still find their way to the Promised Land, it just takes more gumption and stick-to-itiveness than it did in ... oh ... 1973.

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Your World Box Office

Some space opera seems to have made a dent in international box office.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Star Wars Awakens -- $279,000,000 -- ($517,000,000)

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- 000 -- ($14,400,000)

Hunger Games -- $7,800,000 -- ($595,538,774)

The Good Dinosaur -- $9,200,000 -- ($189,646,068)

The Peanuts Movie -- $1,200,000 -- ($145,265,158)

Hotel Transylvania 2 -- $1,800,000 -- ($449,070,986)

Hotel Transylvania 2 is one of SOny's big winners for 2015, although The Peanuts Movie and The Good Dinosaur are not doing the standard boffo business that Blue Sky Studios and Pixar especially Pixar) have come to expect. The trade journals tell us:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens alit on about 30,000 screens this weekend for a $279M international debut. Records fell in myriad individual markets. ...

The Good Dinosaur, Disney’s other play in overseas markets, had no significant openings this frame but added $9.2M in 48 territories. The global box office is now $189.65M. ...

The Hunger Games: MJ2 is nearing $600M worldwide with $595.5M after its 5th weekend. In 91 markets, the weekend drummed up another $7.8M, lifting the international cume to date to $341.1M. ...

Hotel Transylvania 2 vamped up another $1.8M in 65 markets. The overseas total is now $281.5M. School vacations in Australia helped the Adam Sandler sequel to dip only 10% in its 4th frame for $900K on 290 screens. ...

The Martian is winding up its run in China where the blackout takes hold. With a $694K weekend, the offshore cume is now orbiting at $369.9M. ...

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Work For Hire

A new animated feature from Japan that is only (?) partially Japanese.

Japan’s most famous anime production house is back in the animation saddle, with a European director holding the reins. ...

Studio Ghibli is now at work on a new animated movie, titled “The Red Turtle.” However, it’s debatable whether or not it should be called anime, since it’s a co-production with Europe’s Wild Bunch, and has a Dutch director and French screenwriter.

Sitting in the director’s chair is Michael Dudok de Wit, who also directed “Father and Daughter,” the winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 2001. ... This is the first time for Ghibli to produce animation for a foreign-spearheaded project. ...

Some anime fans might think the above is a bad outcome, but better to have an iconic studio team up with French and Dutch talent to make a new, full-length feature, than for there to be no full-length feature at all.

Having artistic dreams fulfilled is well and good, but keeping people gainfully employed is good too. Maybe better, since the alternative is No. Thing.

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Star Wars and Everything Else

The box office, beyond the #1 movie, has only a little oxygen.


1). Star Wars: The Force Awakens (DIS), 4,134 theaters / $125M-$127M+ Fri. /3-day cume: $251M-$255M /Wk 1

2). Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Road Chip (FOX), 3,653 theaters / $3.9M-$4.1M Fri. /3-day cume: $13.6-$14.2M /Wk 1

3). Sisters (UNI), 2,962 theaters / $4.8M-$5M Fri. /3-day cume: $13M-$14M /Wk 1

4). The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (LGF), 2,653 theaters (-998) / $1.6M Fri. (-52%)/$3-day cume: $5.5M (-52%) /Total cume: $254.2M/Wk 5

5). Creed (MGM/New Line/WB), 2,433 theaters (-1,069) / $1.4M Fri. (-53%)/ 3-day cume: $4.9M (-52%)/Total cume: $87.5M /Wk 4

6). The Good Dinosaur (DIS), 2,755 theaters (-851) / $1M Fri. (-55%)/3-day cume: $4.2M (-59%)/Total cume: $96.4M/Wk 4

7). Krampus (U/Legendary), 2,371 theaters (-548) / $1.2M Fri. (-53%)/3-day cume: $4M (-53%)/Total cume: $35M/Wk 3

8). In The Heart of the Sea (WB/Village Roadshow), 3,103 theaters (0)/ $1.07M Fri. (-72%)/ 3-day cume: $3.6M (-67%)/Total cume: $18.6M /Wk 2

9). Dilwale (UTV), 268 theaters / $575K Fri. /3-day cume: $1.8M /Wk 1

10). Spectre (SONY/MGM), 1,225 theaters (-1,415)/ $380K Fri. (-66%)/3-day cume: $1.5M (-64%)/Total cume: $193.9M /Wk 7

There are now two animated offerings in the Top Ten: Pixar's The Good Dinosaur (just under $100 million in total grosses) and Alvin and the Chipmunks, which will end the weekend at a distant #2 or #3.

The Peanuts Movie, clinging to #10 on Thursday, has now dropped out of the Top Ten and has a domestic gross of $126 million.

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Friday, December 18, 2015


Back from layoff.

...Cartoon Network announced Friday that Steven Universe, the series about a group of superhero gem-women and their hybrid helper Steven will return from its nearly 3-month hiatus at the beginning of 2016. From Jan. 4–Jan. 8, Cartoon Network will air a new episode of Steven Universe every day. ...

Cartoon Network is one kid network that plows right along, doing well in its cable space and making Turner ... and so Time-Warner ... a steady supply of money.

Turner networks revenues were up 2.3% early in the year. More recently, TW warned of declining ad revenue, but the network's cartoon line-up continues to thrive.

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The Nub Of It

Loren Bourchard of Bob's Burgers explains how cartoons got be be hot commodities.

... Why does a genre once meant for children and relegated to Saturday mornings now hold their parents’ attention between 8 and 11 p..m., as well as on-demand? “Bob’s Burgers” creator Loren Bouchard credits it mostly to what he calls “an accident of the medium.” ...

[The real answer?] ... ‘Because you can have different voices coming out of different faces,” he explained. “You have this incredible flexibility where you can have an adult play a kid, you can have a man play a woman,'" ...

“It is easier to get people to agree to do voiceovers.” ...

[There is a] high-level of re-watchability and overseas sale-ability ... [and] ... a successful animated show will sell a bunch of t-shirts — and these to a demographic that actually has purchasing power. Optimistically, action figures and video games aren’t out of the question either. ...

The above is certainly true, but strip away the b.s. side issues and the reason there are more animated shows than ever?

... [A]nimated comedies ... are cheaper to produce than live-action sitcoms — especially those off-broadcast TV. ...

Almost ALL animated shows are less expensive than their live-action counterparts, and they continue for freaking ever. The Flintstones is fifty-five years old, but the Fred and Wilma franchise goes on ... and on ... and on.

Old live-action shows that attract eyeballs? There's "Lucy", there's "The Honeymooners", and that's pretty much it. But plenty of old animated shows generate audiences and licensing fees.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Awesomes Depart

Hulu stands pat after Season Three of its super hero show.

Hulu has opted not to order a fourth season of its original animated comedy series The Awesomes created by Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker.

The Awesomes was one of the first full-length original scripted series on Hulu to stick. The show — which follows a group of up-and-coming superheroes — developed a cult following. ...

And now, it seems, some of that following has moved on and Hulu turns to live action and bigger budgets.

TA was produced in Atlanta, at the southern-most facility of Bento Box. The company also has studios in Canada, Burbank (CA) and North Hollywood (CA). A prime-time show entitled Border Town, produced at Bento's North Hollywood place, has its broadcast premiere in January.

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Preps & Landings

Can we say this is now a Diz Co. holiday tradition?

... Disney’s Prep & Landing cartoons have hung around, becoming the rare 21st-century Christmas specials that have spawned sequels and ancillary merchandise, while remaining popular enough to merit an annual network rebroadcast. (This year’s is happening tonight on Thursday December 17, on ABC.)

A cynic could say that P&L has benefited from multiple not-so-great trends in the television business, from synergistic corporate partnerships—like the one between Disney and ABC—to the explosion of channels needing any kind of holiday programming to draw a few extra eyeballs. ...

I remember these being made in the Hat Building on Riverside.

I got a gander at the first one, and thought it was a clever half-hour with an interesting conceit: elves going on ahead of Santa to get rooftops, chimneys and living rooms ready for the big man's nighttime Christmas visit, in much the same way the 101st airborne dropped into Normandy and got it ready for the amphibious invasion coming across from Britain in June, 1944.

At the time it was made, I recall there were plans for a sequel and then a third half-hour, forming a "Santa and the Elves" trilogy. The second installment was made, also a short. But a third featurette has yet to be made. I remarked to one animator: "Hey, you do three, you can cut them together and haver yourselves a feature!"

But it has yet to happen.

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Animation and Minimum Wages

The Big Picture asks if countries are better off with a minimum wage:

... [Economist] Mark Perry goes international in an attempt to demonstrate that countries without a minimum wage have lower youth and overall unemployment rates than countries with minimum wages. ... Taking a quick look [at his charts -- linked above], it would appear that a zero minimum wage is the path to a robust labor market and prosperity. ...

[But] here’s the part that Perry overlooked and neglected to mention: While it appears technically true that the bottom eight countries have no “official” minimum wage, they all – every one – employ some manner of collective bargaining agreements to ensure their workers get a fair shake. ...

And those minimum wages?


Whattayaknow? Negotiations! Contracts! Who would have thought? ...

Just about every developed country has some kind of wage policy. Germany, which has the strongest economy in Europe and a lower unemployment rate than the United States (4.5% vs. 5%). And it sets wage minimums in different sectors of it economy.

Added to which, Germany has a robust labor movement. But that's one of the reasons its standard of living is so high.

So how does this apply to animation?

Simple. You look at wages across the board, the highest overall rates within Cartoonland are found in Los Angeles. Sure, there are non-contract studios that are outliers, that pay below going wages, but they rely on artists coming out of school are hungry to land their first job and are move flexible about what they'll accept for a weekly paycheck.

We're not saying the market doesn't have an impact, but when you look at the stats, there's more involved than just the buying and selling labor. Pixar, arguably the most successful animation studio in the United States, has lower overall pay rates than Guild studios in Los Angeles, and the reason is simple: it doesn't have any contract minimums to worry about because it has no labor contracts.

Find TAG's most recent wage survey here.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Warner Animation Group

... drops its first visual from an oncoming feature.

This feature, in development at Warners second cartoon studio in Burbank, has Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who have a pair of hit animated features, also a few live-action pictures. (When you're hot, you're hot.)

Lord and Miller, you might remember, were the pair that Sony wanted to get under long-term contract to do additional work after "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs". But L & M had fish to fry at other entertainment conglomerates, and so declined. (This all came out in the Sony hack.)

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Church Procession

And now a religiously-themed card from the brushes of Ralph Hulett.

This was painted in the 1960s. You can never go wrong with candle-lit processions. We featured it here a few years back.

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Disney Company Graphed

The history of Diz Co., visualized by The Economist:

From Fantasia to Frozen -- the history and share price of the Walt Disney Company. ...

What becomes clear is that Disney equities didn't take flight until the boys from Paramount and warners (Eisner, Wells, and Katzenberg) rolled into Burbank.

The shares have been in higher orbit ever since.

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Goldman's Estimates; Tarantino's Anger

Wall Street's Goldman Sachs is highly optimistic about the Mouse's momentum, due to a new movie.

Goldman has raised its box office estimates for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" from $1.5 billion to $1.95 billion. That total is comprised of $750 million domestic box office and $1.2 billion international. Those numbers would put the movie in rare company behind only "Titanic" and "Avatar" ...

The reviews are stellar and all systems appear to be Go. There appears, however, to be a wee bit of collateral damage, with some space debris slicing through the ego of another filmmaker.

Quentin Tarantino went on the Howard Stern Sirius radio show and spoke about how Disney is strong-arming Arclight Cinemas to push the director’s 70MM presentation of his eighth film The Hateful Eight aside in favor of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in LA’s famed Cinemarama Dome. The director first learned about this on Monday. The western was originally due to play there claims Tarantino starting on Dec. 25th, but now Force Awakens is getting an extended play through the holidays.

“It was real bad news and it fucking pissed me off,” Tarantino told Stern. “They are going out of their way to fuck me.” ...

There's this thing called "leverage." Walt's company has it; Quentin does not.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Deluge Continues

Can there ever be too much of a good thing?

It's useful to remember that the first was never believed to be a sure thing at Fox.

At the time, Chris Meledandri was not the genius he is today. Eighteen months off the non-blockbuster Titan A.E., he was on semi-thin ice with top management, Fox wondered if IA Uno was another money-loser, and solicited buyers for Blue Sky Studios, the facility that was making it.

But then a trailer with Scrat hit European festivals and theaters and received a HUGE positive reaction. And Fox (whattayaknow!) reconsidered its earlier position.

And lo. Here we are. Thirteen years and bajillions of dollars later.

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Tenth Anniversary

The successor to Will Vinton's studio hits the ten-year mark.

When LAIKA began we had a simple goal: to make movies that matter,” says Travis Knight, LAIKA’s President and CEO, who also is lead animator and a producer on its films. “LAIKA is devoted to telling new and original stories in new and original ways… We aspire to make films that are bold, distinctive, and enduring." ...

Few would debate that LAIKA's features aren't distinctive. But there's the profitability issue:

... Laika hasn’t had the kind of near-billion-dollar grosser that marks the histories of Pixar, DreamWorks Animation and Illumination Entertainment. It seemingly hasn’t even really tried. As it develops projects, is the company even aiming for such a four-quadrant smash? ...

[CEO Travis] Knight says the company’s future titles — not yet announced — will prove the company is serious about branching out, not sticking to macabre, quirky stories. “Rather than a taste for the macabre,” he says, “I like the full range of human emotion in a story, which means darkness and light. It means warmth, but it also potentially means scares. Within a safe environment, the theater, you can have a big ride, big ups and downs, intensity, warmth, humanity, laughs, tears — you want that full range of emotion.”

Here's the trouble: LAIKA has made and released three features. Each has cost, give or take, $60 million. Henry Selick's effort, Coraline, is LAIKA's highest grosser, bringing in $124 million at the box office.

That might have been sufficient to pull in profits back in 1966, but it doesn't really do the job now. The other two features, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, have brought in $107 and $108 million respectively, but let's get real.

You are not making money if the product is budgeted at $60 mill and grosses a little over $100 mill. After overhead, after advertising, the company can't be cruising along in the black, can it? Or am I being too much a green eyeshade type here?

Maybe it is, after all, about the art. The hell with the money part of it.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Unseen Star Wars

There is, out there in the ether, a bunch of comedy Star Wars half hours on which few have laid eyes.

... [At the 2012 Star Wars celebration in Orlando, there was] The announcement of a Star Wars television series set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope called Star Wars: Detours.

The show was such a big deal for Lucasfilm that it was the subject of two different panels at Celebration VI, one on Friday and one on Saturday. Saturday’s panel even had an additional surprise: George Lucas showed up to help promote the series. ...

Three years later, Star Wars: Detours remains unreleased. Somewhere in the bowels of Skywalker Ranch sits a full season and a half of Star Wars television that no one’s seen. At this point, it’s looking increasingly likely no one ever will. ...

The window for wacky Star Wars parody (beyond Robot Chicken, I mean) opened, then Disney bought Lucasfilm lock, stock and sequel, and the window slammed shut.

I've talked to people who believe Disney might release the series sometime after the new SW feature finishes it run, but I wonder. Disney will either decide to exploit the full Lucasfilm library, top to bottom, or make the determination the company's freshly-acquired money-making machine, driven by its re-toooled Star Wars franchise, would be undercut by George Lucas's goof on his earlier creations.

It would be great to see it, but I'm not holding my breath. And Seth Green is making no comment.

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Not by me but by Harvey Deneroff. And not recently, but thirty-two years ago. ...

The above took place at the Animation Guild's first Golden Awards banquet in 1984, at the long-departed Sorrentino's in Toluca Lake. (That first banquet was a hoot, by the way. Almost every west coast old-timer attended, and there was a lot of catching up among friends.)

The interview subject was animation veteran Carlo Vinci. ...

The Guild, then known as The Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, was honoring fifty-year veterans in the animation business, and Harvey interviewed honorees as they arrived and departed from the banquet. All the interviews were stored on tape in the Guild archives.

Fade Out.

A few weeks ago, Harvey came inquiring after the tapes, and Lyn Mantta was instrumental in locating them and presenting all the stored reels to Dr. Deneroff. He showed them to Jerry Beck, who got excited by the material, and asked the Guild if he could post them on his "Cartoon Research" blog. We were happy to give our permission.

Over the next several months, Cartoon Research will be profiling more of these decades-old interviews, and we will be cross-posting them here.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Borrowings For A Franchise

Slate Magazine recounts the influences on the space movies that have made kajillions.

... We’ll need to imagine our way back to a galaxy, far, far away, when George Lucas was an artsy film student and budding bricoleur. By retracing the steps of his hero’s journey, from a farm town to blowing up the Death Star, we can unlearn what we have learned and see anew the power of Star Wars. ...

Slate notes Flash Gordon, John Ford, Kurosawa and Casablanca. I've always thought there was a bit of The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk in there as well, partciularly the Korngold scores influencing what John Williams did.

A lot of the above has been recounted before, but hey. It's Sunday night, and Disney's New Box Office Hope comes out in a handful of days, so I link to the piece.

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Next Summer's VFX Extravaganza

For this winter (like next week), Star Wars will be the big deal visual effects wise. Next summer, likely this:

The cast from the original is back, minus Will Smith (who apparently has other fish to fry). Liam Hemsworth, swinging over from another big franchise, assumes the mantle or Alpha stud for this outing.

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Le Box Office de Internationale

In the calm before the Star Wars deluge, we have ...


Hunger Games -- $15,400,000 -- ($809,090,956)

In the Heart of the Sea -- $12,600,000 -- ($50,405,000)

The Good Dinosaur -- $14,300,000 -- ($167,861,000)

Spectre -- $12,900,000 -- ($820,567,660)

The Martian -- $8,100,000 -- ($589,100,035)

The Peanuts Movie -- $2,700,000 -- ($141,555,585)

Hotel Transylvania 2 -- $2,200,000 -- ($445,330,730) ...

And as the trades inform us ...

... The 3rd frame of The Good Dinosaur leapfrogged James Bond to take the No. 2 spot among studio films. With big holds in some of its major plays, the Disney/Pixar title now has a worldwide total of just under $170M. ...

In its 4th weekend, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 held No. 1 — something MJ1 did not manage last year, even if MJ2 is trailing that film in some key markets. It flapped up another $15.4M in 92 markets. ...

Spectre spied a further $12.9M in the 7th offshore weekend for an international cume of $629.8M. Globally, 007 has stuffed $820.6M into the Aston Martin glovebox. ...

The Martian continued its red-hot run in the Middle Kingdom with a market cume of $86.8M in 19 days. In total, Ridley Scott’s Golden Globe nominee brought home another $8.1M from 2,724 screens in 10 markets. The international cume is now $366.3M. ...

The Peanuts Movie delivered $991K on 660 Japanese screens for a 22% drop from last week’s opening and bringing the cume to $3.16M. That gave Hollywood movies the top two spots in the market with Spectre at No. 1. ...

Checking in with $2.2M this weekend, Sony’s Hotel Transylvania 2 took its cume to $277.9M overseas. With kids getting out of school, Australia was down just 1% for a $1.1M 3rd frame and a $4.7M cume. ...

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Yuletide Sleigh Ride

Another card from the 1960s, last posted here in 2011. This is from the original artwork, with brown age spots along the edges. You can also see the crop marks for the printer.

Mr. Hulett created cards at lunchtime in the Disney background department, at home, and one year while in Europe, hunkered down in a Spanish hotel for two weeks and painted that season's cards, shipping them off to the card publisher when they were completed.

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Your American Box Office

Two animated features remain in the Top Ten.


1.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (LGF), 3,651 theaters (-435) / $3.3M Fri. (-42%)/ 3-day cume: $11.1M (-41%) /Total cume: $244.3M/Wk 4

2.) In The Heart of the Sea (WB/Village Roadshow), 3,103 theaters / $3.8M Fri. / 3-day cume: $10.5M /Wk 1

3). The Good Dinosaur (DIS), 3,606 theaters (-143) / $2.2M Fri. (-34%) / 3-day cume: $10.1M (-34%)/Total cume: $89.2M/Wk 3

4). Creed (MGM/New Line/WB), 3,502 theaters (+78) $2.95M Fri. (-35%)/ 3-day cume: $9.7M (-36%)/Total cume: $78.9M /Wk 3

5). Krampus (U/Legendary), 2,919 theaters (+17) / $2.5M Fri. (-58%)/ 3-day cume: $7.6M (-53%)/Total cume:$27.7M/Wk 2

6). The Night Before (SONY), 2,674 theaters (-120)/ $1.2M Fri. (-21%)/ 3-day cume: $4M (-21%)/Total cume: $38.3M/Wk 4

7).Spectre (SONY/MGM), 2,640 theaters (-200)/ $1.1M Fri. (-30%)/ 3-day cume: $3.9M (-30%)/Total cume: $190.6M /Wk 6

8). The Peanuts Movie (FOX), 2,653 theaters (-264)/ $569K Fri. (-28%)/ 3-day cume: $2.5M (-29%)/Total cume: $124.8M /Wk 6

9). Spotlight (OPRD), 1,089 (+109) / $710K Fri. (-15%) / 3-day cume: $2.38 (-15%) /Total cume: $20.2M /Wk 6

10). Brooklyn (FSL), 947 theaters (+41) / $581K Fri. (-22%)/3-day cume: $1.9M (-21%)/Total cume: $14.3M /Wk 6

11).The Martian (FOX), 1,041 theaters (-99) / $396K Fri. (-12%)/ 3-day cume: $1.4M (-13%)/ Total cume: $222.8M / Wk 11 ...

For those keeping score at home, The Peanuts Movie opened 36 days ago in #,897 theaters, bringing in $44,213,073.

The Good Dinosaur, in release 17 days, collected $39,155,217 on its opening weekend. It was screened in 3,749 theaters, and it's been dropping a wee bit faster than Chuck Brown and associates, although the two features declines are comparable.

By contrast, Inside Out (released last June), brought in $90,440,272 in its premiere weekend across $3,946 screens. It went on to gross $356,461,711 domestically, 41.9% of its worldwide total.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

The Lure of Free Money, Part V

And the "reverse brain drain".

... About half of the 3,000 people in animation in British Columbia are employed by Canadian companies and about a quarter are working for B.C. companies.

“As big as Sony and Animal Logic are, they are actually outnumbered by the B.C. companies here,” Wong, of Creative BC, said.

According to tax credit certifications through Creative BC for the year ending March 2015, 44 animation projects were in progress in B.C. Many more projects were likely at an earlier or later stage of development. ...

Vancouver is seeing a “reverse brain drain.” ... Where Vancouver people used to head to Los Angeles, now senior people in Los Angeles are applying for jobs in Vancouver. ...

The Los Angeles animation industry is fairly robust, and TAG is at the highest membership level in its history. But think where the Southern California cartoon business would be if free money was being flung about.

We would have more of the animation action that now resides in Vancouver, Montreal, London and Sydney. (Maybe someday eh?)

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The Portland studio rolls out a short trailer for Kubo and the Two Strings.

Directed by Travis Knight, written by Mark Haimes and hris Butler, from an original concept (per Cartoon brew) by veteran board artist and designer Shannon Tindle.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

New England Christmas Eve

Here's yet another Christmas card from the brushes of Ralph Hulett, one from the 1950s.

Hulett created cards for twenty-give years, fourteen to sixteen designs each year. This was back in the days when department stores (remember department stores?) had sections in the store with albums filled with cards, and the customers would make their selections.

It's a method of buying cards that's as dead as the horse and buggy for a commuter choice.

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Directors Speak

The L.A. Times holds a directors round table.

Peter, your movie [The Good Dinosaur] does a lot without dialogue too. How did you guys approach that?

Peter Sohn: Part of this movie is a survival story and taking a dinosaur out in the wilderness; there's a lot of moments where he's needing to figure out what to do on his own. And so there's just inherently not a lot of dialogue with that. But then one of the original conceits to the story was the idea of a boy-and-dog story, but flipping it and making the traditional "boy" the dinosaur and the "dog" this little human boy; and then sticking true to that, where the dinosaur has evolved to speak a language but the little animal, the human boy, has no language whatsoever. ...

More and more, animation directors and live-action directors are doing the same jobs.

On a big live-action movie, digital pre-viz is de riguer. Storyboard happen with both. The difference of course, is that live-action has those actors on a set, but if the director wants to hide behind his bank of video screens, he/she can do that.

One way or the other, there's much higher traffic between formats than there used to be. (James Cameron can say he's not the director of animated features, but he really is.)

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015


So now that they've gotten to plot points in the trailers ....

And the effects are animated, no? So we can put this up?

And this serves as a reminder that though dinosaurs are under-performing for the mouse, space ships are likely to be GANGBUSTERS.

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Animated Best Picture

The grand old trade paper Variety and its columnist Tim Gray dream their yuletide dreams.

Every year, Oscar pundits speculate whether animated films will be recognized beyond their own category.

And that long-dormant recognition is finally happening — but slowly. ...

Whether cel animation, CG or stop-motion, there is as much creativity behind any animated film. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences members won’t vote for a film simply because it’s animated — nor should they. They vote for a film, not for a genre. But people need to overcome their shyness about animated films — and I’m not talking only about Academy voters, but every awards voter, and every human in general. ...

What long-dormant recognition is Variety talking about?

Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture in 1991 after fifty-plus years of nothing. Zero. Zilch. Fantasia didn't get a nomination, nor did One Hundred and One Dalmations, ditto for Yellow Submarine. And after B & B there was more nothing, until finally the Academy created a "Best Animated Feature" category so the continual shutouts looked less embarrassing.

But hey! The Academy has nominated more animated features since, hasn't it? There was "Up". There was "Toy Story 3!!

Yeah, sure there was, after the Academy expanded the category and started getting desperate for more viable, non-laughable candidates. But does anybody think these later pictures, as good as they are, were nominated because of some happy evolution in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences thinking? I mean, seriously?

Listen, I wish to hell Tim Gray was right. That the reason animated features don't win the mainstream Oscars (best picture, best director, best costume, etc.) is because cartoons aren't recognized for the art form they truly are. And that the horrid, long-time prejudices that have held those wondrous animated features back all these years are now changing. And any day now those features will start to win ... and win ... and win.

Except it won't happen. Ever. And it won't happen because live-action dominates the academy, and no self-respecting actor is going to give the finger to his fellow thespians by voting for a movie where actors are heard but not seen. Just like no costume designer is going to vote to hand the "best costume design" Oscar to some g.d. cartoonist. Will. Not. Happen.

Simple math.

So yeah, A.M.P.A.S will throw the occasional nomination to a high-grossing cartoon so that the Academy doesn't look too out-of-touch and dickish. But actually make that cartoon a winner?! When monkeys fly out of James Cameron's ass.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

First Dud?

It's been hinted at and mentioned elsewhere, but now the financial press pipes up:

After 16 movies, it looks like “The Good Dinosaur” is Pixar’s first real box-office failure.

The film opened with a soft $39.1 million following less-than-stellar reviews (even a critically mixed Pixar movie like “Brave” opened with $66 million) and then in its second weekend only made $15.5 million, a 60% drop in sales, which is unheard of from a Pixar movie. ...

According to Variety, the film’s production budget was $200 million, and roughly $150 million was pumped into marketing. Adding in other costs, that means Disney, which releases Pixar movies, would have to make back $500 million to break even. This could happen with the help of foreign sales and home entertainment, though analysts are projecting that the movie will earn under $400 million worldwide. ...

So The Good Dinosaur might be Emeryville's first unabashed flop (though it's too soon to tell with certainty). But let us remember that Pixar's upper management has presided over animated features that were under-performers before.

For instance, Planes: Fire and Rescue took in $151,386,640 globally on a reputed budget of $50 million. (Planes, the Original, by contrast, made $239,258,712 on the same size budget.)

So, while Planes Deux might not have lost money after all the secondary markets reported in (not to mention toy merchandise), it wasn't any chart-buster. Dinosaur will take in far more at the box office. However, TGD had a budget four times the size of Planes, so it's that much harder for the picture to claw its way into the black.

The point here? Nobody but nobody hits the ball out of the park every time. John Lasseter is a talented, perceptive guy, yet even a big talent falls on his face from time to time. So if The Good Dinosaur becomes a tax write-off for the House of Mouse, let's call it a corporate palette-cleansing experience and get on to the next animated feature.

The occasional failure, after all, is good for the soul. Keeps people humble.

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The TV Version

The thing to understand about the smaller screen versions of DWA's CG features? Some of them remain CG when they make the transition to television half-hours (Kung Fu Panda, Dragons of Berk), while others morph into hand-drawn series. The Croods is one of the DreamWorks Animation properties that transform.

What studios have learned, albeit slowly, is that CG is the lucrative way to go with theatrical animation. In fact, our fine entertainment conglomerates have minimal interest in hand-drawn animation, and the format has been pushed off to smaller studios, many of them in Europe. But when it comes to TV animation, the small fry don't care if it's CG ... or hand-drawn.

In fact, in some instances they prefer hand-drawn.

This has blown a large hole in many TV studios long-term plans, because those studios started from the premise that CG trumps hand-drawn cartoons, just like CG beats hand-drawn on the big screen. And, based on what they thought children wanted to see, they invested large amounts of money in CG product, only to watch in dismay as that product crashed and burned, even as older, traditional fare (can we say Sponge Bob Square Pants? I knew we could!) went on and on, one profitable season following another.

So that explains why DWA has a less expensive hand-drawn version of one of its CG hits. The company is betting that the target demographic doesn't care what format its cave dwellers appears in. And it's probably a pretty safe bet.

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Following Walt's Path

Now with Add On.

I was wondering when this would happen. And so now we know:

Dreamworks Animation has tapped Katie O’Connell Marsh to run its live-action TV unit. As the company’s head of Global Live-Action Television, she will be charged with expanding the company’s TV business into live-action fare. Marsh will be based at the DWA’s Glendale headquarters and begin with the company in the New Year. The move into TV is an interesting one for Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Dreamworks Animation, which, as its one name indicates, has been until recently all about animated content. ...

Walt Disney Productions was all about animation until it began producing combination live-action/animated product in 1941, and then full-on live-action in the late forties, when it wanted to use profits held in Great Britain for production work.

From there it was a hop, skip and a jump into live-action films in California: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Davy Crockett. Old Yeller. The Shaggy Dog. And so on and so forth.

Jeffrey has been steering DWA down the WDP path for some time, branching into New Media (as Walt branched into television), going into the amusement park business. It's a natural progression, especially since DreamWorks Animation is now a stand-alone company. The studio began as the animated branch of DreamWorks the live-action studio, but now is an entity unto itself, even as DreamWorks, producer of live-action fare, has withered.

It's been an interesting progression over twenty years, but Mr. Katzenberg had Mr. Disney's road map from the forties and fifties to help guide him.

Add On: DWA Prez Ann Daly adds to our information:

The DreamWorks Animation president further detailed the TV strategy and also touched on the company’s upcoming release of feature Kung Fu Panda 3, and what the first true U.S.-China co-production might mean to the bottom line. ...

Live-action will be the “basis for us to be able to exploit in a new content arena.” Some of that IP is being developed from DWA’s own stable like a Croods series based on the hit feature (which coincidentally had a huge China run). Some comes from the Classic Media library acqusition like Voltron which is being developed as a series. ...

with all of this original IP, Daly said the idea of launching its own SVOD platform is “not a path we are choosing right now… The partnerships we have with Netlfix or linear broadcasters in international territories are bringing the most immediate value compared to starting our own service.” ...

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Monday, December 07, 2015

Wage Fixing

Cartoon Brew spotlights some litigation:

Disney stockholder Eugene F. Towers’ suit alleges that the Disney board of directors knew of the conspiracy [not to compete for the skilled labor of artists and technicians — to the broadening of the conspiracy, to include Disney, DreamWorks, ImageMovers, Blue Sky, and Sony] alleged in the related lawsuit, and “actively concealed and ensured the secrecy of the conspiracy.” Because the board members filed financial statements and certifications, and “signed each of the Company’s annual reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,” they are alleged to be guilty of signing “and/or certif[ying] false and misleading statements.” ...

People ask me about industry wage fixing from time to time, and I always say that, yeah, I suspect that collusion and non-compete agreements are going on. You only have to look at the amount of work today, and compare it to the go-go nineties, when there was less but higher wages; way higher wages, when you consider the steady rise of wage minimums and the competition for key artistic personnel.

The trouble (as always) is proving the amount and level of collusion. Studios are good (usually) at covering their tracks. Executives are well-versed in having plausible deniability when there's a threat that a pesky judge will find for the plaintiffs and the studio(s) might have to cough up a few hundred million in settlement money.

We live in an era of high-flying corporatism, so I'm always skeptical about executive heads rolling because a few movie conglomerates restrained competition and suppressed wages.

George Lucas and Ed Catmull admitted in depositions that they were doing exactly that, and both believed they were performing useful work by holding salaries back and thereby making the industry "stronger" and "more viable." Dr. Catmull doesn't believe in Personal Service Contracts and there's no reason he should. They tend to raise salaries and make employees more aware of what they're making.

Mr. Lucas and Dr. Catmull have, of course, paid dearly for their admissions of collusion. Mr. Lucas is now a billionaire several times over, and Dr. Catmull writes books about Pixar and builds elegant bay area homes.

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Peanuts Director Steve Martino Speaks

On the new Charlie Brown feature:

“Charles Schultz, Sparky, he’s our production designer. Everything that went into the film is referenced from the comic strip, what he drew.”

What hits me in the middle of the forehead is how the production team managed to get the Schulz/Melendez attitude and style into their CG feature. It looks dimensional, and yet remains a close cousin of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

To date, The Peanuts Movie has taken in $121,484,253 domestically. Respectable, but it has a ways to go before profits kick in.

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Sunday, December 06, 2015

Christmas By R. Hulett

By request, a Ralph Hulett Christmas card.

On Friday, Gallery 839 opened the annual "Hulett Christmas Card Display" (and this year there are also John Sparey caricatures of Disney animation staff).

Ralph Hulett was born in Illinois in 1915, joined Walt Disney Productions in 1938, and was pretty much a Disney lifer, working there until his death in 1974. For most of his tenure he was a background artist on animated shorts and animated features, contributing artwork to every feature from Song of the South to The Rescuers.

He also painted hundreds of Christmas cards, back in the days when artists received royalties from their work. (This was but one of Hulett's numerous careers separate and apart from his work at the studio.) Over the seasons we have posted many of the cards here, but we have plumb run out of fresh specimens, and so run a select few from years gone by.

Regarding the one above, it's from the early 1960s and features a classic covered bridge with Monterey pines (?!) in the background. (Artists combine whatever elements they need to make their visions work, is it not so?)

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International Box Office

The bow-and-arrow girl rides atop world box office, with cartoon characters trailing along in her wake.


Hunger Games -- $32,400,000 -- ($523,912,000)

The Good Dinosaur -- $19,400,000 -- ($131,351,530)

Spectre -- $23,000,000 -- ($792,020,343)

The Martian -- $13,500,000 -- ($570,813,188)

The Peanuts Movie -- $2,200,000 -- ($134,637,699 ...

As the entertainment journals tell us:

Katniss slung another quiver of arrows at the international box office in her 3rd time out, targeting $32.4M for a 49% drop and an offshore cume of $296.8M. That total takes MJ2 past the overseas lifetime of the first Hunger Games movie, but leaves it well short of Catching Fire’s $440M. ...

007 aimed at his final market this frame with Japan spying a three-day weekend of $3.7M on 583 screens. Including previews, the cume is $6.9M. In total in 94 markets, Spectre added $23M on 9,900 screens. ...

Disney/Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur crossed $100M globally in its 2nd frame after adding $19.4M offshore. The total to date on the pic that has a staggered release is $131.4M. Among significant territories not yet open are Australia, Korea, Japan and Brazil. ...

Ridley Scott’s red planet romp [The Martian] added $13.5M from 4,427 screens in 17 markets this weekend. It impressively held the No. 1 spot in the Middle Kingdom despite the arrival of a handful of local titles and Point Break. ...

[Hotel Transylvania 2] continues to see guests checking in, with a further $2.6M from 3,200 screens in 69 total markets. Cume to date has reached $274.1M. There were no new releases this frame, but Australia fell 30% in its 2nd frame to gross $1.1M from 409 screens. ...

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