The studio founded by the animation pioneer, Walt Disney
Animation Studios, has never won the Oscar for best animated
feature, a category created in 2002. That is expected to change
on Sunday, as the studio's hit "Frozen" is the favorite in a
race that has become as diverse as Hollywood's animation
"Frozen" will compete for Oscar gold with films that include box
office hits "The Croods," a caveman comedy from DreamWorks
Animation SKG, and the yellow minions of Universal Pictures'
"Despicable Me 2," produced by relative newcomer Illumination
"It's a tremendously vibrant competitive landscape," said
Illumination Chief Executive Officer Chris Meledandri.
A larger number of players creating high-quality animated films
helps everyone in the business, he said, because it raises
enthusiasm for the genre and brings a wider group of people to
theaters beyond the typical family filmgoers.
"Audiences remain urgently interested in the medium," Meledandri
said. "It continues to expand our collective audience."
Last year, five studios including Walt Disney Co's famed Pixar
unit distributed animated films that generated $100 million or
more at U.S. and Canadian theaters, six if Disney Animation
Studios and Pixar are counted separately. This year, the biggest
movie at the domestic box office is Warner Bros' animated "The
Lego Movie," which has earned nearly $280 million worldwide in
Another animated film, "The Nut Job" from Open Road Films, a
joint venture of theater chains AMC Entertainment and Regal
Entertainment, ranks third on domestic charts this year.
Animated films also draw crowds of moviegoers in foreign markets
that are increasingly important to Hollywood. "The opportunities
and interest and appetite for animation around the world is very
big," DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said. "These
are great stories. They are appreciated everywhere they go, and
they go everywhere."
The three biggest box office hits among this year's animated
Oscar contenders - "Frozen," "Despicable Me 2" and "The Croods"
- have rung up more than $2.5 billion in worldwide ticket sales
combined. Two smaller films, "The Wind Rises" from Japanese
animator Hayao Miyazaki and French-language entry "Ernest &
Celestine," round out the nominees.
BUILDING WITH LEGO
Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros, the studio built with the help of
Bugs Bunny and other Looney Tunes characters, had not been a
major player in big-screen animation since its 2006 Oscar winner
"Happy Feet." A year ago, the studio announced it created an
animation consortium with the goal of releasing one animated
feature a year, starting with "The Lego Movie." A "Lego" sequel
is now planned for 2017.
"The Lego Movie has fueled our excitement to create more
animated films," said Greg Silverman, president of creative
development and worldwide production for Warner Bros.
Studios gravitate toward animated films because the big ones
become franchises that produce characters that yield revenues
beyond the box office. On Monday, DreamWorks announced plans for
live entertainment "Shrek" attractions in six cities.
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The musical soundtrack for "Frozen" and Oscar-nominated anthem "Let
It Go" by Idina Menzel have sold more than 1 million copies each.
With so many studios jostling for screens at the movie theaters, not
every animated film succeeded. DreamWorks' 2013 release "Turbo,"
which generated $83 million in domestic ticket sales, forced it to
take a $13.5 million impairment charge, the company said on Tuesday.
"Turbo faced one of the most competitive feature film environments
we have seen," DreamWorks CEO Katzenberg said on a conference call
with industry analysts.
"Frozen," which has generated more than $980 million in worldwide
ticket sales, cemented a resurgence for Walt Disney Animation
Studios, which despite Disney's rich history in animation became
overshadowed by its corporate sibling, Pixar. The studio founded by
Steve Jobs has won seven Oscars in 12 years for blockbusters
including "Finding Nemo," "Up" and "Brave." This year, Pixar was
shut out of the Oscar nominations for the second time in three
'A REAL HUNGER'
The filmmakers behind "Frozen," the story of royal sisters in an icy
kingdom, sought to build on Disney's legacy of classic musical fairy
tales, said Andrew Millstein, executive vice president and general
manager of Walt Disney Animation Studios. The genre had fallen out
of favor since 1990s Disney hits like "Beauty and the Beast" and
"The Lion King."
"We felt there was a real hunger for these kind of stories," he
said, ones that had a "timelessness and relevance" and were also
"heartfelt, comedic, with great music."
Illumination scored its first two Oscar nominations for "Despicable
Me 2," for animated feature and original song for Pharrell Williams'
"Happy." The film was made for $76 million, half of what Disney
spent on "Frozen."
Working with a lower budget fueled creativity, Illumination CEO
Meledandri said, because the filmmakers did not need to worry about
reeling in outsized box office returns. "We were able to take
certain risks that we would not have been able to take if there were
twice as much financial pressure on us," he said.
"Despicable 2" became a blockbuster with $970 million in global
ticket sales. Comcast Corp's Universal plans to release three
Illumination films through 2017, including a "Despicable" sequel and
a remake of Dr. Seuss classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
Once the Oscars are over, a new parade of animated offerings will
begin, starting with DreamWorks' "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" on March 7.
Other coming releases are DreamWorks' "How to Train Your Dragon 2,"
a "Rio" sequel from Fox, and "Big Hero 6" from Disney Animation.
Even DisneyToon Studios, a unit that specialized in direct-to-DVD
films, is gearing up to hit the big screen again. Its "Planes: Fire
and Rescue," a sequel to last year's hit film "Planes," is scheduled
for release on July 18.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Edited by
Ronald Grover and Lisa Shumaker)
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