1998. That was the year of…animated films

While 1998 ushered in a bevy of big live-action kid/family flicks-from Columbia TriStar's Madeline and Godzilla, to DreamWorks' Small Soldiers -toon movies really rocked this year, generating great buzz, impressive results and some new franchises....
January 1, 1999

While 1998 ushered in a bevy of big live-action kid/family flicks-from Columbia TriStar’s Madeline and Godzilla, to DreamWorks’ Small Soldiers -toon movies really rocked this year, generating great buzz, impressive results and some new franchises.

On the digital front, major awareness was scored by dueling all-CG bug pics. Despite the unfortunate duplicity of the content, DreamWorks/PDI’s Antz and Disney/Pixar’s A Bug’s Life raised the bar again with their degree of CG-emoting, scoring another coup for script and code writers playing well together. A Bug’s Life earned the second largest three-day opening box office for an animated feature, earning US$33.3 million during its wide release November 27 to 29. (The biggest animated three-day wide release score is held by Disney’s The Lion King, which captured US$40.9 million back in June 1994.)

And the fact that, if given a fair shake (US$100 million in P&A), animated TV series toon babies could take on top marquee talent was proven when Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount’s The Rugrats Movie scooped US$21.1 million on its opening weekend. Nick has plans to repeat this formula with Hey Arnold! and The Wild Thornberrys.

With more studios getting in on the animated action, 1998 was the year distributors other than Buena Vista finally cracked the Disney-dominated top-ten animated feature gross list. DreamWorks’ Antz made the top ten, with Nickelodeon/Paramount’s The Rugrats Movie and another Buena Vista-released Pixar film, A Bug’s Life (all still playing at press time), poised to make the grade. This would give Pixar its second spot on the all-time top toon flick grossers list; 1995′s Toy Story is third (US$191.8 million). In case you were wondering, the number one animated feature gross goes to The Lion King (US$312.9 million), followed by Aladdin, 1992 (US$217.4 million). And ˆ la Roger Rabbit, animation/live action mixes have also historically generated boffo tallies, such as Warner Bros.’ Space Jam (US$92 million).

Last year, Disney launched its latest girl hero feature, Mulan, in theaters to a sixth-place animation gross of US$120.6 million. Warner Bros.’ traditional animated feature entry last summer, Quest for Camelot, also sported a girl heroine, and in a refreshingly daring bit of scripting, a blind hero who did not magically regain his sight in the happy ending (he did, however, get the girl). As in many an animated outing, the domestic box office (about US$23 million) is merely a leading indicator, and may only be the tip of a franchise which typically includes video and licensed merchandise from plush (love that two-headed dragon) to books. Since 1998′s toon movies came with very animate merchandise programs included-from traditional iterations of the various characters, to the unusual, such as A Bug’s Life large, talking plastic (push my acorns) Flik ‘squish me, squish me now’-the total take tally on these films is a long time coming.

It was also a year for skewing more mature. ‘An Antz-age crowd’ became lingo for a more sophisticated co-viewing (adult-skewing) demo. And DreamWorks Pictures got all serious and biblical even with its daring The Prince of Egypt, having faith that more serious traditionally animated fare could find an audience.

And without splitting Babe’s chin whiskers over classification, within the live action genre, the ‘may contain CGI’ label is increasingly ubiquitous as more films owe the artful execution of their toys-or-lizards-gone-postal premise to CGI. (Ed.’s note: we attribute to CGI the fact that we never leave Small Soldiers toys unattended in rooms with power tools).

Could this toon screen presence create some sort of global warming of distributors’ hearts towards animated films, to the point that independents get a crack and foreign animated features see the light of North American projection rooms? This year, Cartoon Forum is expanding its toon-pushing activities to helm a separate feature event. They hope to bend theatrical distributors’ will-historically, that of scampering down the Croisette to avoid an animated treatment-to welcome their European animated feature ways. Despite the inherent challenges (the constant upping of the P&A ante), it’s a desirable outcome.

cheers,mm (all box office figures quoted are for North America only)

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