Now that we come in to our closing installment I can answer a question that I’ve been asked from several readers: What was the point of this series? It’s not like we can do anything about this right? No, you’re right, there’s not much you can do. You can try writing letters, but I bet most of those are ignored by management because the people writing them don’t give them any reason to listen. Trust me; I know how the business works. I know so much of the business that if I were to count the marketing costs, the money the theater takes, and all those other unmentioned success that the sad fact of the matter is NONE of these movies have made money purely on the box office…MAYBE “Tangled!” What counts to shareholders is what movies LOOK to be making the most money, not films that actually do make the most money!
I say this speaking as a shareholder myself (I have about 70 shares thank you very much) that from my experience most shareholders could really care less about the quality of these movies or how they are made. They just like seeing big numbers, even when those numbers don’t really add up the way shareholders think they do. Creativity can easily be stifled because of this. If you look at all the movies we’ve talked about and the different styles you’ll find out there is only one thing they all have one thing in common that relates to the box office: Quality. The good movies made money, the average movies struggled a bit and bad almost always lost money. A couple times competing films were part of the reason people didn’t go to see them. The bottom line though is that I set out to show shareholders and management that a movies success or failure has nothing to do with how it’s made. Do you want to know what the biggest flop in animation history is (as well as movies in general)? It’s a 3D animated film called “Delgo.” Released on over 2,000 screens during the PEAK of the apparent 3D animation boom, the movie cost $40 million dollars to make (which is actually quite cheap considering).
The entire box office gross was a mere $694,782 dollars (of which the theaters kept half of).
There has never been a hand drawn 2D film that has bombed on this level. The fact that no one brings this up is maddening. Once that bombed you’d think the studios would have woken up and realized that 3D animation was not the safe bet they thought it was. They also probably forgot about other animated 3D bombs like “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole,” and (here it comes again) “Mars Needs Moms.” All the studio did was see a few really good movies making a truckload of money, tried to figure out what that reason was, and completely missed the point altogether.
If shareholders could see these numbers laid out I have to wonder what they would think about them. The company switched to 3D films because, yes, they seemed like a sure thing at the time. However they not only didn’t make that much more than their 2D brothers and sisters, but in fact made far less in the long run. The only way Disney can make the kind of money that they want is to make really good films, animation style be damned. I don’t think they’ve learned their lesson. See, there WAS going to be another 2D film from Disney! You know the upcoming “Frozen?” Well, we were originally going to get it as a 2D animated film under the title of “The Snow Queen.” If you want solid proof of that you just have to compare the “rough concept sketches” to the fully finished CGI (which you can do in the slideshow) and it will become clear pretty fast what style this movie was made for (which style looks more attractive).
It might still be a good movie and it might make money, but the only thing this changed was it added several million dollars more the cost of making it. If the movie is underwhelming it won’t matter that the animation style changed. I wrote these articles so that I am could mail them to major shareholders of Disney with a cover letter. Feel free to do the same thing. I know it sounds a bit narcissistic, but numbers speaks louder than words. And these numbers just prove that Disney is spending more money on 3D movies that would have been equally successful and cheaper to make. The long term value of Disney Feature Animation has crumbled as a way of this backwards thinking. I want to end this article with a glimmer of hope with one more number in the hat. See, I just know that most peoples responses would be that while 2D films have small profit margins there hasn’t been a breakout 2D film to challenge the notion that 2D films can still make the large sums of money the 3D films can. Well, let me introduce you to…
Title: The Simpsons Movie
Budget: $75 million
Box Office: $527,071,022
Money Made: $452,071,022
…”The Simpsons Movie.” This is the movie that proves not only are Disney’s thinking about 2D animation is wrong, but that Hollywood’s general understanding of animation is wrong. See, there are rules in Hollywood’s minds about animated films in general. They consider it a “genre” and have some very specific things you don’t do with them because if you do ANY of these things the films box office prospects are grim. Some of the rules of how not to make an animated feature are:
- Don’t make 2D animation, only 3D CGI. 2D animation has limited appeal with a wide audience.
- The movie must be marketed at and for kids because families are the only ones who see animated films.
- Don’t make animated films for teens and adults (they won’t show up).
- The movie cannot have a rating above PG because PG-13 and R rated animated films are automatic bombs.
- If you base an animated film off a TV series make it for dirt cheap because audiences will largely not pay to see something in theaters that they can see for free at home.
- Unless you have a sequel planned don’t bother making the movie, because the sequels are where the real money comes in.
“The Simpsons Movie” broke every single one of these rules. It was 2D, it was aimed at adults, it was rated PG-13, there was no sequel planned at the time (and still isn’t), and it was based on a TV show that many felt had been on the air far too long in the first place.
And NONE of that mattered!
None of it! It was the 12th highest grossing film of 2007. The only two animated films that beat it were “Shrek the Third” and “Ratatouille” (and the latter just barely beat it). When you make something that’s unique and good people will see it. In the meantime, why does every animated Disney film have to cost over $100 million to make? Surely there’s room for modestly budgeted 2D films that cost half the money and whose losses aren’t likely to be as big if they don’t succeed (after all, so long as you have good artists 2D films can look like expensive movies...“The Lion King” is a good example of this).
The last two 2D films made money and broke even. Not completely ideal, but when you look at how patient Disney has been with that same situation for their 3D films you know that management probably are ignorant to what REALLY makes money for the shareholders! So to all the readers, shareholders, and Bob Iger (hopefully) I have a message: Don’t give up on 2D animation. Because from my shareholder point of view, I have seen where the real money in Disney movies have come from in the past fifteen years (and it’s not 3D).