The USA scene – Report from John Cawley

Filmation has closed its doors for possibly the last time. The studio, known for such series as the first tv Superman cartoons, Fat Albert and He-Man, gave employees one hour to gather their personal belongings and leave in early February. Reasons for the sudden action is said to be related to the recent scale of Filmation to L’Oreal from Group W. Filmation who,with Mattel and Group W, began the recent syndicated series stampede (with the mega-hit He-Man and the Masters of the Universe). They had been unable to develop any series in the last few years that could get local stations excited. Such attempts as Bugzburg (based on characters in their failed feature Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night) and Prairie People (based on characters created for Bravestarr) failed to raise much interest. Meanwhile, Group W made agreements with other studios and properties (such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series). Filmation had been unofficially “for sale” since last Fall. There was no word if L’Oreal would reopen the studio in the future.

Spielburg’s Tiny Tunes, based on the popular Warner Brothers cartoon characters, has begun pre-production. The syndicated series is set to debut in 1990. With actual development still uncompleted (it is somewhat undecided if the young characters will be offspring of the classic Warners characters or merely younger versions of the same group), Warners has been putting together a large crew of talent including Darrel Van Citters and John Krisvalusi. Current thoughts are to have the 65 episodes handled by a number of different producers who would create their own shows. Warner s merchandising group is taking a strong part in the development.

Saturday Morning Ratings show Bugs Bunny is king of the hill. The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show still manages to outdistance the pack of animated fare. Though its numbers vary, the one hour show has been the number one and number two rated series for weeks. (It receives two spots since all satAM ratings are in half-hour increments. Hence ratings will list Bugs Bunny I and Bugs Bunny II; Smurfs land Smurfs II; etc.) Number three is almost always Garfield and Friends, continually the highest rated new series on satAM. Chipmunks are usually number four with Pee Wee Herman and Smurfs II generally trading back and fourth for number five.

One reason Bugs is performing so strongly is the competition. This season has found nothing that can compete with the “Oscar Winning” rabbit and friends. In fact, the other networks are getting so little viewing, Bugs has almost reached 8 rating points! That’s a number usually only associated with prime time. (most top rated satAM series are generally only obtaining a rating of 5 or 6 points.) It’s not that more people are watching at Bugs’ time, but more people are watching only one channel at a time. At other times of the day, the audience (now considered quite small) is more evenly spread out.

Lily Tomlin is readying an animated special featuring her “little girl” character of Edith Ann. The precocious 5-year old was first seen on Rowen & Martin’s Laugh-In. Animation will be handled by the Canadian team who recently received an Oscar nomination for their animated short George and Rosemary.

Film Roman, home of the animated Garfield, has begun production on the newest special to star the Tubby Tabby: Babes and Bullets. The story is a film noir detective satire (done in black and white, even) with Garfield as “Sam Spayed.” With the exception of a cameo by Odie, all the other characters are human. Originally planned as part of Garfield: His Nine Lives special (the story is in the book, but features an all feline cast). Babes and Bullets became separated when they decided the material was strong enough, and long enough, to warrant its own special.

Denver, the Last Dinosaur has been picked up by all the fox- owned stations for its daily syndication debut this fall giving it 40% coverage. The series, which features a dinosaur living in present time with a group of kids who found him, is one of the top rated animated series in syndication. Animation for the series is produced by Calico, located in Los Angeles. The series is also selling well in home video.

Env Shoemaker, voice artist, died December 2, 1988 at the age of 63 Shoemaker, who spent his career specializing in children’s programming, is best as the original voice for Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent and Dishonest John. He created the voices for Bob Clampett ‘s original 1950’s puppet series and first animated series (l960s).

Hanna-Barbera has moved another aspect of their business out of the country – computers. The H-B computer set-up, mostly used for colouring and effects work, was moved to Taiwan where the studio does most of its animation. The Taiwan studio, known as Cuckoo’s Nest (and also Wang), is partially owned by H-B.

Little Abner is being developed as an animation series. Capp Enterprises, founded by the strip’s creator Al Capp, has signed an agreement with producers Dave Bell and Herbert Krosney. The team will produce a pilot (to be used as a special) based on characters in the strip, which recently went back into syndication via repeats.

England’s Henry’s Cat will be seen this spring on cable TV’s Showtime network. The series, by Bob Godfrey, features the adventures of a cat with a vivid imagination. Henry’s Cat can easily be imagining he is hunting animals in Africa as that he is Sherlock Holmes. The series has been available on videotape for several years. Showtime will also be airing episodes of The Adventures of Commander Crumblecake, another previously only available on video title, produced in Boston.

Disney Afternoon is coming in 1990. This is the latest programming idea to come from Buena Vista tv (Disney’s syndication division). In an effort to cut out other suppliers, Disney will be selling their four animated series (three of which have yet to debut in syndication) as a block. Those stations taking all four shows will be given an additional umbrella title (“Disney Afternoon”) as well as some internal promotional material. Since many TV Stations are cutting back children’s programming to around two hours, Disney is hoping to monopolize many markets with the strength of the Disney name and promotional ability. Disney plans to spend over $100 million in production.

The series found in the block are Duck Tales (currently the number one rated animated syndicated series), Chip ‘N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers (set to debut this Fail), The Gummi Bears (coming off NBC with new episodes in 1990) and Tale Spinners (a new comedy/adventure a Ia Duck Tales featuring the characters from Disney’s feature The Jungle Book). Chip ‘N’ Dale’s Rescue Mission (possibly due to the similarity in both title and concept to Filmation’s Lassie’s Rescue Rangers of the 1970’s). Tale Spinners’ will offer stories in “an exotic far-off frontier” about a band of daredevil pilots. Original concept art for the series includes Baloo dressed in clothes and sitting in a plane similar in design to the short-lived TV series Tales of the Brass Monkey.

The block will receive additional support through Disney’s theatrical division. Tale Spinners’ debut will get a boost from a theatrical release of The Jungle Book during the summer of 1990 (and possibly followed by a home video release that Christmas). There will also be a possible theatrical release for a Duck Tales feature this Christmas. If not theatrical, it will appear as a made-for-TV movie (similar to the film that launched the successful syndicated series).

The studio feels that if the package is successful (and initial sales to local TV stations prove that it will be), they will come up with more series in the future to replace some of the original four “to keep the package fresh.” A similar format is used by Hanna-Barbera in their Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera aimed at the Sunday Morning market. Animation for many of the new Disney TV series and episodes of current ones will be handled by their newly purchased Australian studio (formerly owned by Hanna-Barbera).

The most popular animated features

Which are the most popular animated features? One way of gauging is by the box-office. During the last few years, animated features have been receiving a great deal of attention. It began in 1983 when The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, a European feature passed over by most major U.S. distributors, was released by Atlantic and generated over $18 million at the box-office – only a few million less than a major Disney re-issue also at theatres. Next came The Care Bears Movie in 1985 which grossed over $22 million. Suddenly other studios began looking to animation.

Recently a listing of the top grossing features of the last few years were assembled, and it showed what modern audiences seemed to like for in animation.., or at least what they were willing to pay for. Not surprisingly, most titles are Disney. But several “independents” have managed to work their way in. One good reason for looking only at the grosses for the last few years is that it eliminates some of the problems when comparing film grosses. First off, since inflation was relatively low during the 1980s, it dismisses the problem of ticket prices being greatly different (as they are when comparing a film’s gross from the 1940s with a film of the 1980s). Next, it keeps Disney from “stacking the deck.” Disney is the only studio that adds re-issue figures into its original figures. Where it may be fair to state that Snow White has grossed over several hundred million dollars; it has taken over 50 years to do that. Most films only get one or two years. Finally, it does help make the listing more contemporary. Films that appealed to an audience in 1930 might not appeal to today’s film goers.

There may be some who scoff at the results stating that “just” because a movie makes a lot of money doesn’t mean it’s a good movie. While that can be true, it is definitely true that Hollywood will look at the movies that do make a lot of money to decide what films to produce in the future. So for those wondering which films will influence future animated features (at least for a while), here are the top 20 grossing films for 1984-88. (Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is not included as it is not an animated feature.)

1. Oliver and Company (Disney). This 1988 release is Disney’s Oliver Twist, and tells of an orphan kitten (Oliver) who gets mixed up with a gang of thieving dogs headed by a human. Pop songs abound, along with some poor artwork. However the film received generally good reviews and has grossed over $50 million (the record gross of any animated feature on first release).

2. Snow White (Disney). This was the 1987 “50th Anniversary” release of the classic. It came with much publicity and opened in more theatres than any other animated film (and most live action films) in history and finally made over $46 million.

3. An American Tail (Spielberg/Bluth). Spielberg’s first animated feature garnered so-so reviews, but kids and audiences flocked to see Fievel cry “papa” indefinitely. It previously held the record for top grossing animated feature on first release when it pulled on over $45 million. (It later went on to become a top selling videocassette.)

4. The Land Before Time (Spielberg/Lucas/Bluth). Bluth’s second feature with Spielberg with Lucas also in tow, featuring the tale of young dinosaurs trying to find a hidden valley brought in over $43 million.

5. Bambi (Disney). The 1988 re-release of the classic deer tale gathered over ~ 39 million. (It is being talked about as the Christmas 1989 video release.)

6. Cinderella (Disney). 1987 found this re-release classic earning over £34 million. It later went on to be the top selling title in home video (until the release of ET).

7. 101 Dalmations (Disney). The 1986 re-release found over $31 million.

8. Lady and the Tramp (Disney). This 1986 re-release also earned over $31 million (but not as much as 101) and became one of the top selling titles in home video.

9. Pinocchio (Disney). In 1984 this re-release surprised everyone by bringing in over $26 million. Historically, it has always done poorer at the box office than any other classic Disney feature.

10. The Great Mouse Detective (Disney). 1986 saw the first release of this film discover over $25 million, even with the almost non-existent publicity.

11. The Fox and the Hound (Disney). 1988’s re-release of this title hunted up over $23 million.

12. The Jungle Book (Disney). 1984 found this re-release harvesting over $23 million. It comes out again next year (1990) and is a candidate for video afterwards.

13. Care Bears Movie (Nelvana). The first adventure of the beloved bruins brought in over $22 million.

14. The Black Cauldron (Disney). This 1985 disappointment produced over $21 million. It’s cost was estimated to be near $30 million.

15. The Aristocats (Disney). The 1987 re-release found over $17 million at the box-office.

16. Sleeping Beauty (Disney). In 1986, this re-release woke up over $14 million. It was the first feature to be originally released at $29.95 on home video, becoming an instant success.

17. Care Bears 2 (Nelvana). 1986 saw the second Bears film bring in over $8 million. A considerable drop from number 16.

18. The Secret of the Sword (Filmation). He-man’s 1985 theatrical debut drew over $7 million.

19. Fantasia (Disney) 1985’s re-issue did a little over $7 million, just missing He-man.

20. The Chipmunk Adventure (Bradassarian). 1987’s debut for the TV stars brought in over $6 million.

Around town with Roger Rabbit

Everybody’s favourite rabbit, Roger has reached another record by entering the top 25 grossing motion pictures of all time. The recent list, headed by such heavies as E. T. (No. 1), Star Wars (No. 2) and Return of the Jedi (No. 3), shows Who Framed Roger Rabbit at No. 24 (just behind The Sting and just ahead of Gone with the Wind). At the rate Roger is still bringing in money, it could reach the No. 20 spot (currently held by Gremlins) before leaving theatres.

In other Roger news, even though he lost out in the Golden Globes (the film was nominated in three categories, including Best Picture:

Comedy), the film has received another nomination via the Directors Guild. Robert Zemeckis has been named as one of the five nominations for Best Director. Other nominees are Barry Levinson (Rain Man), Mike Nicholas (Working Girl), Alan Parker (Mississippi Burning) and Charles Crichton (A Fish Named Wanda).

As for the future of Roger, Disney seems unsure about what it is planning. As one spokesman for the studio announced that the film may never be made available for home video (preferring to re-release the title every seven years), an agreement was signed putting the film on The Disney Channel and Showtime by Summer of 1990. Since any TV exposure (cable, network or syndication) reduces home video sales and rentals by a minimum of 50%, it is now obvious that the film will be on video. Most video experts predict it will appear by Christmas. In fact it may be the holiday $29.95 title since Disney Home Video has now stated they don’t always plan to release an animated classic over the holidays, as they’ve done for the last three years straight.

As for sequels, it is another uncertainty. Studio head Michael Eisner has stated several times a sequel is coming, while other studio executives state that no sequel is in the works (citing that an agreement must be reached with Amblin’ first). In a recent industry publication, two separate interviews with two top Disney executives had one claiming no sequel would be made, while the other was stating the sequel was being readied for a 1991 release. As they say in the Roger ads, “stay tooned.”

Printed in Animator Issue 25 (Summer 1989)

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