Tuesday, November 28, 2006

CGI - Is the Free Ride Over?

There is an AP story going around that CGI movies are no longer as popular as they were (Sorry - no link, I read it in dead tree format.). It points out that none of this year's CGI releases earned as much as Shrek 2 or the Incredibles. It goes on to say that the novelty of CGI is gone.

There are two problems with this and they both relate back to the fact that you cannot force people to go to a bad movie.

First, with the exception of Pirates II, no movie released so far this year has made as much as Shrek 2 or The Incredibles. It has been an off year for movies. Of the movies that have been released, 16 count as CGI. Of those, three are in the top ten for the year and five are in the year's top 20. Further, with $100 million earned in its first two weekends, Happy Feet is likely to join the top 10.

Cars is the solid number two movie for the year so Pixar is still doing quite well.

What about the other 13 CGI movies released this year? Some of them did well, some did not. Too many seem to be recycling the same furry animal plot. The CGI releases that did well tended to be original. Either they featured animals in a different plot (Ice Age 2, Happy Feet, Over the Hedge) or they did a better job with a tired plot (Open Season).

The rest of this year's CGI movies prove what John Lassiter of Pixar always maintained - It's not enough to be CGI, you have to make a good movie.

Yes, Toy Story benefited from the novelty of being the first CGI movie. It's also a good movie, worth watching several times. I watched the Incredibles again last Summer and was struck by how good it is.

Even Antz which is usually forgotten when talking about early CGI movies was entertaining.

On the other hand, the Ant Bully looks like a retread of Antz.

CGI does have one thing going for it. Adults, especially teenagers, stay away from hand-animated cartoons. There was a period in the late 1980s through the early 1990s when Disney escaped this stigma but a lack of creativity ended this phase and it never really spread past Disney.

Pixar could have settled into this rut and taken all of CGI with it. Prior to the Incredibles, their movies tended to be oriented more to kids. Dreamworks saved them from this. Shrek was aimed at adults and established the genre as adult-friendly. Ice Age also deals with rather adult themes.

But, CGI movies do stand out. People are unlikely to go to two in one weekend so a glut can hurt even well-produced ones like Monster House (which also suffers from a slow start).

So studios that rushed into CGI expecting a guaranteed return will be disappointed but the good ones will continue to do well.

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