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Life in a time of 'Rio:' Just how dominant could animation get?

April 18, 2011 |  7:30 am


At this point, it's more notable when a new animated movie doesn't win the box office than when it does. The latter has been happening a lot lately. In a winter-spring period when few movies have mobilized us to the theater, animated movies have been the exception.

No film demonstrated that better than this weekend's  "Rio," Carlos Saldanha's fish-out-of-water story (with a bird), which took in $40 million on its opening weekend, the first time in 2011 any picture has done that. (It's already piled on $168 million overseas.) And the movie's U.S. run appears to be just getting going. North American filmgoers gave the Brazil-set, Jesse Eisenberg-voiced picture an "A" on CinemaScore, suggesting that many more of us will  continue to come out in the weeks that follow.

The movie's success is hardly unique among the computer-imaged animal set. Before "Rio," the opening-weekend figure to beat this year, according to Box Office Mojo, belonged to "Rango," the Johnny Depp-voiced western about an outcast chameleon. Not far behind that was "Hop," the hybrid Easter comedy that demonstrated the power of animation: The movie got people into theaters despite the presence of Russell Brand.

Animation has been increasing as a part of our movie-going diet for a while now. In 2010, animated movies made up fully half of the box-office top 10, the first time that's ever happened. So far this year, the above trio of animated releases opened stronger than movies featuring Justin Bieber, Adam Sandler and a superhero. Tweens, comedy lovers and fanboys may be considered the most prized constituencies in moviedom, but none of them turn out like an animated film's core audience.

Why has the category become so dominant?  For one, supporters point out, filmmaking talent has migrated there. There are a lot more animated movies than ever, and they are, on the whole, better than ever. Once a monolithic niche, animation now boasts not only Pixar at the top of its game but a Fox division firing on all cylinders ("Rio"), a DreamWorks Animation finding its stride post-"Shrek" and even live-action filmmakers, such as Gore Verbinski, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" director who helmed "Rango" with the producing help of Graham King, a key force behind "The Departed."

Animation also has an audience advantage that no other movie category can claim. Most live-action films need to choose between adults and kids. But come up with an animated movie with, say, some exotic beauty and clever wordplay -- as many reviewers, including The Times' Betsy Sharkey, believed "Rio" did -- and you instantly double your demographic.

Yet more interesting than why animation has succeeded is how Hollywood responds to that success. On the face of it, the major movie studios should be ramping up animation development and curtailing nearly everything else. Even the superhero movie, thought to be an all-audience genre, has lately been showing itself as anything but (witness the comparatively low numbers for "The Green Hornet" and  puzzlement thus far by non-fanboys concerning "Green Lantern"). Animation also readily lends itself to 3-D, giving it an added ticket-price boost.

So how much will Hollywood up its animation efforts? The reason studios have historically held back is because it can take a lot longer to mount an animated production than it does a feature -- as much as three or four years versus one or two for a live-action film.

That, however, is starting to change. Illumination Entertainment, the company behind "Hop," has a penchant for working quicker than some of the others; not even a year had gone by from the time Illumination decide to make its bunny movie to the time we saw it in theaters. It worked out, though not without some stress and, to the director's eye, elements on the screen that were less than perfect.

No doubt the success of all these animated films will push studios to go harder and faster. Given the way we've snapped up the latest batch of films, it's a smart move. Still, there's an argument for going slowly. After all, what makes animated movies desirable is precisely that we aren't bombarded with a new one every week, while those that we do get come out fully cooked. Pixar has earned its stellar reputation by taking a long time to develop and perfect its offerings. It would be a shame, now that animated movies have become more profitable by becoming so good, if they start to be churned out so quickly to become more profitable.


"Rio" not scared off by "Scream 4"

"Rio" kicks off a Brazilian beauty boom

Movie review: "Rio"

"Hop" director Tim Hill: Our movie almost didn't make it

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from "Rio." Credit: 20th Century Fox / Blue Sky

Comments () | Archives (15)

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'Rio' is fantastic.

Rio was the one of the most anticipated animated films for me this year because of Carlos Saldanha, who gave us the Ice Age trilogy. And yes, short movie clips and trailers of Rio were available during the last 3 month, which ignited my interest from the first minute. I am therefore delighted counting the days to release of the movie.

The plot of the cartoon tells the story of an exotic parrot, who could not fly, but easy to ride a skateboard. He used to live in a cage, but one day he was took to the vibrant Rio de Janeiro, and this adventure, changed his life.

The story of the parrot became rather exciting, although quite simple, but it does not affect enjoying the movie. After all, one way or another, the film makes you relax and immerse in the beauty of colorful Rio de Janeiro.
The musical component features one of the leading roles in Rio, because there are a lot of modern and popular songs. Picture the cartoon is fascinating: it is filled with bright and vivid colors, full of exotic birds, animals and stunning beauty of Rio de Janeiro.

So, Rio is, above all, a pretty animation, charismatic characters, interesting and occasionally exciting story of friendship and love, terrific music, wonderful Rio de Janeiro and its summer carnival. After the more “serious” Rango, this cartoon about birds looks easy and relaxing.

8 out of 10

right on

It's interesting to see how much money different movies make (or more accurately, their gross income), and the "records" these incomes produce. BUT - why don't they state the number of people who went to the movies? There's quite a difference in turnout when tickets used to cost 25¢-50¢ but now cost $15.00. How many movies in the last 70 years have surpassed "Gone With The Wind"? It was seen in theaters by almost 200 million people.
As a kid 60 years ago, I used to go to the movies every Saturday. But now, when you add the cost of in-house snacks, I can't afford to go to a movie more than once every three months.

Since the average person living in America has the attention span of an infant and the IQ of an eggplant it seems only natural that most people living in America would prefer cartoons.

These movies will get dominant because they're becoming sooooo much cheaper to make than live action counterparts.

When high tech voice synthesis gets as good as video rendering, the movie houses won't even need actors.

It's about the profit afterall...

My opinion on why animated movies are thoroughly defeating the feature film movies is because,hopefully , moviegoers are so fed-up and treated with the ignorance of vile and gutter language that we decent people have to listen to in order to watch the current menue of "feature films on the screen today.
We the movie-going adults do not need to be exposed to thug mentality language in order to be entertained in an intellectual and normally emotional way. The movie industry should take a huge break and soul search their understanding of highly professional entertainment vehicles that the American public is waiting to see once again on the movie screen and also they have an excellent example of how it can be accomplished,watch and LISTEN to...the ANIMATED MOVIE...A decent 90 minutes of of good old American fun and laughs....Just A Thought!!! RayG

maybe people are tired of seeing the same old actors. Actresses are becoming more cartooney these days with lots of plastic surgeries. Actors are overexposed by gossip sites and their dating lives/drug uses/etc are distracting. Animation tells the story and that's about it. There is no "bad" acting. There is no over sexed contents. It's just good old simple entertainment which is what most movie goers want.

Most of the comments in the article are intelligent and apt. The contrast with "The Green Hornet" is simply ludicrous. That superhero movie veered away from the qualities that made all the other successful superhero movies box-office hits.
From "Spiderman" to "Batman" to "Ironman," the others had an attractive and sympathetic leading man. Seth Rogan is not attractive and his portrayal wasn't sympathetic; he was barely short of a buffoon.
Second, the other movies stayed faithful to the spirit of the original sources. In other words, although there was room for humor (even a touch of tongue in cheek), the plots were serious and so were the main characters other than the villains. Even the bad guys in those other franchises were in deadly earnest and only used humor as an additional weapon.
The makers of "The Green Hornet" seemed oblivious to all that. Finally they appeared ignorant of the fact that Britt Reid is a descendant of another masked hero, The Lone Ranger (former Texas Ranger John Reid, who used materials from his dead brother Dan's vest to make his mask).
What all this indicates is that the producers of "The Green Hornet" simply didn't take their source material or their character seriously enough to do it justice, something that communicated itself to the audience; hence, those who went to see it lost respect for it, too.

In answer to "Joe's" comment about the intelligence of Americans, or lack thereof, I would answer that perhaps it is because cartoon are offering all demographics the best entertainment currently on the screen, not that Americans are too dumb to watch anything else. Everyone has their preferences, and that's fine, but animated movies today have some of the best scripts, directors, voice talent and incredible artists that it is no wonder that folks around the world are flocking to see them. I hope the trend continues! Mac

One is no longer allowed to say one is disgusted by much of what is shown in live-action movies, but the ticket sales of R-rated movies compared to the PG animated features show that people still want a good, clean story with interesting characters, and animated features are required to do that. Notice last year's big live-action movies - The Social Network and The King's Speech - had no political correctness to force upon the public. I saw Rio last night and enjoyed it - and wait for the next animated feature.

But Hollywood will do what Hollywood wants to do.

Rio, like Rango, is an underwhelming kid's cartoon. Although Rio looks better by a long shot, it has the same simplistic story line, cliches, and weak characterizations that fail to fully engage an audience beyond one viewing.

And we have Chris Wedge to thank for the Ice Age movies.

"One is no longer allowed to say one is disgusted by much of what is shown in live-action movies"

Baloney. You just did. If you don't like what you see, change the channel or go see another movie. Stop the fake outrage.

With all of the CGI, aren't most movies little more than cartoons?

Animated characters can be far more realistically dubbed than live actors, which makes their dialogue considerably more believable to foreign audiences. This cuts both ways. A Miyazaki film dubbed into English sounds and looks far more normal than one featuring live Japanese actors. Foreign audiences know what Clint Eastwood or Angelina Jolie sound like. When they're dubbed, it reduces the believability of the entire film and puts off viewers, regardless of the quality of the film itself. Animation suffers from no such limitation. The foreign grosses of such films as RIO and especially something like ICE AGE 3 are proof of this.

RIO dubbed into Brazilian Portuguese will sound perfectly Brazilian to views in San Paulo.


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