24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: DreamWorks Animation

CinemaCon: Chris Pine, talking 'Guardians,' nods to J.J. Abrams

April 24, 2012 |  9:59 am

Lending his voice to Jack Frost in the upcoming animated film "Rise of the Guardians" has given Chris Pine a new appreciation of the secrecy surrounding J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek."

"Rise of the Guardians," is a 3-D DreamWorks Animation movie featuring folklore characters like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny; it's set for release near Thanksgiving. It might not seem to have much in common with "Star Trek," but Pine, 31, says working on "Guardians" has given him a better understanding of why "Star Trek" director Abrams is so adamant about keeping the plot of his films a mystery.

"J.J. is super-secretive. The scripts are color-coded, and walking to and from set we have to wear coats and everything," the actor said at the CinemaCon convention of theater owners in Las Vegas, where he was on hand to promote "Guardians."  "It's such a pain in the [butt], but I think about how awesome it is, because what he's protecting is the magic of the unknown."

With the advent of the Internet, Pine says it's harder to preserve a sense of wonder among audiences, including children. Can the fantastical "Guardians" work for kids who are jaded at an early age?

"I think probably there's a certain amount of earlier cynicism because of technology and stuff -- they can look Santa Claus up online, and they'll find a blog post from some hater about he doesn't exist," he said. "I do think there's something genetically programmed in the brain of a child that wants to believe."

DreamWorks Animation screened roughly 15 minutes of the new movie to theater owners at the Caesars Palace Coliseum on Monday night, and director Peter Ramsey showed illustrations of each character and described them in elaborate detail. Pine gave an earnest speech about how his imagination ran wild as a kid. It seems the actor took his work on "Guardians" quite seriously. While Chris Rock told 24 Frames he finds doing voice work on the "Madagascar" films an easy gig, Pine said he agonizes over his delivery of every line.

"I do the voice for BMW too, and I'm always thinking, how do you paint a picture with words when the subtle nuances of just you and I sitting here together you can't display?" he said. "I'll go in sometimes and think I did a great job and hear it back and think, 'Well, that's not what I was trying to do.' It's the worst art form for an OCD perfectionist like me."


CinemaCon: 'The Dictator' rips Jeffrey Katzenberg, Rich Ross

‘Rise of the Guardians’: Santa Claus gets the Superman treatment

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Chris Pine talks about "Rise of the Guardians" at CinemaCon. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press

Israel's Shimon Peres reflects on Hollywood's global influence

March 9, 2012 |  3:15 pm

Shimon Peres at DreamWorks

Israeli President Shimon Peres told a movie and television industry audience at the DreamWorks Animation studio lot in Glendale on Friday that Hollywood often wields more influence across the globe than world leaders do.

"The children believe the actors more than politicians," Peres said to a crowd that included Billy Crystal, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross, CBS chief Les Moonves and Sony Pictures Chief Executive Michael Lynton, among other Hollywood executives.

After Katzenberg introduced the Israeli leader as "a real hero," Peres spoke for less than 10 minutes, urging "close cooperation between Hollywood and Israel" and reminding the audience that "among the founders of Hollywood there were many Jewish people."

Peres' visit to Los Angeles caps a weeklong U.S. tour for the Israeli president that included a private meeting with President Obama and an address at the Israel Political Affairs Committee's annual policy conference in Washington, a conversation with Charlie Rose before an audience in New York City and a stop at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

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After 'Puss in Boots,' momentum for another Del Toro animated pic

October 31, 2011 |  9:18 am

EXCLUSIVE: With "Puss in Boots" this weekend, Guillermo del Toro showed that he can successfully steer a family hit. Now "Puss" studio DreamWorks Animation is giving a vote of confidence to another Del Toro-godfathered animated movie, a doll-themed tale that's based on a hit short titled "Alma."

The studio is moving forward with the feature version of "Alma," hiring Megan Holley to pen the script, according to a person familiar with the project who asked not to be identified because the film is still in development. Holley is a well-regarded young screenwriter best known for penning the indie hit "Sunshine Cleaning."

"Alma" will be helmed by Rodrigo Blaas, a former Pixar animator who has come over to DreamWorks Animation to work on the film. (He also made the short, which you can watch below.) Del Toro will offer guidance similar to the kind he offered on "Puss," on which he contributed key notes and feedback (he was officially credited as an executive producer).

When it premiered online, "Alma" became a mini-sensation, attracting attention for its sharp visuals and its conceit of a child who wanders into a creepy doll store and ends up in a compromised situation. The feature, the person said, will be a lot more family oriented--and, if DreamWorks Animation has its way -- plenty "Puss in Boots"-like at the box office.


'Puss in Boots' walks all over the competition

Guillermo del Toro finds soul with "Alma"

--Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: Guillermo del Toro at San Diego Comic-Con. Credit: Getty Images

'Shrek': Is it really the final chapter?

May 18, 2010 |  3:02 pm


DreamWorks Animation gave Friday's fourth "Shrek" film almost as many titles as a cat has lives, including "Shrek Goes Fourth" and "Shrek: The Final Chapter" before settling on "Shrek Forever After." The studio is calling it "one 'Shrek' of a finale." But is it really the green ogre's last hurrah?

DreamWorks President Jeffrey Katzenberg acknowledged at the film's Sunday premiere that his animation studio was built by "Shrek," which as a franchise has global box-office revenues in excess of $2.2 billion. While the series' trend is going in the wrong direction--2007's "Shrek the Third" film grossed 15% less than 2004's "Shrek 2"--the prospects for "Shrek Forever After" look enormous.

Opening only against Universal's action spoof "MacGruber" in wide release, the fourth "Shrek" film should play deep into the summer. While at least one analyst says the film could open below expectations, "Shrek Forever After's" overall gross doubtlessly will be boosted by surcharges for 3-D admissions. So assuming (even a bit conservatively) that "Shrek Forever After" grosses about $650 million worldwide, are those the kind of numbers that cause you to throw in the towel?

DreamWorks is developing a sequel with the swashbuckling feline Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), but some people (including two agents with clients involved in the series) are leaving open the possibility of a fifth "Shrek" movie, even as DreamWorks and distributor Paramount Pictures insist it won't happen.   

“I’m hoping the same thing everyone else is—that they’re going to come back in a few years and go, ‘We were just kidding,’ ” said Cameron Diaz, the voice of Princess Fiona in all four films. After Sunday's premiere, she said she was depressed the series was ending. “I’m really sad, actually. I think yesterday we were all kind of going, ‘Is this really it?’ It’s very sad. It’s something that’s been a constant in all of our lives for so long.”

Said director Mike Mitchell: “I'm sure if this does phenomenal that Jeffrey will make another." 

--John Horn and Amy Kaufman

Photo of Shrek and Rumpelstiltskin in "Shrek Forever After": DreamWorks Animation/Paramount Pictures 

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The case for DreamWorks Animation to stop riding the dragon

April 29, 2010 |  7:00 am


DreamWorks Animation's announcement that it will produce and release a "How to Train Your Dragon" sequel within the next three years is either the smartest or the strangest move an animation company has made in a while.

First, the obvious -- the smart part. "Dragon" has been an unmitigated success for the studio, earning at least $20 million in the U.S. in each of its first four weeks of release and pocketing a total of $373 million globally, which puts it nicely in the black even for an expensive CG 3-D production. That's also not bad for a star-less spring cartoon.

And so it makes sense that DreamWorks would try to keep the magic going, especially because the standard formula is that an animated sequel makes between one and a half and two times as much as the original (true for everything from "Shrek" to "Ice Age.")

The studio also needs a new animation franchise after the aforementioned "Shrek,"  which mercifully will be put out of its green misery after nine years and four movies once "Shrek Forever After" comes and goes in a few weeks. Enter the dragon, which offers an entire series of books -- seven more in all -- to serve as the basis for plenty of capers from Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his friends.

But there's also something unsettling about a sequel. "Dragon" has been a watershed for DreamWorks. It won't be its most lucrative movie by a long shot -- that honor belongs to movies such as "Madagascar" and "Kung Fu Panda," each of which has grossed more than half a billion dollars worldwide.

But it has shown that the Jeffrey Katzenberg company can play with the big boys -- namely, bitter cross-California rivals John Lasseter and Pixar. For the first time possibly in its history, and at least since "Shrek" came out nearly a decade ago in a very different animation landscape, DreamWorks has showed it could produce a well-told story that is not only commercially successful but a critical breakthrough as well, a movie that will remain influential in popular culture and the animation universe for a long time. As the world changes yet again, "Dragon" helps DreamWorks stake out a position as a company that can use 3-D effectively.

All this doesn't immediately change with the announcement of a second "Dragon" movie. But there's a taint. Sequels suggest merchandising (as if underscoring the point, DreamWorks also announced that an online world, television series and arena show were in the works too), commerce and, by definition, a lack of uniqueness. There's a reason the last eight Oscar winners for best animated film have been stand-alone movies, and there's a reason Pixar is so selective about what it keeps going and what it lays to rest.

Yes, it keeps playing with a broader, merchandisey property such as "Toy Story," but wisely stays away from over-milking its elegant character films such as "Wall-E," "Ratatouille" and "Up." A lesser company would make a sequel out of the latter, call it "Down" and have the two main characters explore the ocean floor in a submarine. Pixar, to its great credit, does not. It knows its team can and will pull off the trick again with an entirely new set of characters, and it knows that audiences will come out to see the film whether it has so-called brand-awareness or not.

With animation development costs so high and efforts so labor-intensive, you can't blame DreamWorks for trying to ride the "Dragon" for all its worth. But now that it's finally playing in Pixar's stadium, it seems like the wrong move. Confidence in a franchise communicates a strong message, both to Hollywood and to Wall Street. Confidence that your creative team can come up with good new movies from scratch, though, communicates an even stronger one.

-- Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: A scene from "How to Train Your Dragon." Credit: DreamWorks Animation

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Summer showdown: Will 'Iron Man' flay 'Robin Hood'?

April 27, 2010 | 12:55 pm


It's a bit like a freeway at rush hour: four big movies on three consecutive weekends, and somebody -- and it might be "Robin Hood" -- will have to accelerate to stay on the road.

Universal has a lot riding on its summer update of the mythical English hero. For the movie to prosper, the beleaguered studio will have to take a page out of the Robin Hood playbook and steal from the rich -- namely, Marvel Entertainment and Paramount Pictures' "Iron Man 2."

There's little question the Tony Stark sequel is going to launch the summer season in spectacular fashion. Although early word-of-mouth is not as strong as the buzz greeting the 2008 original, and the initial "Iron Man 2" trade reviews are not glowing, May 7's superhero sequel could break the three-day box-office record set by 2008's "The Dark Knight" ($158.4 million) and certainly should rival (if not surpass) the premieres of 2007's "Spider-Man 3" ($151.1 million) and 2006's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" ($135.6 million).

1 So even if "Iron Man 2" drops around 50% in its second week of release (the first film fell 48.1% in its second weekend), the sequel could gross as much as $70 million over the May 14 weekend, when Universal's "Robin Hood" is set to premiere. Several people who have studied this week's audience tracking surveys say that means "Robin Hood" will not open in first place with a possible opening gross around $45 million, and the Russell Crowe historical epic also will lose some critical female ticket buyers to Summit Entertainment's Amanda Seyfried love story "Letters to Juliet," which looks surprisingly strong among younger women.

Universal has struggled with its last two big-budget releases, as both February's "The Wolfman" (domestic gross: $62 million, with not much more overseas) and March's "Green Zone" (domestic gross: $35 million and equally weak foreign returns) fizzled fast.The studio said "Robin Hood" cost $155 million, but another person close to the production maintained that the budget was closer to $200 million. Universal's budget figure includes all of the film's rebates and tax credits, and also excludes the shut-down costs when the film's initial production start was postponed. 

For "Robin Hood" to succeed, the film will need to play strongly for several weeks and perform robustly 1 overseas, where Universal expects the movie could double its domestic theatrical gross. The studio is hopeful the film could perform like "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Sherlock Holmes," neither of which opened in first place. Fox's 2007 animated rodent comedy was crushed in its premiere weekend by "I Am Legend" but nevertheless went on to sell more than $217.3 million in tickets in domestic release. Warner Bros.' "Sherlock" update premiered in second place behind the behemoth "Avatar" but also went on to surpass $209 million in domestic release.

It won't get easier for "Robin Hood" later in the month. On May 21, DreamWorks Animation opens "Shrek Forever After," the fourth (and promised last) sequel in the animated franchise. Although the momentum is fading for the ogre story (2007's third "Shrek" film did 27% less domestic business than 2004's second offering), the 3-D animated comedy is still on track to be one of the summer's biggest releases, as it plays to all slices of the audience. 

1 When Crowe and "Robin Hood" director Ridley Scott collaborate, the results can be dramatically successful. Ten years ago, the best-picture-winning "Gladiator" grossed $187.7 million, and 2007's "American Gangster" grossed $130.2 million. But 2006's "A Good Year" was a bad week ($7.5 million domestically) and 2008's "Body of Lies" also fared poorly ($39.4 million domestically). Last year, Crowe's Universal film "State of Play" performed weakly, grossing $37 million domestically. To play deep into the summer, "Robin Hood" will need strong word-of-mouth, young male ticket buyers, supportive reviews and a reasonably good turnout from women -- before they flood the multiplex for May 27's "Sex and the City 2."

-- John Horn

Photos, from top: Russell Crowe in "Robin Hood." Credit: Kerry Brown / Universal Pictures. Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 2." Credit:  Merrick Morton / Marvel Entertainment. Sarah Jessica Parker in "Sex and the City 2." Credit: Craig Blankenhorn / Warner Bros. Pictures.  "Shrek Forever After." Credit: DreamWorks Animation / Paramount Pictures

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