Lesson Learned: Everyone’s a Sucker for Computer Animation


Call us Colonel Nathan Jessep because we’re saying you can’t handle the truth. It doesn’t matter whether it’s crap or not, moviegoers are adamant in their devotion to computer animated films.

“Oh, I’ve made love, yeah, I’ve been fucked, so what?
I’m a cartoon, you’re a full moon, let’s stay up.”

Bright Eyes – “Hot Knives”

Monsters and Aliens destroyed every other film in its path to box office supremacy last weekend, swallowing $59.3 million of moviegoers’ hard earned cash. Thank goodness. We all know Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg need an economic stimulus. We’re only half kidding, as Spielberg has been backing many films with his own cash lately.

By most critics’ accounts, Monsters vs. Aliens is a quality work of computer animation, justifying the numbers it brought in. But would it even matter if it was the computer animated version of Ishtar? We put on our green colored glasses and were surprised by what we saw. Film companies don’t have to own the next Wall-E to cash in. It really doesn’t matter what is on the screen. If it’s computer animated, it is gold. But you don’t have to take my word for it. (What the hell happened to Levar Burton anyway?)

Much credit goes to the visionaries at Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, champions of cartoonish behavior, but it appears that any extra effort to make films that stand above the rest may be a waste of time, at least when we’re talking about profit. Let’s go to the judges, and by judges I mean numbers, to prove the point.

There are 57 computer animated films to date listed on Box Office Mojo’s website. The average box office draw of these films is $120 million dollars. That’s nearly the equivalent of a Will Smith opening. Before you point out the cinematic brilliance of The Incredibles or Ratatouille as films that could throw off the average, consider that this list includes underwhelming entries like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Happily N’Ever After. Whether it was Shrek or Space Chimps, almost all of these computer animated films made a profit.

We go back to our trusty friends at Rotten Tomatoes, using the Tomato-meter (an average of critics’ reviews to distinguish the quality of a film) to show how even a poorly reviewed or low budgeted film is balling out of control.

Film –  Worldwide Draw – Production Budget – Tomatometer

  • Shark Tale – $160,861,908 – $75,000,000 –  34%
  • The Polar Express – $304,946,710 –  $165,000,000 – 57%
  • TMNT –  $34,000,000 –  $95,009,888 –  33%
  • Shrek 2 –  $919,838,758 – $150,000,000 – 89%

It appears that computer animated films, with budgets both big and small, are almost invulnerable to disaster.

The computer animated film has a built-in market of both children and adults, you can’t have one without the other … unless you subscribe to the idea of Baby Geniuses, where kids don’t need parents. There are a lot of Kathleen Turner fans out there, after all. The Toy Story franchise mastered the craft, playing to the quirks of children while containing enough high brow humor to keep adults from hitting the internal snooze button. Film companies are catching on and we’re going to be assaulted with computer animation so much in the coming years that you will long for the days of seeing the gripping humanity of Rob Schneider. Okay, no you won’t.

There have been predictions that one day there will be no need for humans in film. We’re not ready to go that far. The ability to display romantic tendencies in a computer generated robot will never be enough to outweigh the connection we feel to another one of our own on-screen. So Christian Bale can relax, no rant will ever be enough to get him replaced by Andy from Toy Story. In reality, it is the group of marginal actors that have more to fear. Bale may have been blasted for his misbehavior but he is one of the greatest actors of our generations. There will always be a place for actors like him.

So what have we learned? Well for starters, Seth Rogen is just now catching on that the real money is in computer animation. (Is there any genre of film he isn’t doing currently?) Other than the horror genre, which we can’t wait to examine, there is no more of a sure thing than a good or bad computer animated flick. Yes, certain installments like Finding Nemo will stick in our minds longer than Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, but to most film distributors it’s all the same. Good story or bad story, it’s all green to them.

Adam Sweeney has a background in journalism, having spent 4 years on the Lone Star Lutheran as an Opinions and Arts & Entertainment columnist. He graduated in May 2008 from Texas Lutheran University with a Dramatic Media degree and hopes to become a filmmaker/journalist/radio host/actor extraordinaire. He also writes film and play scripts and figures if Good Luck Chuck can make it to the big screen then why can't he? He can also be read at TalkHoops.net as a feature writer on all things basketball, and his personal blog covers everything from politics to why Keira Knightley is looking more like Jack Skellington every day. (www.myspace.com/theadamlee)

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