Animation is a medium for making movies that are either hard for live action or best told as many drawings. Its success is a pendulum that swings back and forth. Its history is full of trends and movies that successfully or unsuccessfully breaks them.
First is the silent age of animation. It has some shows like “Felix the Cat,” but most of the works here are lost. Most people (even huge animation fans) have not seen the movies from this era. The most popular movie from it is The Adventures of Prince Achmed. It is the oldest surviving animated feature (11 years before Snow White) and the third animated feature ever made. It is a German film that is easy to find on the internet. It used silhouettes of puppets to make animation, and it was fully animated by one woman. There are nine features from this era and only four survived. Achmed is the only one I have seen. It has a simple story, but beautiful animation, a woman saving the men in distress, surprisingly great action, and plenty of suspense. Most movies were made at this time by very few people and were seen by small audiences who watched them for the art. Everything changed when one became the highest grossing film of all time.
The golden age began for movies in 1937 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It is the first American animated feature. It is not the first in sound or color) but it was the first successful one, and it is the most successful animated film ever.
Some divide the golden age into two parts, “The Golden Age” (Snow White-1942) and “The Silver Age” (1950-1959/ 1950-1967 for Disney). I agree with this distinction since the tones are so different. The golden age had Disney make Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi. These films were known for their darkness and depressing scenes. They are often slow paced (except Pinocchio), but they are very atmospheric, and I love these. In the meantime the Fleischer Bros made two movies, Gulliver’s Travels and Mr. Bug Goes to Town. These are also great and pioneered male humans in animation. They are also slow paced but atmospheric and dark. Compared to Disney they put more focus on the main characters and side characters and less on villains. Unfortunately world War II was a disaster for the industry. The European Market was gone, animators were drafted, and people are not so interested in movies during deadly wars. All films listed above bombed at the box office except Snow White, Gulliver, and Dumbo. Fleischer Bros stopped making movies and Disney was reduced to making segment films and war propaganda to survive.
The real big winners were theatrical shorts such as Disney’s Silly Symphonies, Warner Bros’s Looney Tunes, MGM’s Tom and Jerry, and many more. These are violent, simple stories, and based on selling music. They are also glorious. Besides Snow White these are the biggest successes of the period.
My pick for best movie this period: Pinocchio
Around 1950 the large European market was ready for animated films again making way for the silver age. The Soviets got in on the game with a few movies with limited success. The Germans and French also made more movies. The best known of the European films made in the silver age is also the first British animated feature (another work claims the title, an instructional video), Animal Farm. It feels like a work from the 1940s with its very dark atmosphere, cute character designs, and and adult centered moral. It does not have a slow plot either. In America non-Disney animated films were dead except for 1959’s 1001 Arabian Knights and The Snow Queen. Disney then had great financial success with five films in the 1950s. Cinderella saved them from bankruptcy, and it was an enormous hit not seen since Snow White. Alice in Wonderland lost some money. Peter Pan made it back, and Lady and the Tramp made good money. Sleeping Beauty was released four years later and lost tons of money. Its failure nearly ended Disney animation and scared the other creators away from expensive animation making it responsible for the upcoming dark age. No animated fairy tale movies were made for thirty years. Disney animation was saved by 101 Dalmatians, which found cheaper ways to make movies, and it outgrossed Snow White. It remains the second highest grosing animated film adjusted for inflation. Three years later The Sword in the Stone was released which is more of a dark age film and then The Jungle Book 3 years later was a huge hit.
The Disney films here are way different. As adaptations they are notably terrible (except for Dalmatians), and they are considerably lighter in tone. A major change is many are not focused on the actual main character. Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Sleeping Beauty all have supporting protagonists, as the side characters and villains get way more screen time in comparison. Many modern viewers consider this to be Disney’s peak and others find them forgettable. I am not a fan of the Silver Age Disney. I find they are too slow and dull in tone. They have many lackluster protagonists and morals. Shortly after Walt Disney died and the studio was reduced to trying putting him o a pedestal and trying to copy his ideas.
My pick for best movie this period: Animal Farm
Afterwards came the dark age of animation. This lasted until 1986 making it the longest period. I will divide it as pre and post 1977. The first part was marked by tight budgets, scratchy animation, and few films being made.
The biggest winners this period were not Disney but works that were never made for theaters. Hanna-Barbera, the creators of “Tom and Jerry” made the first TV cartoons which were huge hits. Rankin-Bass made their own success with made for TV holiday specials. Hanna-Barbera made Hey there its yogi Bear and A Man Called Flintstone. Their biggest success came in 1969 with “Scooby-Doo.” Like the movies the shows were clearly on a tight budget, yet they were huge successes showing how big animation could be even without much money involved. The 1960s are best remembered for their animated shows, not movies.
Early on Disney did fine, but little money was actually earned. In this period they made The Aristocats, Robin Hood, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The Sword in the Stone fits this era perfectly despite being made earlier. It kept taking three or even four years to make a movie and all their films from Sleeping Beauty to The Rescuers were directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. These normally have very simple stories and are very episodic. The animation is way more crude and the new focus audience was no longer everyone (with a focus on adults) but young children. None have much of an overarching plot until The Rescuers in 1977. The Rescuers was praised by critics being called the best Disney film since Mary Poppins and hope for animated films. It was also the highest grossing animated film for nine years despite coming out the same year as Star Wars and having to compete with it. Notable parts of Rescuers include that the characters do not sing musical numbers, a dark tone created by the art, and focusing on the heroes acting to save the day instead of reacting to the villain. Much of the success was given to Don Bluth, the man in charge of the art. Unfortunately for Disney Pete’s Dragon made him angry at the company due to the lack of respect given to the animators. He and eighteen others left Disney to form their own company.
In the 1970s the creators again tried films, and 1977 again was when it was proven their was money to be made. Anime films became way more common, as Japan became a major source of animation. MGM’s The Phantom Tolbooth bombed and they left the industry. TV specials of Dr. Seuss’s works became popular and Rankin-Bass had more success with holiday specials, but something different emerged. Ralph Bakshi made Fritz the Cat, the first animated feature purely made for adults, and it was rated X. It was a huge success mostly due to how odd it was. In the meantime “Peanuts” lost steam, while Hanna- Barbera got into animated features not based on their TV shows. For theaters they made Charlotte’s Web which is very disneyfied. Still it had a much more coherent story structure than their films did at the time. It went on without much ambition until Rankin-Bass made a traditionally animated film with big ambition, The Hobbit. It was a huge hit with viewers.
My pick for best movie this period: “Scooby-Doo” is best work, while The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is the best film.
After 1977 with Star Wars making bigger films the profitable ones the push was one to make animated features the same way. Disney’s next film is The Fox and the Hound. It initially made over three times its budget despite being the most expensive animated film ever at the time (12 million). Its real problems were the inconsistent tone. I do not mean like the forties I mean how it has two differing stories. The Disneyfied version of the original novel and the novel’s bleakness and realism. It then took four years to make what was supposed to be the new Snow White, The Black Cauldron. Instead The Black Cauldron cost over 40 million dollars and made half of it back. It nearly killed Disney animation, and it lost to The Care Bears Movie. Cauldron has two conflicting tones, one wanting to be child friendly, and the other one wanting to prove animation can be inappropriate for children. Thankfully Disney made an animated film just next year in 1986 with was a modest hit (The Great Mouse Detective with less than one third the budget of Cauldron). The animation department was still on the verge of death.
The other companies made their own attempts to end the dark age. Ralph Bakshi and the Hobbit teamed up in 1978 (too short of a production time) to make The Lord of the Rings; the first in a two part series. It only cost four million, due to its huge use of rotoscoping to allow large animated battles. In other words they filmed a cheap live-action movie and then used photrealism to make it animated. It is the only completely rotoscoped movie. The production is fascinating with executive meddling great decisions by Bakshi and bad decisions by Bakshi. It is a fascinating movie that alternates like crazy on being legitimately good and hilariously bad. I recommend to all readers who have not seen it to watch it for the crazy spectacle. It made hordes of money, yet the sequel was never made. It received mixed reviews (partly due to the obvious issues of being rushed). It was too faithful for only having 133 minutes to adapt around 700 pages. It did not restore faith in animation despite the money. Anime dominated the next few years along with Hanna-Barbera shows and more Direct to TV fantasy adaptations by holiday special directors like Chronicles of Narnia and Rankin-Bass’s The Return of the King (little style wise with Bakshi’s film). A few darker films then emerged that resembled the 1940s style only darker. Watership Down was released in 1978, and was known for terrifying adults. Just four years later this got far more extreme. The Plague Dogs came from the same creators. This film depressed and made cry even the hardest hearted of viewers. It showed real power in animation, and the famed The Secret of NIMH came out the same year. Don Bluth directed his first film. It was dark and mysterious, and many animation buffs call it the greatest animated film ever. Unlike Plague Dogs with its fast pace this film had a slower pace that gave plenty of time to establish an atmosphere, and it had a happy ending. These three films were not the huge successes of past films, but they showed animation as a medium for adults as well as children. Unfortunately NIMH was the biggest hit by merely doubling its budget. 1985 was different.
In the 1980s many animated TV shows emerged competing with Hanna- Barbera and many were big enough to get movie versions. In 1985 Here Come the Littles made good money. A He-Man film made over triple its budget but one film made seventeen times its budget and crushed The Black Cauldron. This was The Care Bears Movie. Now animation found footing as lighthearted films were making good money and killing Disney. It looked like something like it would end the dark age until something else happened.
In 1986 the TV show movies collapsed. The Adventures of the American Rabbit was a huge failure and calls came for the governor to declare theaters playing it disaster areas. A movie based on “Robotech” quickly failed, Tranformers the Movie failed and alienated its audience for being dark for the sake of selling different toys. Care Bears Movie II was a mild disappointment. Part of this was Disney would re-release its old features when it worried about competition to harm their momentum. Then Bluth and Steven Spielberg happened. They collaborated to bring the audiences An American Tail. At the cost of only nine million it made over eighty-four million dollars in its initial release. This huge success lead to the Renaissance age of animation.
My pick for best movie this period: (this counts An American Tail as Renaissance). Best is The Plague Dogs.
How did this film by a new studio crush the records being the highest grossing animated film? The plot has plenty of dark moments for adults, a focus on family for family audiences, plenty of great songs about the plights of the characters. The songs are different, as it has a crowd song, a hope song, a sad award wining song, and a friendship up-beat song. The pacing is dramatic, and the animation is adorable in spite of how dark this film gets. This become the gold standard of the upcoming Renaissance age of animation.
After the success of An American Tail came bigger and even more successful films in 1988 like Spielberg and Bluth’s The Land Before Time, Disney’s Oliver and Company, and Spielberg and Disney’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. All three were huge hits. In Japan Akira was made to huge financial success. This made for a great year despite some failures like Felix the Cat. Even better was the diversity. Oliver and Company was a big Broadway style musical, Framed was a murder-mystery, and Time was a survival film. 1989 has less success with Bluth’s new film away from Spielberg (they parted ways) only being a mild success, but Disney’s The Little Mermaid was a huge hit. This set up Disney to dominate all animated movies for years.
As anyone reading this almost certainly knows Disney had hit after hit. The Rescuers Down Under bombed, but then Beauty and the Beast made over 100 million domestically. The next year Aladdin got over 200 million. The next release, The Lion King cost a whopping forty-five million, but it got over 300 million. Even better Disney’s non-canon film, The Nightmare Before Christmas won 1993’s box office. Disney was on a roll and their budgets almost always became over 100 million, but then everything greatly slowed down for them. Their successful Renaissance films had many similarities. They were big Broadway style musicals with many crowd songs, inept fathers (except Mufassa), evil villains for the sake of being evil, characters made purely to sell toys, and a focus on a love story. Part of Lion King’s success was it avoided some of these for a more unique feeling. Pocahontas did these, and in was supposed to win the award for best picture. Instead in greatly under performed and greatly harmed the Disney brand. The same year Toy Story came out making CGI the new big thing over traditional animation. Pixar had Disney distribute all their films, and they often beat the Disney films. Together they still dominated despite coming nowhere near the success of their films from 1989-1994 until around 2000 where Disney studios had their own dark age. Viewers got tired of the formula and finally the other studios found their footing in the next age.
The early Renaissance was disastrous for most non-Disney canon films. Disney’s smaller budgets like the Ducktales movie were also typically disappointments.
Don Bluth created the film that started the Renaissance. After two huge hits All Dogs go to Heaven seemed like a disappointment, but it did better than many non-Disney films at the time. With MGM he went on to have four big bombs in a row killing his studio. Without a good producer he suffered from executive meddling, and his films could not stick out with all the creators copying the success of An American Tail. He then moved to 20th Century Fox. Without him MGM made a box office bomb in All Dogs go to Heaven 2.
Fox had a mild success with Ferngully but then some failures. They brought in Bluth who made a hit in Anastasia at the end of the Renaissance. It copied the Disney style in many areas, yet it also has many of Bluth’s signature story elements and characterization methods. It made less than Disney’s Hercules but on a much smaller budget they looked to be a competitor. Then three years later that style was out and their studio collapsed in the next age.
Without Bluth Spielberg’s Amblination was reduced to trying to find a style. Their new director was Simon Wells. They first made An American Tail II. It was a small success. Despite a bigger budget it only made less than half of the original both domestically and internationally. It opened the same day as Beauty and the Beast and got dominated. After this We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story failed as a crowd pleaser and financially. Their last film was Balto. It failed at the box office, but it has a large following today and it made plenty of money on home media. Besides Balto their films were very light hearted and made for young audiences. They were full of crowd songs and resembled the Disney films at the time. Balto was different. It was not a musical and it was danger filled and driven by one main character who is mostly battling society and nature instead of a villain. After only three films they shut down and their remnants helped make Dreamworks.
Dreamworks was founded by Spielberg and Former Disney executive, Jeffrey Katzenberg. He was very important from around 1984-1994. In this era they made two films, Antz and The Prince of Egypt. Both were successes. Prince of Egypt is often mistaken for a Disney film, and that is understandable.
Ted Turner, the founder of Cartoon Network made his own studio. All three of his films flopped. They were Tom and Jerry the Movie (very Disney like), The Pagemaster (more like Don Bluth meets “Reading Rainbow), and Cats Don’t Dance. There are very few similarities between them other than being musicals. Pagemaster is as educational movie. Cats don’t Dance actually took the Disney style and made it far more extreme. This made a glorious parody of Disney, allegory of racial tension, and lighthearted fun story all in one. They merged with Warner Bros later.
Warner Bros mostly focused on animated shows during this time. Their few ventures into it included Quest for Camelot. The film bombed with critics and at the box office. It was supposed to be an R rated film, but it was turned into a Disney knock off.
A major part of the era was the introduction of direct-to-video films. the home media exploded in popularity and this is how most studios made money (if any). In 1994 Disney and Universal got into the game. Warner Bros was going to a year earlier with Batman Mask of the Phantasm but that hit theaters and they got into it in 1998. They eventually got a negative reputation in spite of the good ones, but they made important money for the studios.
The age is known for being a golden age however, it was only for the rich. The top movies made terrific money, and most everything else bombed. Home media, not theatrical runs kept the others alive. Repetition was a problem as the previous age had much more variety. Still hordes of films were made and many with huge budgets result in this being a fan favorite period. Most viewers will say their favorite (animated) film is from this period and call it the best period of animation, but I prefer the second part of The Dark Age.
In 1999 the Renaissance was over and replaced with a new era. CGI was dominating and the focus was on parodying the animated Disney films from a decade ago. Traditional animation was struggling to find new ways to get audiences back, and it was a losing battle.
My pick for best movie this period: The Land Before Time. It has more in common with an early 1980s film.
I think the Renaissance era ends with Tarzan in June of 1999. Then begins the Pixar era. The kings of it are of course Pixar. Everyone knew the best animated film would come from them. Pixar found a new format. They would use two protagonists who were birth family or friends (never romantic). The plot would put big emphasis on the emotional and internal conflicts they had with each other. They made big critical and financial success over and over again. Few animation fans will say they are not the best animation creators ever. Their first five films were the highest grossing of the year. The era showed the failure of traditional animation and its replacement by CGI, the death of G rated films, and constant adult humor forced in. The last two came in spite of Pixar, as everyone else was trying to stick out in other areas knowing they could not beat Pixar by with Pixar like movies.
Disney Animation studios entered their dark age this period. They were trying new ideas and hoping to find something that worked after their last several films made way less money. To make matters worse CGI was all the rage and traditional animation was frowned upon by audiences. Fantasia 2000 lost money, and I never hear anyone mention it. Dinosaur was a success but criticized for its story (like ripping of The Land Before Time). The Kingdom Under the Sun was supposed to be another Renaissance film from the director of The Lion King. Instead test audiences hated it and it got scrapped, and turned into The Emperor’s New Groove. It was actually an amazing comedy showing Disney had some variety. Then Atlantis was a minor bomb trying to be an adventure film. Lilo and Stitch was a hit as a sci-fi and family film. But afterwards came pirate themed bomb, Treasure Planet. It cost almost twice as much as Lilo and Stitch and made less than half. It was a huge bomb. It has plenty of fans today, but Disney needed money, not a cult following. Then came very low budget Brother Bear. It made good money for its tiny budget, but it was heavily disliked. Disney made the decision then to switch to CGI. They failed with Chicken Little and bought Pixar realizing they were desperate for them. Disney during this period was trying everything to see what stuck. They had bad marketing for their movies, and discovered the upcoming death of traditional animation in theatrical films.
Bluth and 20th Century Fox blew their momentum with Titan A.E. I really enjoyed it and it has a big cult flowing like Treasure Planet. Unfortunately, like Treasure Planet it lost a fortune. Bluth never directed another film.
Warner Bros made another animated bomb in The Iron Giant. However this film was adored by all who saw it an became a huge TV hit. Titan and Giant are both not musicals, focus on a small group of characters, and have apocalypse themes (likely due to the milenium bug fears). Giant’s director, Brad Bird, later went to Pixar for The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Unfortunately the same year Warner Bros released The King and I. It failed commercially, critically, and with audiences. It killed Rankin-Bass productions. Their next film Osmosis Jones also bombed, and it was a case of forcing in adult humor and fart jokes into a movie with no clear tone. They got into CGI in 2006 with the successful Happy Feet. Warner Bros became more interested in live-action franchises, as new and successful studios emerged to use CG.
Dreamworks emerged as the main competitor of Pixar. They started with traditional animation but the bombing of Sinibad, The Road to El Dorado, and possibly Spirit, ended that. Then Shrek was an enormous hit. Shrek started a huge trend of parodying Disney and focusing on comedy. Instead of forcing jabs at Disney and potty humor into a story they made a story around it. The villain was based off the Disney CEO, and the protagonist is an ogre batling evil version’s of past Disney heroes from the Renaissance. It was a huge hit and later Shrek 2 was even bigger hit and beat Pixar’s The Incredibles. Dreamworks made hit after hit with a focus on gaining franchises and regularly making jabs at Disney. Unfortunately for them Shrek the Third happened. It opened terrifically and made good money, but it was hated and greatly harmed their brand. For the rest of the decade their numbers went way own except for a few sequels and kung Fu Panda. Their focus switched to imitating Panda‘s success as a character based story focusing on development and family issues.
Blue Sky emerged as a major studio almost single handedly thanks to Ice Age. Worldwide all three Ice Age movies before 2010 were the highest grossing animated film of the year. In this era they had no flops with all five films at least tripling their budget. They were never too popular in North America, but their international grosses are consistently huge. They are also franchise based, an they mostly focus on entertaining young boys. They are a big case of unpopular, yet successful. Their success and Oscar winning Ice Age made it clear that CG was incredibly dominant over traditional animation.
This period is hated by fans of the Renaissance, but it had diversity and showed animation did not have to mean musical. Pixar made plenty of great films, Ice Age and other serious films were made and prospered with audiences, and many great comedies were made. In my opinion the best movies of the Renaissance are better than the best movies this period, but the average movie is much better this period.
My pick for best movie this period: Ratatouille, a perfect example of Pixar’s strengths.
Sometime around 2010 begins the modern era of animation. It has no clear name, but this is another golden age. Unlike the Renaissance this period sees huge success by many animation studios. Sony Pictures Animation, Disney, Pixar, Blue Sky, Warner Animation Group, and the new Illumination all are doing very well this era. Most successful films started using pieces of Pixar’s format like two protagonists conflicting with each other.
The huge risers of the era are Illumination. Since 2010 (their first film, Despicable Me) they have released nine films and an average of one per year. All nine have been successful. They almost always make at least five times the budget and sometimes way more. Their budgets are cheap, yet they regularly compete for highest animated film of the year both worldwide and domestically. Their films focus on humor, yet they are normally down to Earth in their settings. Their signatures are a direct yet minor villain, as internal conflict dominates and of course comic relief with a weird dialect.
The Minions and Despicable Me are their signature and all four films were incredibly big hits. Minions is the third highest grossing animated film (as of early 2019), Despicable Me 3 is five and Despicable Me 2 is eight. They are also huge, mammoth, and colossal with merchandise. All were in the top four at their peak. Many critics and viewers hate their films, yet all elementary aged children I know adore theme, and parents happily use them as babysitters.
The financial issues of Dreamworks is a huge problem here. They made Rise of the Guardians, which most people who saw it loved. It had a great hero, villain, and world building. Unfortunately few people saw it, and it lost around 80 million forcing Dreamworks to lay off 350 people. They then had a small hit with The Croods, but they again lost money with Turbo. It made less than Guardians and really hurt Dreamworks’s reputation. The characters were terrible and this was a blatant attempt to get a piece of the pie from Pixar’s Cars. Mr. Peabody and Sherman lost even more money. How to train your Dragon 2 made money, but way less than expected. It barely made more than 600 million worldwide, while many thought it would pass one billion. Penguins of Madagascar then unexpectedly bombed. These failures contributed to them being bought by Universal. What made these films fail? I think most of it was Illumination taking over as the must see animation that is not Disney. These films no longer had the edginess Dreamworks was known for, and they got lost in the storm. Their budgets were also too high, and they then focused on budget control as Home came out. Many professionals started writing obituaries for Dreamworks before the guaranteed flop came out, but they were wrong.
Critics hated Home, but it made a small profit of around 30 million needed dollars. The commercials pleased the audiences and they went to see it mostly for Jim Parsons. Like Pixar films it used two protagonists who conflict with each other heavily. Since Penguins no Dreamworks film has been a failure.
Disney left their dark age and became a huge source of money again. Starting with Meet the Robinsons Disney starting using parts of the Pixar format. Their films now had dual protagonists with a heavy focus on their conflict with each other. Unlike Pixar they sometimes used romance. Sure Robinsons bombed and Bolt barely broke even, but this did show their new style and mastering CG animation. Bolt was loved by critics and audiences helping to restore Disney’s reputation. John Lassetter, the head of Pixar, was now in charge and became the modern day Walt Disney. His contributions were huge. New directors also emerged for Disney such as Chris Williams, Byron Howard, Jennifer Lee, and Richard Moore. Disney then got back into traditional animation, but it was not the expected success. The Princes and the Frog was a call back to the nineties. It was loved at first but it is now mostly ignored. It was successful at the box office, but not by much. Ice Age 3 made more than three times it the same year. Later Winnie the Pooh was adored by critics, but it bombed hard killing Disney’s traditional animation especially with Tangled. Tangled is the most expensive animated film ever at 260 million, but it made over 200 million domestically and was the third highest animated film of the year worldwide. The good will from it resulted in a string of hits like Wreck it Ralph, Big Hero 6 and Moana. The real huge hits were Zootopia and Frozen. Both cost 150 million, yet made over one billion dollars worldwide. All of the CG films had dual protagonists in a Pixar like relationship. Bolt and Mittens, Flynn and Rapunzel (the most different as it was romantic), Ralph and Vanellope, Hiro and Baymax, Judy and Nick, Elsa and Anna, and Moana and Maui.
Pixar has had their weakest period simply by being less than perfect. After Toy Story 3 became the highest grossing animated film of all time (now third) Pixar had eleven films. All but Cars had at least 92% on Rotten Tomatoes (it still had a 74). Al were huge hits and loved by audiences. Cars 2 was then made which only got 38%. It was the second highest grossing animated film of the year, but audiences everywhere hated it. Brave and Monsters University then got 79% and 80% respectively. Terrible for Pixar, yet great for everyone else, especially as University made over 700 milion making it the third highest grossing Pixar film at the time. The problem was Despicable Me 2 came out shortly later and made over 970 million. Since there is nothing wrong with these movies it is hard to find what harmed them with critics. Inside Out ended Pixar’s brief issues, as it got 98% huge love from audiences, and made hordes of money. The problem was the same year The Good Dinosaur bombed and got a 76%. This was overshadowed by Inside Out doubling its budget domestically alone. After this Finding Dory and Coco were bigger hits and Coco was loved for its very dark story, yet happy and uplifting tone. It even got released in China despite breaking their film rules and was a huge hit there. Afterwards Cars 3 bombed and Incredibles 2 was their new biggest hit in animation history, yet it polarized fans. It and Finding Dory are domestically the highest grossing animated films at the time.
In spite of this success Pixar has lost many of its creators. Lasseter, Lee Unkrick, and Darla Anderson have all left. In spite of their recent success Pixar has reason to worry about the future. They are also making many sequels, which many fans find inferior to their original films. Many audience members think Pixar is no longer invincible, and part of this is they no longer stick out. So many studios are copying their methods, and their own films can get lost in the storm.
Warner Bros made their own small studio with Warner Animation Group. Their first film was a huge hit in The Lego Movie despite being a toy commercial. It was universally loved for its pop culture references, lovable characters, twists, complex plot, and nostalgia rush. It was the biggest animated film domestically that year. None of their other films have done much in terms of money, but they are getting great reviews. Their typical film has plenty of humor from pop culture references, yet they remind me of Don Bluth’s stories. They focus on one character dominantly, make sure plenty of bad things happen making them earn their happy ending, they are brought to a very low point before the ending, and then it ends happily for them bringing the audience a roller coaster of emotions. Their problem is they normally only do well in America. To survive they need a better international audience.
Paramount Animation currently only has four films and is on life support. First they had The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water. It got 80% on Rotten Tomatoes and made more than four times its budget. Their remaining films all got around 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. Monster Trucks was a huge bomb and lost over 120 million. Sherlock Gnomes seems to have broken even and Wonder Park has lost money.
Blue Sky is starting to collapse. Rio made good money, but then came Ice Age 4. It made more than any animated film of the year, which made animation buffs mad. It did great overseas, but I never heard anyone say they liked it. The Ice Age series was out of ideas, and many Blue Sky workers said they were forced to keep making them by Fox. They made Epic, which was supposed to show they can make serious movies. The problem was they already made a serious movie. The first Ice Age was very serious and somber with good comic relief, while they then became more and more comedic making viewers think they were always comedies. Epic‘s problem is bland heroes, and the saving grace is the villain. This made a big problem, as I rooted for the villain the whole time. Rio 2 made great international numbers (not Ice Age level though) and poor domestic numbers. Critics were fine but general audiences hated it. Again the villain (minor ones with no connections to the plot) were the saving graces, while audiences hated everything else especially the side characters. Blu Sky’s box office numbers then went way down. The Peanuts Movie is almost always called their best, but it just broke even at the box office. Ice Age 5 bombed in America and made no where near the grosses of the other sequels worldwide. Their latest film, Ferdinand is liked by general audiences but nothing special. With Disney buying their parent company their future is on life support.
Sony Pictures animation is the most hated of all studios right now. The descriptions I hear of them are they are just long TV show episodes, not funny, too much focus on comedy, revolting, unimaginative, and they need to go out of business. However they have eighteen movies out with many more coming indicating they actually have a good business model. From what I have seen their films are mostly about parenthood and humor. They typically use low fantasy to put attempts at realistic people in with fantasies. Like Dreamworks they heavily believe in franchises and most of their successes are sequels or get sequels. Their films typically have low budgets, and their executives are masters at keeping budgets under control and the budget numbers fluctuate wildly. The Smurfs is their biggest success, but at only around 565 million worldwide. It is also infamous now. Their biggest shame is The Emoji Movie. It was panned by critics (7% on rotten tomatoes) and audiences hated it more, but it over quadrupled its budget. The big hope is their last film, Spider-Man into the Spiderverse. It is generally called the best film of 2018, and I have never heard anything bad about it. Maybe audiences will come to love them, if it is an indication of better execution in their stories.
My pick for best movie this period: Wreck-It-Ralph. There are many I have not seen, and maybe something will change my mind in the future.
It is hard to judge the current era, as it is not finished or replaced yet, but the films have some similarities. Most of them are either comedies or using the Pixar format. Despite some flops many companies are doing well right now, and as a result more animated movies are being made than ever, and this is another golden age of animation, and it is probably bigger than ever right now.