In the crush of new releases that slammed the multiplexes in the fourth quarter of 2012, it was easy to forget what a heavily hyped and disastrously received movie DreamWorks Animation's "Rise of the Guardians" was. The last film released under DreamWorks Animation's distribution pact with Paramount (who is planning to ramp up its own animation production after the financial and critical success of "Rango"), it should have been kids movie catnip – a team of super-heroic mythological creatures team up to fight evil, like "The Avengers" of bedtime stories. But, the failure of "Rise of the Guardians," while an adequate hit overseas, still cost DreamWorks Animation north of $100 million. And now the fallout: "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" moves from fall 2013 to spring 2014 (getting the fuck out of the way of Disney's "Frozen"), "Me and My Shadow" gets shelved, and an unspecified number of layoffs will soon sweep through the studio. Gulp.
The first word came from the Hollywood Reporter, who specified that the "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" feature (a full-length 3D spin-off of the popular time traveling characters from the sixties cartoon series "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show," this time voiced by Ty Burell and Stephen Colbert) would be moving to a March 7th, 2014 date, away from the previously held November 1st opening. This would have put them less than a month ahead of Disney's "Frozen," an animated retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's Snow Queen fable (a story Walt Disney himself had been trying to crack since the late forties). The last time Disney and DreamWorks Animation went head-to-head over a heated holiday period was this same time last year, and Disney's warmly nostalgic videogame romp "Wreck-It Ralph" ended up besting "Rise of the Guardians" by almost $85 million. That's a lot of arcade tokens!
DreamWorks Animation put on a sunny face and shifted most of the blame onto Fox, their new distributors, who also distribute and market the films made by Blue Sky Studios, a kind of mini-Pixar located in suburban Connecticut. "Our distributor, who has had great success in March with their 'Ice Age' franchise, has recommended we move 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' to the spring of 2014, which we totally agree is a much more advantageous release window," Anne Globe, chief marketing officer of DreamWorks Animation said. "'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' is now the first of our three-picture lineup for next year."
But here's the rub: that's only sort of the case, because one of those three movies for 2014 doesn't exist anymore. "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is moving into the date recently held by "Me and My Shadow," which DreamWorks Animation claims will "return to development." In fact, we have heard that, even though Bill Hader was recording new dialogue for the movie just a few weeks ago (he plays an impish shadow character), "Me and My Shadow" is, at least for the time being, dead. It's not going back to development to be refashioned; its body's in the morgue and the studio is deciding what to do with the parts. Most agree that it was the experimental nature of the film, combining 2D and 3D animation along the lines of Disney's Oscar-nominated, Annie-winning "Paperman," that has caused the studio to give up on the project, which had already had a tortured development history, including the removal and replacement of the film's director, going from a major animation director to an unproven story artist. Also its storyline sounds eerily similar to Henry Selick's recently resurrected "The Shadow King," which was supposed to be this huge Disney/Pixar stop motion event for this Halloween until Disney shut it down.
Later in the same day, Variety reported that hundreds of jobs would be cut from DreamWorks Animation. While the report notes that it's typical for temporary layoffs to happen at effects houses and animation studios in between projects, this is a major animation studio we're talking about, one that had been committed to producing three animated features a year. There shouldn't be a second of downtime, ever. According to our sources, look for that number to throttle down, from three features a year to two, very shortly. (Remember: 2013 was supposed to be the first year of this ambitious three-movie-a-year plan.) This comes at a time when the studio's stock hit a 52-week low this week, so it hasn't been a good week.
The first Fox-distributed DreamWorks Animation film, Chris Sanders' prehistoric family adventure "The Croods," starring Nic Cage and Emma Stone as Neanderthals, hits theaters March 22nd.