Friday, March 22, 2013

An Animated Summer, Pt. 3: Fox, Sony & Universal.

While DreamWorks Animation is focused on reestablishing itself as an animation franchise powerhouse and Disney establishes one of its key Pixar properties as franchise material, the other major studios are seeing value in offering at least an occasional contender for animated box-office profits.

This summer, three of those studios have players in the game. Here's a quick glimpse at each.

Universal Pictures may have their hands on a franchise that could generate one of this summer's big box-office hits. The first sequel to its original hit, Despicable Me 2 is a return of one of the most successful challenges ever to Pixar's rule as digital animation kings.

Despicable Me, released in July of 2010 earned more than a half billion worldwide and added another 150 million in home video sales. Add in a major theme park attraction for Universal Studios Orlando and a serious flood of merchandise revenue, and the perspective on building animation franchises becomes crystal clear.

Universal also has the Disney-like clout needed to bring an original Cast back into the studio. The roster of returning voice talent is led by Steve Carell and includes Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier. Throw in Al Pacino and Steve Coogan and you have a power cast even where you likely don't need one.

With one more power play in its pocket, Despicable Me 2 has a July Fourth Weekend holiday release date. If Disney's Monsters University underperforms, "Universal" will once again be a word heard only in quiet whispers through the halls of the Mouse House. Here's a peak...

The partnership of Twentieth Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios produced an over-performing success in Animation back in 2011 with Rio, the story of a macaw from a small town in Minnesota that suddenly finds itself in the tropics of Rio de Janeiro. That partnership is back this summer with Epic, a story short on originality but high on gorgeous artwork. Kids (and parents) will recognize the worn storyline of little creatures defending the forest with the help of a miniaturized kid, but if the art can immerse them in a world of wonder it may not matter.

Epic's voice cast is predictably filled with celebrities who may or may not lend anything to the production besides needlessly costly talent contracts and sequel agreements. The Oscar-cred heavy voice cast here is headed by Jason Sudeikis, Amanda Seyfried, Beyoncé Knowles, Colin Farrell, Aziz Ansari, Christoph Waltz and Steven Tyler. Epic has a scheduled May 24th release.

Last on the Animated Summer list is, wait for it, another sequel. This time the animation is served up with a mix of live action and a smart-alecky, blue tinted smirk. The Smurfs 2 differs from the pack with a decidedly edgier approach, and an appeal for pre-teens and adolescence-inclined adults; a reliably large demographic.

In the mix of onscreen and voice talent are returning cast members Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris and Sofia Vergara with the notable additions of Anton Yelchin, Christina Ricci, Alan Cummings, Brendan Gleeson, Katy Perry, Fred Armisen, George Lopez and the venerable Jonathan Winters (as Papa Smurf).

You'll have to hold your breath until you can turn blue, The Smurfs 2 doesn't open in the U.S. until July 31st.

It's clearly another animated summer with several of the seven movies highlighted in these last three columns being sure bets for the summer's top ten box-office list. My bet is at least one of them will land in the top 3.

Check back with us later today for a new look at Blockbuster Season weekends with a new feature called Go Big, Go Small. Thanks for reading

Thanks to Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox for trailers and poster art.

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