This is the age-old question: what does Disney animation have that Dreamworks does not? The most famous mascot in the world? Maybe. An avid following from both children and adults? Possibly. A solid financial and film schedule? Yes.
On March 4 Dreamworks announced a fourth-quarter net loss of $263.2 million and the abandonment of two unfinished films. The How to Train Your Dragon films and The Croods have made great profits, but other recent films such as Mr. Peabody and Sherman and Turbo have cost Dreamworks millions of dollars in losses.
Dreamwork’s current financial turmoil began in 2012 when it announced its 12 film release schedule (over four years) with Fox in 2012. It was described as the most ambitious slate for an animation house in Hollywood history. Although this seemed impressive at the time, few of those films were very successful.
I believe dropping films from Dreamworks’ slate is a step in the right direction. Doing this will force animators to focus on less productions at one time, which could improve the quality of the films themselves. Even more important to a film’s success is audience anticipation.
Pixar has released eight movies in the past 10 years, Walt Disney Studios has released nine and Dreamworks has released 21. I remember as a child (and still today), I anticipated seeing Pixar films because they were spaced so far apart. You were always wondering what was going to come next. When Dreamworks announced its 12 film slate, the wonder and anticipation all but appeared to vanish.
In 2013, Disney released Frozen, which people all across the world saw (Frozen made around 208 million dollars in Japan alone, over $400 million stateside, and over $1.2 billion worldwide). Frozen was first announced by Disney on December 22, 2011 and released two years later. Dreamworks made a total of approximately $706.9 million in 2013. Although these figures for Dreamworks are not bad, Disney still topped them. It must be difficult being and animation studio competing with Disney.
There are past exceptions when other animation studios beat Disney films head-to-head at the box office. Don Bluth’s An American Tale was released the same day as Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective. Bluth’s film beat Disney’s at the box office. The same thing happened in 1988 when Bluth’s The Land Before Time beat Disney’s Oliver & Company.
What does it take to beat Disney? For Disney not to be at the top of its game, as it was in the 1980’s. Although Dreamwork’s financial struggles are partially the company’s own fault due to its overambitious film schedule, it’s not all their fault.
If you’re an animation studio and you don’t have a happy mouse as your mascot, it’s difficult to have Disney in your life.