Sony Pictures Imageworks handled special effects for Sony Pictures, but in 2001 the studio decided that they really didn’t need it anymore. What saved Imageworks was the fact that no one was interested, and that all of a sudden CG movies were becoming all the rage. Shrek and Monsters Inc. proved that CG movies were here to stay, so Sony wanted to get a piece of the pie. Imageworks was split in two, with the original studio handling special effects, and a new studio, Sony Pictures Animation, handling TV and movies. Sony’s first movie was to be Astro Boy, something that had been tossed around since 1997, though at that time it was going to be a live-action movie. Sony hemmed and hawed about what to do with the property that it ended up in the hands of Hong Kong based studio, Imagi Animation. This was probably for the better, as the film ended up being a bomb with reviews being pretty bad. Imagi came out with the TMNT movie two years earlier, the fully animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie that no one remembers. That movie, at least made a profit, but reviews weren’t great. Astro Boy seemed to have put the nail in the proverbial coffin, and Imagi closed its doors in 2010. That’s the problem with trying to revive properties that only a small population of the country know. It makes more sense being made overseas where there is a larger market, but Astro Boy is not a well known property here.
Avoiding the disaster that was Astro Boy, Sony instead developed their first feature film, Open Season. I’ve never seen this one, but I remember seeing commercials for it all the time. Open Season was co-directed by Roger Allers, the co-director of The Lion King, and created from an idea by cartoonist Steve Moore, creator of In the Bleachers. The other director, Jill Culton, picked the voices for the film blindly, just listening to the recordings of the auditions. She had no idea that she had chosen Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher. Released in 2006, the film received not great reviews, but with a gross of $197 million against an $85 million, Sony had a decent intro film. The studio’s second film, Surf’s Up, a parody of surfing documentaries, did better critically, but not so much financially, grossing $149 million against a $100 million budget. The film was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Ratatouille.
Sony’s best movie made in-house (Arthur Christmas and The Pirates! were made by Aardman), in my opinion is Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Loosely based on the children’s book by Judi and Ron Barrett, it centers on a young inventor who creates a food-maker machine. With a hilarious all-star cast and future Lego Movie directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller co-directing, the movie had a lot going for it. Cloudy would end up being the studio’s biggest hit yet, both in terms of profit and critical reception. The sequel, which came out four years later in 2013, did not have the same directors, but most of the principal cast returned, save for Mr. T, who was replaced by Terry Crews. While not as good as the first, it still managed to kill it at the box office, grossing $274 million against a $78 million budget.
The Smurfs hadn’t been relevant since the late 80’s, and there was virtually no new audience for them unless parents were showing them to their kids. I grew up watching The Smurfs and the Magic Flute and a few other specials, so I’m pretty familiar with the characters, but I’m sure most kids younger than me wouldn’t be able to say that. That is, until Sony decided to dig up the little blue creatures and make them appeal to a new audience. A Smurfs movie had been pitched for years, but Peyo’s heirs didn’t like what screenwriters were sending them. Finally, producer Jordan Kerner snagged their attention and was planned to be a trilogy of animated films going into Gargamel’s past. That isn’t exactly what happened, as the end result became a live-action/CG animation hybrid about the Smurfs being stuck in New York City with Neil Patrick Harris as the human that helps them. Ugh. I’m not sure why this version of The Smurfs appealed to Peyo’s kids when it is so different from the cartoon. The cartoon took place in medieval times! This movie, and its sequel, are classic examples of studios making movies that play on people’s nostalgia. Parents will take their kids to see The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks because they loved them as kids, and surely they can’t mess it up too much. Oh, they definitely can. People flocked to this movie, and it was just plain awful. It ended up with a gross of $563 million. With a normal budget of $110 million, the studio made bank, so of course they’d continue the series. The second movie, Smurfs 2, received even worse reviews, but still netted a profit, grossing $347 million against a $105 million budget. This was considered a huge disappointment to Sony, considering they made over $200 million less on this movie. While the first two movies were made relatively close to each other, two years to be exact, they waited until 2017 to release another Smurfs movie. Smurfs: The Lost Village, ditched the live action and made it completely animation. Considered a reboot and not a sequel to the previous two Smurf films, it fared better critically, though not much, and did OK at the box office, grossing $182.8 million against a $60 million budget. This came out a month ago, so the number will likely change. The previews actually looked kind of funny for this one, so I may try and watch this one someday.
Sony’s last franchise is Hotel Transylvania, which basically functions as an animated Adam Sandler movie. Seriously, it has everyone from his movies as voices, so you know what you’re getting yourself into. I will admit that I actually like the first movie. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the second, so I can’t judge that one. The film didn’t get great reviews, but it has its moments and it’s an easy movie to watch with your kids, especially around Halloween. I didn’t realize until after that it was directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of Dexter’s Lab and Samurai Jack. This series gets props just for that. I’m also a sucker for anything with Andy Samberg in it (he was in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, too!). The first film was a hit for the studio, grossing $358 million against a $85 million budget. The second film actually received better reviews, considered mixed, and grossed $473 million against an $80 million budget. It’s safe to say that this series isn’t going anywhere. There’s even a TV show in the works!