Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Universal Animation Studios

 Universal Animation Studios was founded in 1991 and was primarily used to produce sequels to Universal-released feature films. This included sequels to Charlotte’s Web, Balto, and the thirteen and counting Land Before TIme sequels. The actual animation for these films were done primarily overseas, by Wang Film Productions, or Rough Draft Studios. They produced TV shows also, like Curious George, The Land Before Time, Back to the Future: The Animated Series, and Fievel’s American Tails. They produced two theatrical films in their existence, Curious George and The Tale of Despereaux. In 2016 the studio was merged into Dreamworks Animation after Comcast bought Universal. The studio served as Universal’s animation output for theatrical movies for a very short time, with Illumination taking over after The Tale of Despereaux in 2008. The studio continues to make straight-to-dvd movies and TV shows, but not theatrical films.

Universal hadn’t been in the animation game for awhile when Curious George came out in 2006. Before that, they had 1995’s Balto, made by Amblimation. A Curious George movie had been bounced around for years, but it didn’t get off the ground until the 2000’s. After much discussion, the studio decided to make the film primarily in traditional animation, with a little CG thrown in. The film, with a much smaller budget than CG films at the time, unfortunately didn’t make enough at the box office to take advantage of that safety net, only making $69.8 million against a $50 million budget. Reviews were so-so, with most complaining about the obvious padding to the story. Universal’s second film, The Tale of Despereaux was animated by British studio, Framestore Feature Animation. Framestore is responsible for the special effects in many blockbuster movies that we all watch, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Dark Knight, and Sherlock Holmes. The Tale of Despereaux remains their only animated film. The production of Despereaux was a disaster, the result of three different countries, the U.S, Britain, and France, working on the film. The directors of the film ended up being Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen. The two had not read the book version, written by Kate DiCamillo, and never visited production in Britain. Instead they directed through speakerphone and e-mail. Though critics praised the animation, the story was ripped apart, something that usually suffers under production troubles. The film did slightly better than Curious George, grossing $86.9 million against a $60 million budget. Universal decided to have one studio consistently make their films from then on, Illumination Entertainment.

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