Reel FX Creative Studios was started in 2007 when Reel FX and Radium formed into one special effects company. In 2010 they announced that they would be creating a 3D Cirque de Soleil film. Eventually named Worlds Away and distributed by Paramount Pictures, it was released in 2012 to mediocre reviews. After that point, the company focused on creating standard CG animated films, their first being 2013’s Free Birds. Remember what I said about holiday films? Easter doesn’t have many mainstream films about it, and Thanksgiving has even less, so this seems like an unusual choice. John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren and Stimpy, was involved in early development of the movie, but only got as far as drawing some concept art. The film was in the oven in four years, but didn’t meet a great reception when it eventually came out. The film received overtly terrible reviews, with many finding the film insensitive and just un-funny. It grossed $110 million against a $55 million, so they just broke even for the film. I’m sure that was still way under what they thought it would be, but you can’t always have a winner out of the gate.
Reel FX didn’t look too great after that “turkey” (OK, I’ll stop), and needed a course correction badly. Lucky for them, they had one with The Book of Life. Written and directed by El Tigre creator, Jorge Gutierrez, the movie focused on the Mexican Day of the Dead. The animation style in Book of Life is unique due to its very stylized look. This was due to Gutierrez’s desire to make an animated movie that actually looked like the concept art. In most concept art you see for animated movies, it never translates to the finished product. Gutierrez also did not allow the animators to go to Mexico for inspiration, as he felt those kind of trips only went to the tourist-y places and had them ask him if they had any questions on the setting. Sometimes you just have to trust people with their vision. This one happened to work out, as the film received rave reviews, but just like Free Birds, just about broke even in terms of money. This movie deserves a lot more attention, and it certainly has its fans. Many of those fans were upset when they saw that Pixar was coming out with a movie that also focused on the Day of the Dead, Coco. That film will undoubtedly do well, because it’s Pixar, and I’m sure it will be great, but it is strange that Pixar would make a similar movie so closely after The Book of Life came out. Another bit of controversy for Pixar is that they tried to trademark the phrase “Dia de los Meurtos” when that was the movie’s name, for merchandising purposes. This didn’t go over well with the Mexican-American population who saw this as cultural appropriation. Disney withdrew the request and ultimately went with another name for the film. Their next film, still in development, is an adaption of the Dark Horse Comic, Beasts of Burden.