Studios Catch the Growing Animation Wave As the summer movie season nears, so does an impending tidal wave of computer-animated movies. But NPR's Bob Mondello wonders whether it will swamp what's fast becoming Hollywood's most lucrative genre. Ice Age 2: The Meltdown brought in more than $70 million in three days.
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Studios Catch the Growing Animation Wave

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Studios Catch the Growing Animation Wave

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Studios Catch the Growing Animation Wave

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The computer-animated sequel Ice Age Two: The Meltdown made a lot of money this past weekend, more than $70 million in three days. It's Hollywood's first blockbuster of 2006. It's also the beginning of a wave of computer-animated films for the year.

Our film critic Bob Mondelo says this wave is so big, it might capsize one of Hollywood's most lucrative genres.

BOB MONDELO reporting:

(Soundbite of squirrel noise)

This little saber-toothed squirrel and his acorn are only the beginning. In the next few months, cineplexes are going to be crowded with critters: raccoons and turtles and their buddies in Over The Hedge.

(Soundbite from Over The Hedge):

Mr. MICHEL BROWN (as Sammy the Squirrel) I am a crazy rabid squirrel.

MONDELO: And a teenaged lion and his buddies in The Wild.

(Sondbite from (The Wild)

Unidentified Character#1: You and your crew here are a little far from your burrow.

Unidentified Character#2: Far from your burrow.

MONDELO: And the deer and grizzly duo in Open Season.

(Soundbite from Open Season)

Unidentified Character#3): I get it, you're like a pet.

Unidentified Character#4: I ain't nobody's pet.

Unidentified Character#3: Right.

MONDELO: Not to mention a farm's worth of cows in Barnyard, sewer rats in Flushed Away, and a whole ice flow's worth of singing emperor penguins in Happy Feet.

(Music from Happy Feet played)

Unidentified Character #5: Turn around to the penguin next to you and give him a great big hug.

Unidentified Character#6: What you hugging me for?

Unidentified Character #7: He told me to. Get away now, you like it.

MONDELO: Too many critters? Try Monster House, a haunted mansion that lives and breathes.

(Soundbite from Monster House)

Unidentified Character#8: The house is alive.

MONDELO: And a snazzy little sports car with a speeding problem in Cars.

(Soundbite from Cars)

Unidentified Character#9: I don't mean to be rude here, but you probably go zero to 60 in, like, what, 3.5 years?

Unidentified Character#10: Whoa-ho.

MONDELO: Cars is the latest picture from Pixar, the folks who created Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles.

Pixar hasn't even come close to having a flop yet. And for all practical purposes, neither have its competitors. DreamWorks, with the Shrek movies and Madagascar, 20th Century Fox with Robots and The Ice Age films. Overall, there have only been 24 computer-animated kid flicks. And 18 of them have made more than $100 million worldwide. Fourteen of them have made more than $300 million worldwide, meaning they're in that rarified class of super blockbusters like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, and the very biggest action pictures.

(Soundbite from Unidentified Action Picture)

MONDELO: And movie box office is only part of the story. Kids like to see these movies again and again. So throw in DVD sales that are among the highest in the industry, and toy sales, and music, and books and theme park spin-offs.

The shelf life for animated pictures is measured in decades, so most of these films will end up generating studio revenue topping a billion dollars. If there's ever been a foolproof movie genre, this is it. But, of course, no genre is really foolproof.

(Soundbite from Unidentified Picture):

Unidentified Character #11: Hey, you're just a little kid. Aren't you the cutest thing? Oh, my goodness.

MONDELO: Too much, too big, too many. Last year, Hollywood released five computer-animated films. This year, they're releasing 14. That's more than one a month on average, enough to give the industry what Variety Magazine calls Critter Jitters. Will parents simply get tired of toons? By late July, four animated epics will already have opned this summer and two more will be looming.

So what to do in late summer? Take the kids to see a computer-animated boy tormenting an anthill in The Ant Bully or a computer-animated boy tormenting sleeping cows in Barnyard? Probably not both.

I'm Bob Mondelo.

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