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Rise of the Guardians: The DreamWorks Gamble that Didn’t Pay Off
February 27, 2013Posted by on
Last November, DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures released the digitally-animated children’s film Rise of the Guardians, based off of a series of books by author William Joyce. The film, budgeted at a robust 145 million dollars, was met with positive critical acclaim (74% aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes), and as far as I can tell, was anecdotally appreciated by fans. I’ve spoke with a handful of people who have seen it, people of all ages and genders, and all agreed the film was unique and a lot of fun. I have heard praise for the character designs, art direction, and other technical issues as well (the Sandman really stuck out to a lot of people as cool, apparently). I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t offer my take on its quality. Point is, the film seemed to be pretty universally liked.
Box office numbers for Rise of the Guardians, however, disappointed. Opening just a few weeks after Wreck-It Ralph, another CGI-animated film with positive critical acclaim (and an eventual Oscar nominee for animation), Guardians stumbled out of the gate with a disappointing opening weekend. It didn’t help the DreamWorks production that The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II, Life of Pi, and mega-hit Skyfall all opened in the same basic time frame. Rise of the Guardians suffered at the domestic box office because of this, barely limping across the 100 million dollar barrier, making it a financial disappointment for DreamWorks. The film was met with more positive returns overseas, ultimately grossing a tad over 300 million, but even this was seen as disappointing for the studio.
Just yesterday, DreamWorks released their quarter four financial information, and cited the failure of Rise of the Guardians as a significant factor in a near 90 million dollar loss for the company, the first such loss they’ve faced in six years (Flushed Away, a 2006 flop, was the last DreamWorks Animation film to face trouble at the box office, and even this film was a co-production with Aardman Studios, softening the blow). According to DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who recently picked up an Oscar for humanitarian work, Guardians was “the first movie of ours in 17 in a row that didn’t work.” DreamWorks has had an incredible run of success in their animation division, but even they have their “bad days,” again according to Katzenberg.
DreamWorks’ loss wasn’t solely due to the financial failure of Rise of the Guardians, however. Their upcoming film, Me & My Shadow, had its release date pushed back and is now back in development for re-tooling. The upcoming Shadow, featuring the voice talents of Bill Hader and Kate Hudson, was even rumored to be shelved completely – and this may yet happen sometime in the future. The studio’s Mr. Peabody and Sherman, based on the Rocky and Bullwinkle short, was also pushed back, in order to take advantage of a better release window, according to DreamWorks. The upcoming The Croods, the first DreamWorks production to be distributed by Fox, will be released in March, and is expected do well for the company.
I have two big issues with DreamWorks regarding this bad financial news. The first is that 350 employees were laid-off of work due to the write-off, which is incredibly sad news. In the past year, two other visual effects-based companies have also faced uncertainty, including Rhythm & Hues, the team that brought the tiger in the Oscar-winning film Life of Pi to life. I feel for these people who have lost jobs and potentially their livelihoods. I spent a year and a half without full-time employment, and it is a struggle. The second issue I have, which feeds into the first, is that it is unfathomable to me that a film can gross over 300 million dollars worldwide, as Rise of the Guardians did, and still be responsible for a loss of nearly 90 million dollars. This is a clear case of irresponsible fiscal management by DreamWorks. The margins of profitability for a film should in no way be this slim. It is beyond aggravating to me that hardworking digital artists and animators have lost their jobs because essentially one film out of seventeen did poorly for the company. That’s an over-sight that Hollywood needs to work on. There’s too much money out there to gamble so foolishly with people’s livelihoods.