Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why Is Universal Releasing "Sing" on BluRay 3D but Not "Trolls?"


A week or so ago I was happy to learn that Universal Pictures would be releasing Illumination's "Sing" on BluRay 3D.  It was yet another example of how good 3D could be when implemented properly, and the idea of being able to keep that experience at home came with much relief after Universal had opted out of released DreamWorks Animations "Trolls" on BluRay 3D that same week.  Once my happiness settled down I started to wonder why this was the case though?  Why does "Sing" get a 3D release but not "Trolls?"  In some ways, "Trolls" made better use of 3D.  It wasn't a better movie, but the visuals more than justified having a format that would preserve them properly.  Both animation studios are owned by NBC Universal (which is owned by Comcast I believe), yet one studio gets 3D releases and the other doesn't?  What gives?  Well, this is a theory of mine - and I want to stress I have no real proof - but I suspect Comcast bought DreamWorks Animation to dismantle it.

I know, that seems crazy, but I'm not the only one that suspects something is up.  DreamWorks Animation has been for sale several times.  Not because the studio consistently loses money (though they had a few underperformers in a row, they were picking up serious steam again), but because it would be a way to secure the future of the company.  Some Japanese company was up for buying them and then Hasbro entered negotiations before those fell through.  All the while I kept telling myself "I hope whoever buys them actually wants an animation studio."  I didn't know why I was saying this to myself at the time.  It was, as some would say, a "premonition of sorts."  I found my answer when it was announced that Comcast would be buying the studio.  At that point my heart sank.  I didn't know exactly why at the time, but I suspected that Comcast's interest in buying DreamWorks Animation had more to do with their franchises then it did their studio.

They wanted Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar (and the penguins that came along with it),  Kung fu Panda, and all those other popular characters.  Really, when you stop and think about how many memorable characters have come out of the house Katzenberg built, he really might have been the modern day Walt Disney (don't kill me for saying that, because I feel very similar about John Lasseter).  Some of those characters have brought in billions of dollars.  To have them as part of your cable services, theme parks, and television stations would be a huge boon to the company.  So, they bought them, for close to $4 billion dollars.  Here's the thing though: DreamWorks Animation don't make movies cheap.  In fact, they spend an average of $150 million per movie.  The average Illumination movie costs about $50 million to make.  So while Comcast got their franchises, they didn't really want the costs that came along with running the studio.

So, people have been laid off.  "Trolls" was released with minimal advertising and fanfare.  "The Croods 2" was cancelled.  These are signs of a parent company not interested in running a studio.  However, they do have some movies that are completed or near completion.  Obviously it would be a waste to scrap all that work, so they press forward, finishing up these last few projects.  I think that Comcast is intending to do is to finish off the remaining movies in production, burn them off slowly in theaters, and then have the company cease to make animated movies.  They will keep a staff to produce special effects for big budget movies from Hollywood, but animated movies will be made by Illumination exclusively from now on, who make even more family friendly animated movies at a fraction of the cost.  It makes me wonder if Katzenberg's announcement of "Shrek 5" days before he left the company was a way to insure the studio had work for at least a few years?

Now...how does this relate to "Trolls" not getting a BluRay 3D?  Because, honestly, I don't think Universal cares about the DreamWorks movies they have.  They will release them because they own them, but they aren't really interested in them.  They own them, but they own them as a result of someone dying and leaving them to the company in their will.  They didn't make these movies, so they don't belong to them.  So what if people can't buy "Trolls" in 3D?  Universal didn't make that movie, so what do they care?  But "Sing"...oh, that one Universal DID make, and they know how good the 3D version is, so they are going to make sure that people have the chance to buy that one in its preferred format.  Again, I can't prove any of this.  But when I look at how hard Universal is pushing "Despicable Me 3" in theaters with banners, cutouts, and large posters, and see how they seem to only half acknowledge "The Boss Baby," I think DreamWorks movies are orphaned kids who may have a home; they just don't have step parents that see them as anything other than a way to get a check from the government (in this case, people).

I hope I am ultimately wrong about all this, but all signs are pointing towards trouble in my book.

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