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PENNIES FROM KEVIN - Outside the Fox

The underdog in the CGI world has had two hits in Ice Age and Robots. But many think both could have done better. Kevin's back with an idea that would help Fox get closer to Pixar and DreamWorks.

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: March 26, 2005 at 11:52 PM

This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the release of Toy Story, the first all-computer-animated film. What hath Pixar wrought? Check it out:

Family-oriented CGI films, domestic box office
Toy Story....................$ 191.8
A Bug's Life...........$ 162.8
Antz..............$ 90.6
Toy Story 2........................$ 245.8
Shrek....................................$ 267.7
Monsters, Inc......................$ 255.8
Ice Age....................$ 176.4
Finding Nemo..............................$ 339.7
Shrek 2.............................................$ 436.7
The Incredibles....................$ 261.0
Shark Tale............$ 161.4

Except for Antz up there, a pretty impressive list, no? So why is Fox's Robots barely going to beat that film? (If it even does. Taking inflation into account, Antz made $121M in 2004 dollars.) Reviews certainly were decent enough. Sure, there's that March release date, but Fox's Ice Age took in more than Shark Tale (which didn't exactly have a plum spot in early October), and it was also released in March. Of course there's always the Robin Williams factor: the man hasn't opened a film in a decade! (Seriously! Mrs Doubtfire was in 1993! And also? BARF!) Why they focused on him in the ads is beyond my comprehension and that certainly had something to do with the film's underperforming in theaters.

But I think the main reason Robots isn't hitting projections is because it isn't Pixar and it isn't DreamWorks. Okay, that's a duh, but go deeper. When those studios release movies, where do you see them? Trailers, commercials, the usual places. But you also see them at grocery stores, clothing stores, toy stores, even the Post Office. (Okay, Shrek was ALL OVER the USPS when the sequel came out... Robots has a postmark! A postmark that doesn't even MENTION THE MOVIE'S NAME! I guess they were going subliminal there.)

So clearly there was a problem with the marketing blitz. But I think there is also a problem with the company. Mention Pixar and people think of Woody and Buzz and Nemo and Dory and Boo and all their great characters. Mention DreamWorks and people think Spielberg, Shrek and Donkey. Mention Fox and people think of asskissing political blowhards, the Simpsons and questionable reality shows. Ice Age was a pretty big hit, but can anyone name a character in the movie? And, no, "the woolly mammoth played by Ray Romano" doesn't count. Which is really kind of sad since I just looked it up and noticed there are really only five named characters in the movie, not counting Scrat, the weird squirrel thing that is the only character to survive outside the film. Ice Age 2 might change that next year, but isn't it about time Fox got its characters a little more recognition RIGHT NOW?

Of course marketing will increase for the Ice Age sequel, but the characters need to become more beloved NOW. What is one way DreamWorks and Pixar have improved that? THEME PARKS! (That is what this site is about, right?) Fox needs to license the characters out so they can be greeting people at theme parks around the country. Increased popularity leads to attractions, which keep the characters alive between sequels.

But which parks? Clearly Disney and Universal are out of the question as the former would require direct competition with Disney and Pixar characters, and the latter would require competition with Nickelodeon and DreamWorks creations as well as a century of Universal faces. Fox could go with quantity, and sign up with Six Flags, but their kiddie lands are already focused on the Warner Bros cartoon characters, which would be too much competition. Same goes for Paramount and their Nickelodeon-based kiddie areas and Cedar Fair and their Snoopy connection.

Which leaves us with one major brand: Busch! And what a perfect brand for Fox! Busch is the underdog in the Disney/Universal war and Fox is the underdog in the Pixar/DreamWorks battle. Busch has NO decent characters (except for the Sesame Streeters, which haven't spread to all the parks for some odd reason), so even the mildly popular Fox characters would be an improvement.

Having the Fox characters could also tie the properties together a little better. Not many people even know that the SeaWorld parks and the Busch Gardens parks are part of the same chain. Using someone like Scrat as commercial "spokes... thing" would improve matters. Buzz Lightyear definitely helped get people into the wretched California Adventure.

Okay, so there's a bit of a problem here. While prehistoric creatures would work in the animal parks, how would robots fit in? If I were behind this, I would just keep the Ice Agers at the SeaWorlds right now, and put the Robots at the Busch parks. In fact, current attractions could EASILY be changed to accommodate the new characters. Wild Arctic at SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld Orlando could easily be hosted by the Ice Age crew. And Fox, I'm sure, could be encouraged to create a new film for the simulator. Texas Splashdown, the themeless flume at SeaWorld San Antonio, could certainly get an Ice Age theme job. (That park sure needs something!)

Over at the Busch Gardens parks, fitting in the characters would be a little tougher. Williamsburg has a thorough Euro theme, and Tampa Bay has the African thing going on. Of course, both have the seriously lame Land of the Dragons kiddie areas, which could both get a Robots overlay without too much cost or hassle. At the very least, they could have Fox create a new film to replace the horrendous Haunted Lighthouse.

But then we get into difficulties. What does Fox have coming down the pike? Would those movies fit into these parks? There's where Fox could get even more help from the Busch theme parks. MOVIE IDEAS! Seriously, how about a Shamu movie? That name is certainly more recognizable than what Fox has given us via CGI. What about a manatee film? Keep it as far away from Nemo territory as possible, add in the conservation message, and this could be the new Free Willy. What about dolphins? Or Clyde and Seamore, the resident sea lions? Or the penguins? Pick ANY of the animals we haven't seen in films before and it could work!

Fox could also use land ideas for their films. BGW alone has France, Italy, Germany, England, Ireland and Scotland. BGTB has all of Africa. SWO has a Key West area that could be a fun "location." How about a Journey to Atlantis movie, which could then bring about a new theme to that hokey ride?

Fox needs more character awareness, plain and simple. Licensing their characters to Busch would mean more than 17 million people annually would come into contact with the Fox characters, which is probably twice the number of people who have seen Robots in theaters. This would increase sales of Fox products also, and would help Busch immensely with their characters deficiency. It's a win/win situation for both companies SO WHY HASN'T IT HAPPENED???

There's my two pennies... gimme yours!

Readers' Opinions

From Erik Yates on March 27, 2005 at 5:48 AM
Definately a good idea. And I think the main thing with the success of the other companies(Pixar, Dreamworks) is the animation. Fox just doesnt have it. Is it just me or did the tribesman in Ice Age look like big nosed mentally challenged huns? Robots doesnt even go that route, they choose to have their namesake charcters look like they were pieced together by Jimmy Neutron instead of giving them a technological sheen. At least Shrek has pretty realistic characters, and even Shark Tale, while I couldnt stand it had an okay looking environment made from what seemed like real life. Thats the path those chose to go, give everything a more humanized look to it. The path Pixar chooses to go is lifelike and realistic, which for the most part it does very well. And for them I think thats the key in creating memorable characters, of course you're right it doesnt hurt to have a multinational theme park chain to help burn the images of these characters in your head. And while yes, the Busch parks could stand a little more themeing, I'm just afraid this might turn around and bring the overall quality of the parks down. It may be just me, but I kind of get creeped out when I see Bugs bunny and the tasmanian devil walking around six flags, and while I love the ride, I dont see how you can think of Batman when you think of a coaster.......Disney and Universal do it right and bring you a whole experience, and yes they even do that with the Hulk coaster, giving you a feeling of him being out of control, which the coaster certainly exemplifies. And yes I know that those two are definately bigger dogs when it comes to their game and they have more of a means and reason to do those things, I think that the other parks could stand to take at least one page from the Disney-Universal book. Case in point, the Fox-Busch team up definately sounds like it might work in favor of some good publicity. After all Disney has been recycling ideas for years taking it from movie to ride to movie to parade. The new Curse of Darkastle(by the way has anyone been on that? we need a report!) sounds like it has great potential to tie into a movie, but really having the characters walk around the park? It almost seems to take something away from the park. I would rather see an interactive attraction in the way of Spider man or Dinosaur(not the best example) where you actually feel like you're part of the movie, versus walking up and giving a squishy unrealistic character a hug and taking a picture with it. But, wait, heres another idea. Animal kingdom is going to have that animatronic dinosaur walking around the park, why not have a real life robot? Okay, real life and robot doesnt really seem to go together, but you know what i mean. That might be something to get a picture of. Besides with my kids, I have never gotten my picture taken with a character (with the exception of Marvel characters at Universal, and Star wars characters at MGM, what can i say I'm a geek.) Something that actually looks like it came from the movie instead of a plushy ripoff might be more appealing. I'm not saying Busch parks should go this way, I'm just saying it might not be a bad idea. Who knows.
From Chuck Campbell on March 27, 2005 at 8:18 AM
Erik, DarkKastle is supposed to open in May. I know I'll be there.

Robots at BGW? No, I just don't see that working. It would look exactly like what it is--a desperate attempt to cash in by using rubberheads. I'm rather happy that BGW is a largely rubberhead-free zone, with the exception of Land of the Dragons. I have nothing against characters in parks--at Disney and Universal, they're an important part of the atmosphere, and I enjoy wathcing them work with the guests--but I don't see how this would benefit BGW.

BGW has had, at best, limited success with in-park characters. For example, there's this French coquette who sometimes pops up in Aquitaine, and some obnoxious tourist types who accost real tourists in England. But I, for one, have fond memories of the rat catcher. Yes, once upon a time, a guy in solied robes, who carried some dead rats on a stick, used to chase guests around and terrorize small children. Now there's a photo op for ya! They should bring this guy back for Howl-o-Scream. Maybe Fox should build a movie around him.

Hmm. Using Monty Python/Holy Grail characters at BGW--now that would be cool.

From Ben Mills on March 27, 2005 at 8:29 AM
Movie Park Germany (previously a Six Flags/Warner Bros park) is retheming its Looney Toons Adventure ride into 'Ice Age Adventure' this season. While this is unlikely to stop any other deals from being made - these thing usually operate on regional contracts - it does show that Fox are at least interested in a theme park presence.

In fact, surely it'd be pretty easy for a Busch park to copy these designs and build their own Ice Age log flume. Seems to make sense in every way.

From Erik Yates on March 27, 2005 at 9:16 AM
Hey chuck, how about a stage show featuring the "Knights who say NI " and a ride featuring the escape from the killer rabbits? But yeah, rubberheads just wont work, but how about like i suggested and do some interactive animatronics like that Dinosaur thing at Animal Kingdom? Or even better, lets go with a full motion Manny from Ice Age that you can touch, like the Triceratops Encounter at Universal?
From Chuck Campbell on March 27, 2005 at 2:51 PM
Hmm--how about a wild, Spidey-like simulator of the quest to find . . . ANOTHER SHRUBBERY! Riders would encounter the killer rabbit, the keeper of the Bridge of Death, and, of course, Roger the Shrubber.
From Justin Smith on March 27, 2005 at 5:02 PM
Kevin says:Mention Fox and people think of asskissing political blowhards, the Simpsons and questionable reality shows!

I say: Don't foget Star Wars!(sorry if I'm pushing it but I'm a huge Star Wars fan).

Anyways about the stradagy, I think the main reason anyone goes and sees an animated movie is because IT'S ANIMATED! People want to see clean fun with the war and all the troubles going on in the world. The reason Shrek 2 did so well was not because of the avertisments but because everyone loved the first Shrek. And Finding Nemo wasn't popular because of the theme parks, but because of Toy Story and Monster's Inc. were so good. So the point I'm trying to make out is I think Robots isn't doing great is because it's to soon. In other words if you look at those numbers again people didn't rush out to see A Bug's Life (even with Toy Story). Just give the Fox/Blue Sky some time. When they create more hits the more people will want to see the future movies. The theme parks and advertisments won't help!

From Erik Yates on March 27, 2005 at 5:50 PM
Not only that Justin, but what about the quality of the animation? I couldnt help that I was trapped in the scraps of what was rejected from Metropolis. You say that people went to see Shrek 2 because of the original? Why did they go to see the original? It wasnt because of Antz, i can assure you that. I think really that the creativity of the story as well as the animation had loads to do with it. No matter how recognizable a company may have been in the past, if the quality isnt there, or if it seems to be rushed together and hurried to get it out to the masses, people wont see it, and the word of mouth wont get around. The Incredibles were one such case, if the story were as bad and the plights of the characters as unoriginal as mostly everyone on this website claim it to have been, then no, it wouldnt have as succesful as it was, and Shrek 2 would have won the best animated oscar.
No, I think Robots is just suffering from a studio that hasnt quite got it right yet as far as animation goes. I really cant remember any traditional hand drawn animation that came from Fox(although I do suffer from CRS from time to time). And yes they have had ample success with chains like Xmen and Star wars, it really wasnt Fox animation doing the effects, it was juggernauts like ILM who started out small and inexperienced as well. We havent seen the best that fox animation has to offer yet, and I guarantee you that Robots was not it and Ice Age 2 will not be it. When it comes it will dominate like all the others and many will sing the praises of fox and smash the past triumphs of other companies like Dreamworks and Pixar(ahem...TH...pfft) For every Shrek we get we also get ANTZ, and every Indcredibles we get we also get a Shark Tale. Hits and misses all companies have them, some more than others. But, saying that having a few killer theme park rides boasting your past characters also helps, and besides its fun. And they can add a new medival resturaunt called Camelot, they can serve eggs and ham and spam a lot.(i like to push the pram-a-lot) And it will be a silly place. And the world needs more STAR WARS RIDES! An escape from Naboo Water Ride, or a yoda blast tower where he levitates you 300 feet straight in the air, and then loses his concentration sending you crashing back to the ground. Okay, its officiall....I have reached maximum nerdlocity.
From Josh Counsil on March 28, 2005 at 5:27 PM
I've always wanted to see Fox create their own theme park. Hell, they could dedicate an entire park just to The Simpsons. I don't know about in the States, but up here Futurama has had a huge comeback. King of the Hill, despite the lack of love for Bush, is also very popular. And Fox has some pretty good movies that could make great attractions (Independence Day, etc.).

Any agreements?

From Michael Patalano on March 28, 2005 at 5:43 PM
"the man hasn't opened a film in a decade! (Seriously! Mrs Doubtfire was in 1993! And also? BARF!)"
So I guess Jumanji, The Birdcage, Jack, Flubber, Goodwill Hunting, What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man (or the many other films he made since '93) never happened?
From Erik Yates on March 29, 2005 at 3:00 PM
yeah, but with the whole thing of Robin Williams at the oscars, do you really expect parents to get excited about taking their kids to see him? They know he's not going to be at his best, so why bother? They should have had him more in the background than up in front like that.
As for the fox theme park, they might be better off like WB did and tag onto an existing park. Its just not very"marketable" to do something like that on your own. But a simpsons VR 3d ride like Spiderman? That ranks right up there with the search for shrubbery! We got to get someone onit!
From Kevin Baxter on March 30, 2005 at 7:40 AM
Michael, do you even know what opening a film even means??? Clearly not. Besides, I wasn't being literal since I didn't want to do the research, so I just picked his biggest film. Which WAS 12 years ago.

Anyhow, back to opening a film. I'll give him pukey Patch Adams - SEVEN years ago - though half the planet despised that film. I'll also give him Flubber - EIGHT YEARS AGO - though I'm being generous since I think it was probably half him/half Disney.

I won't give him The Birdcage since he didn't open the film. The idea was what sold the film, with Nathan Lane second. He certainly wasn't the one who opened Good Will Hunting, which didn't even open all that well. Jack, Jumanji, Bicentennial Man and What Dreams May Come didn't open well either, so the majority of the movies you chose basically proved my point. Thanks. Oh, and the biggest Robin Williams opening weekend ever? Robots!

And let's NOT be dissing Antz, peeps! It wasn't nearly as pretty as A Bug's Life but the script was far FAR superior. Bug's was filled with sitcom jokes and one-dimensional characters. Antz had three-dimensional characters and one of the funniest lines EVER in a CGI movie: "Who the hell is that???" Pixar did the best fish movie, but DreamWorks did the best bug movie.

Also, Fox merely distributed the Star Wars films. They are totally owned by George Lucas, which is why the characters are in Disney parks... Lucas made the deal. Most of us would love to see a Simpsons presence in a park or twelve too, but I think Matt Groening might hold rights to the characters. The merchandise I buy always says THE SIMPSONS™ followed by ©Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. So maybe they need his permission, or they have rights to the shows but he has rights to the characters, or they have joint rights, I don't know. I'll have to read his contract.

From Robert Niles on March 30, 2005 at 11:58 AM
The problem with Antz wasn't that it was a bad film -- heck, I strongly prefer it to A Bug's Life -- but that it was not a kids' flick. I made the mistake of starting to watch Antz with my kids and had to distract them with something else so I could turn it off. The film's more of a Woody Allen starter kit, appropriate for young teens, but not for toddlers.

That said, I wouldn't rule Universal out of the picture. Remember, some within NBC Universal would be happy to divest the parks, and the Universal parks have over the years partnered with many other studios, including Viacom's Paramount and DreamWorks, to get characters for attractions. What's one more partner, with Fox? A broad array of partners could help make the Universal parks are more valuable asset within NBC Universal, or at least a more secure property outside it.

From Erik Yates on March 30, 2005 at 2:53 PM
But isnt putting Fox at Universal kind of like planting your prize winning watermelon in your neghbors yard? It might be good for your watermelon but what about the neighbors turnips? I still agree with a smaller company taking some of the characters that fox owns rights to, but maybe not taking the whole park down that road. And lets go back to Robin Williams, for the number of movies he's done he averages about 63 million per film in box office receipts, whether in your opinion he opened it or not. The mere fact that he's attached to it pushes it over the edge a little bit, and that was definately the case with movies like good will hunting and bicentenial man, and Jumanji. Yes people saw the effects or the stories and said maybe that might be good, but saw Williams name at the top and took a chance. The numbers dont lie, you cant deny the man has a screen presence, although not the best one to put in an animated movie behind the reincarnation of Obi-wan. Not to give too much to Robin but One hour photo Jakob the liar and Final Cut(which went straight to video) were crappy career choices, but give the man credit where its due. And I'm sorry, but Antz may have had the character development, but just like Shark Tale (where i didnt want to see a shark with Robert DiNero's mug) not a lot of people wanted to see Woody Allens dorky face on an ant, or hear him whine about how he feels left out of society for 90 minutes, if that was the case we all could see one of his regular movies on IFC. It was billed as Dreamworks answer to Toy Story, and i think the case is that they really rushed it, just like it felt like they did with Shark Tale. They heard disney was coming through the pipe with a bug movie and they wanted to beat it to the punch, after all if you see one Asteroid movie how many do you need to see? I think it just disappointed a lot of people. Not saying that Disney came first with bugs life or who had what idea first, mind you. I just think they had to rush a bit and try to show they had antz in their pantz first. Nemo, they did a reverse with, stopping production and doing rewrites even changing the title from Sharkslayer to Shark Tale, hoping to cash in on the cuddliness of disney. I dont know the ins and outs of how and why hollywood does things, i just pay attention to the things they do and think they should slow down a bit. What we have how many CGI films out this year? 3? one of them is bound to stink and lets hope that its Robots, although Madagascar doesnt look to promising. Lucas needs to lighten up the reigns and give someone else besides disney a chance to something awesome with one of his rides and Groening needs to hurry up with that Simpsons movie. AND LONG LIVE BEAVIS AND BUTT HEAD!! uh huh huh
From Robert Niles on March 30, 2005 at 3:39 PM
Well, Viacom owns several theme parks around the U.S. and Canada, but it licensed its Nickelodeon characters to Universal since Viacom's Paramount has no parks in the crucial Orlando and Southern California markets, where Universal dose have properties.

Since Fox has no theme parks to play with, it could partner with anyone anywhere and not undercut its (nonexistent) business in that sector. As for potential unwillingness by Universal to promote a rival Fox production... please. This is Hollywood. Anyone will deal with anyone if both sides think they'll make money on the deal.

From Kevin Baxter on March 30, 2005 at 6:16 PM
Oh, Universal would seriously snag the Fox characters if they could. They have Men in Black and Back to the Future which aren't doing much for them now. With Ice Age 2 coming out, those characters will certainly remain loved longer than the characters from those franchises have.

But is it in the best interests of Fox to have its CGI films in the same parks as the DreamWorks CGI films AND the hugely popular Nick characters? With Spielberg's fingers in the Universal pie, you know Fox-based attraction ideas would come after Universal ideas, DreamWorks ideas and possibly even Nickelodeon ideas (or equal). That wouldn't be good enough for me.

Erik, you are over-simplifying a very complicated business. Just because you think Robin Williams should get credit for something, doesn't mean Hollywood sees it that way. And before Robots he never opened a movie above $30M. In Hollywood, $20M isn't opening a film. Look at Robots which made $36M in its first weekend and is being considered a disappointment. ROBIN WILLIAMS CANNOT OPEN A MOVIE. Very few actors can. Clearly Will Smith can. Julia Roberts, usually. Tom Cruise. People in that range. Other "names" are important to promote interest, but they need help to open the film. Things like an interesting marketing campaign that actually lets you know the movie has a story and isn't just 90 minutes of thirty-year-old tired shtick!

From Justin Smith on April 4, 2005 at 3:16 PM
Just so everyone knows Ice Age and Robots aren't Fox but Blue Sky(a company like Pixar)!
From Kevin Baxter on May 13, 2005 at 5:03 PM
Sorry, but that is wrong. Blue Sky is wholly owned by Fox. Pixar wasn't owned by Disney, but had a strange distribution deal where Disney ponied up most of the money, Pixar did all the work, both split the profits, but Disney got to slap its name over the titles and got to keep the characters.

So basically, Blue Sky is like DreamWorks Animation. NOT like PDI/DreamWorks, producer of the Shrek films, which is only half-owned by DreamWorks. Confusing, no?