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2016: A Turning Point for Feature Animation?

This year has been an unpredictable year for Hollywood. The slate of blockbuster movies has been full of safe bets, with a line-up of sequels, reboots and adaptations that were thought sure to turn a tidy profit. These 'sure things' have turned out to be not such things, however, as virtually everything (a couple of hits aside) seems to have underperformed. Except, that is, for animation. Animated features have provided some of the few genuine hits over what has otherwise been a bit of a bleak summer at the box-office. So will this finally see animation begin to be taken more seriously?

Earlier in the year, Zootopia's amazing $1 billion haul broke a ton of records- and it is still the second biggest film of the year globally (behind only Captain America Civil War) and the sixth biggest in the US. In any other year, that would easily be enough to be the biggest animated movie of the year. In 2016 however, both Finding Dory and Secret Life Of Pets have taken more domestically (although to date they have taken less internationally). Finding Dory is currently also the year's biggest film at the North American box-office. Further down the chart, Kung Fu Panda 3 makes an impact and Angry Birds and Sausage Party both exceeded expectations.

Going into this year some commentators questioned the number of "talking animal movies" coming out. And what would you know? At least three of those movies (which are all quite different in tone) have outgrossed Batman V Superman, and the newest X-Men and Star Trek movies. The idea that there could be "too many" animated movies has been one that has been banded about in some quarters for some time now. It's a massively wrong-headed approach that speaks to the misconception of animation as being a single genre that can be lumped together as one thing. This year particularly shows that even within the sphere of "talking animal movies" there's a wide range of approaches.

Some have looked for an answer for why these movies have soared while others have failed. There's even the theory that it's a reaction to the horrific news that has characterised most of this year, with people opting for ultimate escapism. Maybe there's a bit of that.. but maybe audiences just really like animation?

Pixar and Disney have inbuilt brand awareness- but I don't think that even that guarantees success. The Good Dinosaur was evidence that merely being a Pixar film won't help against audience apathy. I don't think Illumination are quite a household name just yet (even if the Minions most certainly are), so Pets success may be more down to its appealing concept and shrewd marketing. It will be interesting to see how Sing performs for them later this year.

Then we get on to Sausage Party, which whatever you may think of it, has proved that adult animation can find a wide audience too.

Of course, it's not been all smooth sailing for animation at the box office this year. Norm of The North and Ratchett and Clank sunk without a trace, and Kubo And The Two Strings has (heart-breakingly) failed to find an audience.  Still, overall it has been an unprecedented year for animation this year.. and we could potentially see an ever bigger hit still to come, with Moana waiting in the wings.

I know box-office isn't everything and there's no correlation between the money a film earns and quality. But it is the language Hollywood speaks and the audience 2016 is sending it a message loud and clear. Will it listen? Who can say, but hopefully it will lead to more investment in animation at the very least.  These are exciting times to be an animation fan!

[Box Office info via Box Office Mojo]