Thursday, August 16, 2007

Do All Bland Movies Make Profits?

WordNet - Cite This Source

1. lacking taste or flavor or tang; "a bland diet"; "insipid hospital food"; "flavorless supermarket tomatoes"; "vapid beer"; "vapid tea"
2. lacking stimulating characteristics; uninteresting; "a bland little drama"; "a flat joke"
3. smoothly agreeable and courteous with a degree of sophistication; "he was too politic to quarrel with so important a personage"; "the manager pacified the customer with a smooth apology for the error" [syn: politic]

Here's a feature by the safest blandest studio in history:

Here's a "safe" cartoon movie starring an extremely bankable star:

Here are many more safe pictures.

Marc is probably not the only one to think that:
"Being bland is a strategy big studios use to guarantee audiences won't hate their product.
Thus guaranteeing a profit will be made."

Now in the last couple decades I seem to remember lots of bland cartoon movies that flopped. I quickly searched the web and found a few that made a lot less than they cost-and that's not counting the hundreds of millions spent on marketing.

I'm sure I left quite a few out, so help me out in the comments and link to some I forgot.

I copied the following articles from Wikipedia, so you could see that some films made money and some didn't -regardless of whether they are bland or not.


Fox Animation Studios was a short-lived traditional animation studio, a division of 20th Century Fox, headed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. The department was designed to compete with Walt Disney Feature Animation, which had phenomenal success in the early-1990s with the releases of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.

The studio's output was not as successful as the Disney films were. Only one of its two theatrical releases, Anastasia, turned a profit. The other theatrical Fox Animation Studios production, Titan A.E., made only USD$9,376,845 in its opening weekend—on an estimated budget of $75,000,000—and the studio was shut down as a result.


An American Tail (1986) and The Land Before Time (1988) did well in theaters and became animation classics. Each of these films launched a line of direct-to-video sequels, none of which Bluth had any involvement with. Although many of Bluth's fans loved his next film, All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), it flopped, as Disney's groundbreaking film The Little Mermaid was released the same year, but it still became a cult classic. By the end of the decade and through the 1990s, Bluth films such as Rock-A-Doodle, Thumbelina, A Troll in Central Park, and The Pebble and the Penguin had dropped significantly when it came to box office returns. Bluth scored another hit with Anastasia (1997), which grossed US$140 million worldwide in part because it used well-known Hollywood stars as its voice talent and stuck closer to long-proven Disney formulas: a sassy and resourceful princess driven to become more than she is, a cruel and conniving villain who uses dark magic, a handsome and endearing love interest, and a comic-relief sidekick.

Dreamworks is the big budget studio with the low-budget sensibility. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve creatively what Filmation spent 5 bucks on.

For years they spent and spent on 2d spectacular bland movies and no one seemed to notice. They finally hit by fluke with Shrek in CG, but has that made up for all the money they spent in their history of extravagant gambing with blandness?
1997 - 2003: The rise and fall of Warner Bros. Feature Animation

Warner Bros., as well as several other Hollywood studios, moved into feature animation following the success of Disney's The Lion King in 1994. Max Howard, a Disney alumnus, was brought in to head the new division, which was set up in two studios: one in Sherman Oaks near the television studio, and the other in nearby Glendale. [2] Warner Bros. Feature Animation proved an unsuccessful venture, as four of the five films it produced failed to earn money during their original theatrical releases. The first of Warners' animated features was Space Jam (1996), a live-action/animation mix which starred NBA basketball star Michael Jordan opposite Bugs Bunny (Jordan had previously appeared with the Looney Tunes in a number of Nike commercials). Directed by Joe Pytka (live-action) and Bruce W. Smith & Tony Cervone (animation), Space Jam proved to be a success at the box office. Animation production for Space Jam was primarily done at the new Sherman Oaks studio, although much of the work was outsourced to animation studios around the world.

Following Space Jam's success, Warner Bros. Feature Animation continued production on its next feature, Quest for Camelot (1998), which proved an unsuccessful release. The third Warner Bros. animated feature, Brad Bird's The Iron Giant (1999), was not a commercial success, although it received rave reviews and performed well with test audiences. The Iron Giant would eventually became a modern cult classic. The studio's next film, Osmosis JonesTom Sito and Piet Kroon completed the animation long before the live-action segments, directed by Bobby & Peter Farrelly and starring Bill Murray, were begun. The resulting film was not a box office success, although Warners did produce a relatedSaturday morning cartoon, Ozzy and Drix (2002-2003) for its WB broadcast network. (2001) was another animated/live action mix which suffered through a troubled production. Directors

Following the releases of The Iron Giant and Osmosis Jones the feature animation staff was scaled back, and the entire animation staff - feature and television - were moved to the larger Sherman Oaks facility. The final Warner Bros. Feature Animation production was another live-action/animation mix, Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), which was meant to be starting point for a reestablishment of the Looney Tunes brand, including a planned series of new Looney Tunes theatrical shorts.

After Back in Action, directed by Joe Dante (live action) and Eric Goldberg (animation), failed at the box office, production was shut down on the new Looney Tunes shorts and the feature animation unit was dissolved.

Two TV series based loosely upon the Looney Tunes property, Baby Looney Tunes2002-2004) and Loonatics Unleashed (2005-present) have assumed the place of the original shorts on television. (

Richard Rich
animation director

Filmography: Director


Personally, I think there are many factors that might affect the success or failure of a movie. Marketing, having a brand name luck...Blandness doesn't affect it at all. In an age of blandness when no one offers up any competition-like we have today, then some bland movies have to be successful- because Moms are always going to take kids to kid movies, whether they are good or bad.

They pick the brand name kid movies first. That used to be Disney, now it's Pixar. The rest of the Disney/Pixar wannabees make equally bland pictures and some do well, most don't.


I think this method of making movies is hugely risky and irresponsible. Most of the movies cost in the hundreds of millions to produce. That in itself is a crazy risky venture that no sane businessman would enter into.

NO, people don't make bland films on purpose: Bland people make bland films, period. It's the only kind they CAN make.

It would make a hell of a lot more business sense to spend less money-which would be easy, because most of the money in animated features goes to stuff that has nothing to do with entertainment:

Crowd scenes
Live Action Camera Moves
Too many lead characters
Ridiculously costly special effect like "realistic water". (I can turn on my tap for free and get realistic water, but who would that entertain?")
Live Action Star Salaries

What would be much less risky is to spend a third of what they spend now per picture, hire proven creative talent and let them entertain. That would be "safe". People will always want real entertainment made by actual talented entertainers. It is human nature. They only accept the bland because that is all they are given anymore.

The safest project I ever worked on is Ren and Stimpy. It cost around 6 million bucks and brought in a billion bucks or more. That happened in the last age of blandness and changed things slightly - for awhile.

All we did was make common sense entertainment for kids. We gave them what we knew that kids want. No market research, no focus testing, no marketing budget. We merely entertained. There was only one executive and she encouraged our natural entertaining abilities.

Then they took it over, spent way more money on it, killed it and it took them another 10 years and billions of dollars in non hits, piles of executives, market testing and more waste until they finally got another one. That was a very risky, illogical, crapshoot way to go.

Marc, in his Defense Of Blandness Post,

actually changed his argument halfway to a defense of Imitation, which is an altogether different subject. Maybe I will argue against that idea next.

Here's Jerry Beck's great resource if you want to see what animated movies have been made:


Colin said...

Was there any animated movie to come out recently that you thought was at least passable?

Colin said...

When you were doing Ren and Stimpy, how many people did you have in your crew, and how much was it costing?

PCUnfunny said...

I know this is OT but notice how all the posters are the same. The good guys are always front and centered in the middle and the bad guys are always in the back either to the left or right.

KickerOfElvis said...

I'm generally on your side, Mr. K., but a few things:
Regarding this post - I think you need to make a clearer distinction between commercial success and artistic success. Bakshi is not bland, but also not successful as far as money goes. You lump in the Iron Giant with bland (maybe so) - yet I don't think I'm alone in thinking it's the best animated feature film ever. (My opinion!) So maybe in the noble cause of fighting blandness, talking about money is a dead end?
Then a more general question:
Do you think animation HAS to be funny? Can't it also be dramatic or expressive of some other emotions?
You also seem to focus a lot on animation's appeal to kids. Does it HAVE to appeal to kids? I don't believe that. I think you can be serious/dramatic without being bland...

jokneeappleseed said...

here's another you might want to add:

produced by Walt Disney Pictures.

The film had a budget of about $110 million, but only grossed $76,482,461 worldwide, making it a box office disappointment...Even though Disney claimed that this was their last film to use traditional animation, it has been argued that the board of Disney felt that 2D animation was no longer interesting, and that they made Home On The Range bad enough to "prove" it.

CGsucks said...

I can only think of a few movies you missed. Everyones Hero,Happily Never after, and Open season.
Btw, what was that movie with that hideous family of five?
Man, that poster of that pebble penguin movie made me realize that the penguin craze has been going on long before MOTP. There is no measure to how much I hate those goddamn penguins! I've hated penguins ever since I had to dress like one for a secound grade concert. Then hollywood pulls out all these retarted penguin propaganda movies! I can't stand them! I managed to get permanently banned from the zoo for beating on the penguins in front of a group of first graders.

CGsucks said...

Sorry for the secound post, but I just noticed something. THe skunk on the Over the Hedge poster has a tude! TUDE! TUDE! TUUUDDEEE!

And seriously, whats with that ugly family of five?! I assume by what the grandmas doing with her fingers, shes a "cool granny" Why do todays cartoons portray grandparents as "cool" or "extreme"? Why dont they ever portray grannys as they really are? Take my grandmas for example. Ones an obnoxious, condensending, busybody who always reeks of cheap wine. Last time she visited, she spent days doing our laundry and rearranging our fridge! THe other's an evil, judgmental, bitch. She's also a total hypocrite. She's a catholic who stopped going to church for thirty years, and has only recently started going again. But of course she's openly hostile to the fact my mother became a protestant! Of course, as you can imagine, I hate their guts.

JohnK said...

>>Do you think animation HAS to be funny? Can't it also be dramatic or expressive of some other emotions?<<

The question needs to be inverted.

Does animation have to be serious and dramatic and sad so much?

Can't it be funny again sometimes?

Kali Fontecchio said...

"The question needs to be inverted.

Does animation have to be serious and dramatic and sad so much?

Can't it be funny again sometimes?"

Yes! It HAS to be funny again, or I'll cry.

he said said...

Don Hertzfeldt's movies used to be great. They were some of the most basic and probably cheapest animation ever with no backgrounds and almost no colors, but he evolved into making grandiose statements about life and some stuff that I don't care about and now they suck. It was better when he was just killing stick figures in mean ways and could make more than 1 film every 4 years.

Serious is fine if you aren't trying to entertain anybody.

Pete Emslie said...

I wonder if "Matt Damon's Animated Tush" will be putting in an appearance on PBS's "Arthur"...

pinkboi said...

Doesn't the teeth on the villain on the top just anger you so? One of the surest signs of blandness is when animators try to force generic forms onto peculiar shapes (a man-grin on a bird!)

Looney Moon Cartoons said...

Animation does not 'have' to be funny. However animation has great potential for setting up your expectations for something to happen and then doing something completely different. Creating expectations only to defy them is one of the truest forms of humor. Don't think any other medium has more potential to be funny.

JohnK said...

>>Animation does not 'have' to be funny. <<

It doesn't seem to want to be anything these days. It tries to be everything at once and ends up with no commitment to anything at all.

lastangelman said...

there's animation, then there's its bastard subset cartoons, which never ever gets respect from those in charge. Cartoons are funny, wacky, anarchic and entertaining. Animation encompasses whole fields, subsets, genres. Most animation today mistakes gee whiz special effects, gross jokes, talky talky talky exposition, PC ideals and maudlin emotions for entertainment.
Has everyone forgot how to make funny cartoons (not John K and his crew)?
If Warner Brothers wants to make profit doing theatrical shorts again, ones the theater chains will beg to have, they'd hire John K and his gang to make the first REAL Daffy Duck movie since Chuck Jones sucked the looniness outta' him and made him a mean spirited sourpuss. Tweety would actually entertaining to watch. Bugs would drop the Groucho act and become a screwy trickster,once again.
Alas, the dumb execs would shake their heads and say nobody watches animation, they want 'splosions and action and stuff. Grrrr!

JohnK said...

I wouldn't even attempt to try to make new Looney Tunes. They couldn't be lived up to.

We need to do new things.

Chloe Cumming said...

I was going to mention after the last blandness post... it seems like the movies that are JUST cynical clones of a perceived successful formula (shark tale etc) don't ever SEEM to do very well in comparison to how much they cost to make. So even among the blandy blandoes and their allegedly suggestible punters, first well intentioned pixar fish film is more of a must see than third watered down triple soulless Will Smith shite shite fish film.

So there's profit in having a fresh gimmick, at the very least. I think. But I'm out of my depth with all this money talk.

And yes, there doesn't seem to be anything low risk about spending a hundred million dollars making your shite cynical fish movie.

Emmett said...

Warner Bros. animation appears to be trying to live up to its reputation from over 60 years ago. NO GOOD! Won't work this way! If they really want to live up to their reputation, take some risks and allow some craziness and imagination!

Mr. K, I am on your side for the most part. Unfortunately, I grew up enjoying drama and sadness in animation. That doesn't mean I like to be depressed; in fact, humor should never, EVER, be neglected in animated pieces (unless its the artist's preference).

Animation can portray anything. But these studios are desperatally trying to gain profitable reputations. And they are doing so with some of the movies you have posted here (Warners and Bluth in particular).

These movies need some risk! More artistic freedom! And, oh yeah....LESS EMPHASIS ON THE FAMOUS ACTORS! The characters just need a suitable voice, not an actor to distract the audience from the movie. BRING REAL VOICE ACTORS INTO ANIMATED FEATURES!

JohnK said...

>>Animation can portray anything. <<

That's a good theory, but it's rarely been proven in practice. In every other aspect but cartoony humor, animation falls flat compared to other mediums, so why have we abandoned what it's naturally good at?

Chris said...

Iron Giant? Really? It was neither very profitable or (in my humble, less than amateur opinion) bland. It evoked a fantastic, late fifties setting. It had those muted colors that you so often cream over. Yes it was of people, no they were not extremely stylized or caricatured, but I wouldn't say they were boring to look at ether like, say, the kids from "We're Back." I just don't see how it fits into this post at all.

Operation GutterBall said...

The first episode of Galaxy High School rocks!It's got 20 different styles going on at once!!

Marc Deckter said...

"Marc, in his Defence Of Blandness Post,
actually changed his argument halfway to a defense of Imitation, which is an altogether different subject."

Imitation falls under the subject of blandness.

Imitations don't present unique views, and they don't present unique or specific ideas.

Blandness has been defined on this blog as the absence of a unique point of view - the absence of originality.

Clinton said...

Hi John,

"Bluth scored another hit with Anastasia (1997), which grossed US$140 million worldwide in part because it used well-known Hollywood stars as its voice talent..."

A lot of modern animation feature films rely on popular celebrities to sell tickets. Instead of a movie starring a wacky critter, it's "Popular Celebrity" starring as a wacky critter. You forget about the wacky critter almost completely as a character.

You posted a blog about executives and how they always stick to a formula afraid to try something new. How can an animator push the envelope when all execs want to do is copy from each other?

JohnK said...

Imitation falls under the subject of blandness. <<

only when you redefine it.

Matt said...

"In every other aspect but cartoony humor, animation falls flat compared to other mediums, so why have we abandoned what it's naturally good at?"

No no... That's what YOU are naturally good at. That's what you grew up on, studied and admired all your life, and it's what you do for a living - it's your livelihood. That specific aspect of animation, which is fine. It's just how your brain is wired and I totally see where you're coming from.

However, animation is only as good as the person/people creating it and to say that it should only be pigeon-holed into one genre is just as irresponsible and detrimental as all these execs who water down creativity by spending millions on market research, just so they have a "safe" way to make alot of money with the medium.

Don't contradict yourself. Entertainment is entertainment, regardless of whether it's funny, dramatic, live-action, cartoon, CG, or hand-drawn. Like you said before, all animation really needs is imagination.

:: smo :: said...

"NO, people don't make bland films on purpose: Bland people make bland films, period. It's the only kind they CAN make."

I was thinking this as i was reading down the page. i know a lot of people that think some of those movies you mentioned are great. I know people who will draw an incredibly bland character and think it's super cartoony.

it's not until something REALLY cartoony comes along that people remember what they're missing!

also in the Bluth section i noticed you didn't mention The Secret of Nimh. How did that do? That seemed like a film where Bluth took a chance and did something he wanted to. Not so cartoony, but definitely darker.


Hey John, reading the post of "Modern Comedy timing VS Classic Comedy Timing" and this one got me thinking, how would you classify "The Triplettes of Belleville"?


Drifta39 said...

I don't really think Bland always equals profit... it's just a matter of NO ONE putting out anything that isn't bland. The last major animation big picture that was put out that wasn't bland in my opinion, Toy Story and Toy Story 2, was hugely successful. So dammit, Mr Kricfalusi make something for the world to enjoy! There's been a severe shortage of your work on TV (especially here in England, they don't even show RS and I don't think they ever showed Ripping Friends).

Lex said...

I was waiting for this post :-)

I don't think cartoons need to be funny, but I do think that they need to evoke an emotional response of some sort. It's harder to replicate the millions of tiny facial movements needed to convey sadness in a cartoon than it is to make a dog do a funny dance with a roast duck.

JohnK said...

>>No no... That's what YOU are naturally good at. <<

well nobody is very good at the other stuff.

Most cartoonists are naturally funny, but are not allowed to do what they do naturally.

Zam3d said...

I think that the "sistem" is already too corrupted.

The real future is the Web, Animators and Comic Artists will sell directly theirs works at the audience with liberty.

It´s just a matter of time.

PCUnfunny said...

I think the only animated film ever to succeed in drama was HEAVY TRAFFIC.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

A terrific post! Before reading it I reluctantly conceded that blandness might be a safer bet at the box office, but now I think you're right. It's actually pretty risky.

pinkboi said...

A good many of these "safe" pictures did ultimately make profits after video release and Ferngully even did well enough on video to warrant direct-to-video sequels. Though just a few failures wouldn't necessarily refute the bland-is-safe argument. For one, it could be that this really is indeed the motivation of these movie makers, even if their reasoning does happen to be mistaken (whether or not it is).

Given the market for comedies, it is somewhat strange that animated features aren't mostly comedies but instead "family" movies. Say what you want about the Simpsons, but the Simpsons Movie should at least show people that there's a market for full-feature funny cartoons.

But you know what? Screw full-feature. Make internet cartoons instead. Or try to revive theatrical shorts, which had the right balance of length of time between production to ensure quality.

The Jerk said...

you know, leonardo davinci once said that the student who does not surpass his master is mediocre. i think perhaps what has happened is that sucessive generations of artists merely tried to imitate the preceding ones, rather than trying to improve on and expand upon the work of their predecessors.

JohnK said...

>>A good many of these "safe" pictures did ultimately make profits after video release and Ferngully even did well enough on video to warrant direct-to-video sequels.<<

If bland is safe, then entertaining would be even safer - as I've already personally proved.

Unkle Wash said...

Bland? Look around. The world is full of bland people, that like bland hollywood blockbuster movies with the same bland plots. Eat at the same bland chain resturants. Shop at the same bland walmarts. Maybe bland is being made by bland people...FOR bland people. Please tell me I'm wrong.

JohnK said...

...and what happened to all the studios that made these profitable safe box office failures?

Nelson C. Woodstock said...

Blandness aside, Warner Bros. Feature Animation has proved over and over that they're clueless when it comes to marketing animated films. One example is The Powerpuff Girls Movie, which cost $11 million to make. Warner spent about $8 million on marketing it, and even then it was only open during matinée hours. It made back just over $11 million. The ads for the movie weren't too appealing. It was like Warner was only trying to market the movie to little girls and they thought no one else would be interested.

Anonymous said...

A little bit off topic, but to jokneeapleseed, who said that 'it has been argued that the board of Disney felt that 2D animation was no longer interesting, and that they made Home On The Range bad enough to "prove" it.'... That sounds unlikely and certainly unprovable. It's been argued - by whom? By you? Don't spread unproveable rumours on the internet, or anywhere, really.

Hmm... sounds like the perfect, mom-friendly theme for a bland animated movie. Let's spend a few million focus-grouping it, change the main characters from internet posters into, like, raccoons and, um, polar bears, give them tude, then get a North Korean animation studio to make it! We'll make thousands of $$$!

Rainer said...

I myself can attest to bland animation not working financially every time I sit down to draw at school. I go to San Francisco State University (SFSU) and the animation desks we have there are the ones from fox animation studios. The very ones those poor guys used to draw Damon’s animated ass. Don’t worry, they are being used for real cartoons now.

I also agree that 1990’s fox animation studio was a Disney imitator. However, to their eternal credit, in 1977 Fox come out with, not one but two, great full-length cartoons. One was Wizards by Ralph Bakshi and the other was Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure by Richard Williams. Both were surreal, cartoony, and audience pleasing (judging by the responses I’ve seen from people). Nether is perfect, but at least they were from the unmolested hand of the animator. Which they were allowed to do because both were made for low budgets, which as stated before in this blog, is not a barrier to creativity. Moreover, because of said sensibility both made money, in the seventies, when animation was treated like a joke. I think that really attests to John’s idea that entertainment--at a reasonable cost-- works best.

Unkle Wash said...

The studios (or the people that formed the studios) moved on to make more bland movies and tv shows. And HEY! didn't Don Bluth and Richard Williams move on to teach weekend animation "Master" classes to people willing to fork over the big bucks?

You know who's NOT bland? Little kids until they learn to behave.

Can Dela said...

Hmmmmm... Well I know my comment isn´t about this topic, but as i don´t know if you check the old posts comments, here I am... I´ve finished Bosko Dancing!Ain´t there 20 yet? I'm waiting for rubber hose walks...

Can Dela said...

OK... lol i forgot the link of bosko dancing:


pinkboi said...

>> If bland is safe, then entertaining would be even safer - as I've already personally proved. <<

I agree. I'm not defending the notion that bland is safe, but the notion that people in the industry [mistakenly] think so.

The problem is the even more mistaken notion that committee decision making, driven by (rather than enhanced by as it should be) focus groups is safer than those made by an intuitive entrepreneur.

Mr. Semaj said...

I don't disagree about there being bland films, because there are a bunch of them I don't make an effort to see.

It's that this post alone suggests that EVERY animated film, even those that AREN'T copying Disney released since the 1980's is nothing BUT bland. DreamWorks is definitely CRAP, not in the bland sense, but nevertheless why I've avoided their films for years.

What would be much less risky is to spend a third of what they spend now per picture, hire proven creative talent and let them entertain. That would be "safe".

I think that's what they did with The Simpsons and SpongeBob movies. Unless TV spin-off films are discounted from the arguement.

John, I'd take into consideration what Matt said. There's been a lot of good cartoons out there since the 1990's, in both movies and on television, that have been cartoony, but you write them off as bland too.


How is SpongeBob a "conservative version of Ren & Stimpy"?

How before recent times has The Simpsons been an example of "bland" acting?

What about Rocko's Modern Life or Duckman?

Is every cartoon in production today except yours "bland"?

By your definition, what animated films have been made besides Ralph Bakshi's that are NOT bland? :-/

Matthew Hunter said...

I despise the Don Bluth films. The second "American Tail" was the only one I ever liked as a kid, and I have hated everything Bluth did before or since. It's like the guy wanted to copy Disney but make everything dark, depressing and slow. Curse you, Don Bluth!

JohnK said...

Mr. Semaj

you are not reading these posts very carefully.

stiff said...

A few posts ago, I tried to say what Chloe just said, and I was kinda shut down because I "spake" more broadly than I intended, but for the record, I concur with the lovely lady from across the pond.

Ben Forbes said...

I cant believe you haven't posted anything about the dreadful Land Before Time franchise. It's ugly, boring and safe. It's not funny. They have made 11 ugly films.

I think the executives need to see something not bland and boring make a lot of money.

Johnny Mastronardi said...

I agree with you mostly; however I would have to make an exception for Chicken Run. True, it's not in the classic American cartoon style, but it looks amazing, the music is wonderful, and the script perfectly executes the sophistication of British humor while poking fun at World War 2 movies. Maybe it shouldn't be classified as a true cartoon, but it's a great movie nonetheless.
I would have to agree with you on The Iron Giant, though. Visually, it's amazing, and the retro fifties look is wonderful, but the characters and the plot are pretty bland and predictable. Just once, I'd like to see a bad boy character who doesn't learn his lesson. Gosh, even Pirates of the Caribbean did that with Jack Sparrow, the quintessential bad boy.

JohnK said...

>>I cant believe you haven't posted anything about the dreadful Land Before Time franchise. <<

Hi Ben,

I believe those made money and this post was about the ones that didn't make much money.

And even when execs see non-bland stuff make lots money, they hire bland people and make them copy the non-bland cartoon, so the copy ends up being blander than the original and doesn't make as much money.

They never think to just hire the people who made the success in the first place and support them while they try to make more hits.

I like your sketches by the way.

JohnK said...

I didn't say the Aardman stuff was bland. That's just included in the list of Dreamworks films that I copied from Wikipedia.

Johnny Mastronardi said...

Oh, my bad. They're probably the only really entertaining animated films DreamWorks has released.

Chris said...

Hey John,

This is my first post but I've been reading your blog for over a year now. It's been perhaps the best resource I've ever come across on animation, cartoons, and just about all the basics on creating effective visual design. I always knew most modern cartoons were a farce compared to the classics, but until your blog I could never fully articulate the difference and reason why. So thank you for all of your education.

There are a few things I think people are missing when they misinterpret your strong advocation for comedic animation. Like you've said before, and I agree with, there should be MANY different schools of animation. But right now and the last couple decades there has only really been the CalArts and the bland school of animation (the two often coincide), more so in feature animation. Aside from you and your accolites no one is advocating, let alone making, any funny cartoons. There might be funny written animation (like South Park and the Simpsons), but no one is doing funnily drawn or animated cartoons anymore.

Your point about using animation for what it does best is right on. If I'm not mistaken, the very first animation in history was Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, which naturally was a comedy. The spontaneity, impossibility, and absurdness that animation allows naturally lends itself to humor and wonderment, which is what all of the early cartoons focused on. Why? not because the cartoonists were stupid and didn't know anything about drama or film making, but because when working in a new medium they naturally gravitated toward what comes naturally with that medium. Doing anything more with the medium is costly, difficult, and, as John points out, almost always pales in comparison to work done in other mediums. It's like building a house out of straw instead of bricks. The feat of actually building the straw house is impressive to the straw-masons, but the end result is crap compared to an average brick house; probably couldn't even stand up to a breeze, let alone the big bad wolf of entertainment.

One reason why people advocate for the bland is that the last few generations, myself included, have grown up with nothing BUT the bland and the mundane in animation. I was one of the lucky ones, having been born with a natural instinct for funny. But without that, it'd be easy to get swayed into thinking bland is actually entertaining. Just look at the rise of reality shows which makes the statement that reality (which itself is often boring and mundane) is entertainment. I think this phenomenon of mediocrity being mistaken for entertainment is making it's way up the executive ladder. I think a lot of these executives, being former dentists and lawyers and not having grown up in the entertainment trenchers, truly mistake their steaming piles for actual entertainment. And if someone has been weened on bland their entire life and all of a sudden you give them the richest, roundest, goldenest teat of animation they've ever seen in their entire life, most would be too shocked and afraid to suckle from this breast of true entertainment; opting to cry for old, bland, shriveled up mommy instead. It's this fear of change that I think is more responsible for keeping the industry down and not the think that bland = profits, since to most execs bland = entertainment. I know you've ranted about this before, but why IS IT so hard for truly entertaining people to become entertainment executives?

Marius de Moraes said...

Hi John K.

As a 'non american' (I'm Spanish) I am able to watch a lot of things which aren't cartoon or cartoonie. Most of them are crap, and yes, I have to suffer a lot of blandness when they trie to make big pictures with big budgets. But sometimes you can see some interesting 'small' things in festivals, commercials and even feature films like 'Belleville' or Ghibli movies.

So my question is: Do you think blandness affects only cartoons, or is it everywhere?

About american films, I have to say that Pixar's Ratatouille seemed to me an excelent movie. I don't know if it was bland cartoon but I was criying by the end of the movie. To me it was just 'cinema'. Am I a bland person?

Thanks for all John K, we love all kind of crap anyway...

Mike said...

Hi John, Love your point of view and I've learned a lot. Regarding the whole 'funny' thing:

What do you think of the Miyazaki features? They really aren't funny other than a few gags interspersed, but I think it would a real stretch to deride the artistry that went into them. Maybe it is incorrect to call them cartoons, rather they are more film-like? He always manages to create a unique fantasy world and crafts very personal stories from his own perspective, and I absolutely love them.

Gabriel said...

what's with that Pagemaster trailer? Who in their right minds would put Mariah Carey style music to go on with fire breathing dragons??
Oh, I just remember my dad took me to see Rock-a-doodle. My memory must have repressed it, i feel like an altar boy who blocks out the reminiscences of being abused by a catholic priest.

Chris_Garrison said...

I think if you can turn this post into something more mathematical, you could really start to convince the execs that they should foster the creativity, instead of "playing it safe." It just needs to come off more scientific, so it won't just seem like your personal opinion, with nothing to back it up.

How about this?:

First, make a list of animated features. Limit it to only those released theatrically, in the U.S., in the last 20 years or something. It needs to be limited like that, to keep this from being a giant, daunting task.

Next, divide the list into two camps: 1 - The bland, unoriginal, derivitave, or totally played out movies. 2 - The awesome, creator driven, groundbreaking features. Now, you have to play it safe with what you put on each list. For it to go on the bland list, it has to be something that most people would agree is bland. Otherwise, this wouldbe scientific survey will be too tainted by personal opinion, and the execs won't pay any attention to it.

Then add up the numbers for each list. Come up with a number for how the blands did, on average, financially, and another number for how the good pictures did, on average, financially.

Now, hopefully, the numbers will show that "playing it safe," creative-wise, doesn't guarantee your movie will make money. If the results are good like that, turn it into an article or a paper, or an especially snazzy blog post, whatever . . . and spread it around Hollywood.

JohnK said...

>>Next, divide the list into two camps: 1 - The bland, unoriginal, derivitave, or totally played out movies. 2 - The awesome, creator driven, groundbreaking features.<<

There are no awesome groundbreaking features. They are all bland.

Groundbreaking is not what we need anyway. We need old fashioned all-American sincere entertainment made by entertaining cartoonists.

Ben Forbes said...

>>Groundbreaking is not what we need anyway. We need old fashioned all-American sincere entertainment made by entertaining cartoonists.<<

You need to do a Direct to DVD or something. Show how cartoons are supposed to be done! There aren't enough funny cartoons. Most of the stuff today is visually boring and depressing. Start up a new studio and fix the problem!

Robert said...

Wait, hold it right there... "Iron Giant" neither safe nor bland. I suppose it was similar to all other animated features in that it was projected at 24fps, and yes, its characters were all bipeds, but after that the significant similarities begin to diminish...

Rodrigo said...

So when can we expect the feature length Ren & Stimpy movie?

Lex said...

I find it funny how a lot of the commenters are saying "All of the movies you referenced are bland EXCEPT this specific one that occupies a special place in my heart from when I was a child."

How dare you, John K. How dare you trample on the childhood memories of an entire generation :-P

Face it guys, your childhood memories are ones of blandness.

JohnK said...

Yeah, I'm not sure I understand.

When you line them all up, they all look pretty much the same.

Chris Rank said...

JohnK said...
>>Next, divide the list into two camps: 1 - The bland, unoriginal, derivitave, or totally played out movies. 2 - The awesome, creator driven, groundbreaking features.<<

There are no awesome groundbreaking features. They are all bland.

Groundbreaking is not what we need anyway. We need old fashioned all-American sincere entertainment made by entertaining cartoonists."

I think your arguments (John K.) are full of contradictions BUT what I think you are really trying to do is make us all think. Check.

We need to be educated animation viewers. Check.

We need to be educated animators.

We need to bring the fun back in funny. Check.

We need to animate for the sake of animating because it's animation and you can do anything with it because it's completely made up and kooky. Check.

But, and I've asked this and a couple of educated readers/ posters have asked this, what about TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE????

It's sincere.
It's a feature.
It's funny.
It's animated weirdness.
It's animation (almost for animation's sake) but not but yes.
It's CGI animation.
It's traditional animation.
It was a labor of love and you can totally tell it.
It's about story.

You've not acknowledged it and i've seen it posted at least three times (more) . It hits all the points you frequently make against features and frankly it's not BLAND.

At all.

Thanks again.

JohnK said...

It looks really depressing to me, at least designwise. Not very exciting or fun, but I'll take your word for it not being bland.

But it didn't make any money, so it doesn't support our cause.

Chris Rank said...

PS ALL the Pixar movies have made profits and they are all "Bland" according to your definitons.

I think it's ironic that Pixar has produced 7 blockbusters and Zero misses. ( it is 7 right?) Not ONE miss.

Chris Rank said...

Wait. What's our Cause?
Sorry for the multiple posts BTW.

Triplets of Belleville wasn't depressing. It was wonderful and fun and quirky. Have you not seen it? it's great.

JohnK said...

Yes they are

all this has already been covered

you must have come in late on the posts.

Read Marc Deckter's defense of bland and then my rebuttal

I'm not sure what you are arguing about

some bland movies are hits, some aren't

bland doesn't guarantee success, that's all

b. Touch said...

LOL. I wrote two of those Wikipedia articles (Fox Animation and Warner Bros. animation). And yes, bland definitely does not always sell.

Chris Pagel said...

This might be late...but...should we replace the word "Bland" with "non-profitable"?
After reading this, it makes me seem you are in favor of anything that would make a profit...disregarding any amount of craft in the animation.
I may be wrong...i hope I'm wrong.
There are plenty of 'safe' movies and 'bland' movies and whatever other terms you want to apply, that doesn't put them into a category of 'animation failure' by default.
doesn't make them all non-profitable either.
please correct me if i am wrong.
Thanks for the compelling post.

E said...

iron giant was amazing.

Jim Rockford said...

Great post!I think you've argued your point quite well,and I have to agree.
A lot of the ultra expensive "safe" boring cartoons often fail at the box office,so that "formula" doesnt always produce a sucess,and it is a greater financial risk.

Hiring creative,talented people and letting them do what they do best...ENTERTAIN,is the safer investment.

Bland only makes money because thats all there is,and there are a lot of morons who will still go out to kill a few hours.
If people are only offered dog food they will eat dog food,that doesnt mean that is what they like or prefer.its just all there is.

I dont understand how if Nick invested 6 Million in your show,and got a return of over a billion dollars!,they would be such fools as to shoot themselves in the foot financially with subsequent investments.
Wouldnt they have learned something from Ren & Stimpys sucess?

you've proven it,You're the safer risk!so why is it seemingly so hard for the exec's to understand that people want funny shows from talented inventive people?
I am so sick of all the depressing dull crap handed us.
It be great to see some real cartoons again! something funny and wild!
Hopefully,one day soon you'll be afforded the opportunity Spongebob's creator has been handed and we'll get to see a George Liquor show!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for making this post, John. I only came across it right now, but I have to say this:

You have a pic of "The Wild" as a bland movie, when it is really a crap movie. I mean, seriously, what the hell was Disney thinking? Were they watching Madagascar while geeked on speed? What the hell?

It seems after all of that promotional advertisement, it still isn't much of a memorable movie. I mean, who the hell's idea was it to put Jack Bauer, Captain Kirk AND Patrick Warburton in the same goddamn movie? It's friggin' pathetic!

Anyways, I can only hope that you can put something out that can put all these Disney and Warner Bros. executive clones to shame. Make something that'll knock the s#!t out of people! I'd pay to see anything by the great John K. Not some cheap, money wasting Disney executive.


Chickens_are_crazy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pokey said...

To add a new (Dec.2014) comment, I'd say Space Jam and some of dem others were the opposite of bland..too much of what John K. HIMSELF called tude....and that is too much..

Of course one of my Hanna-Barbera favorites, The Flintstones by Season 5-6 (1964-66) eventually got watered down even before the Gazoo, though I do enjoy Dr.Sinsiter (S5E8), and the final season open "No Biz like Show Biz", or the "let the sunshine in" singing baby episode..

December 7,2014 (starting from here on in all of my posts will have the actual date for those interested :D)