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March 28th, 2002

-Two weekends ago, the film Ice Age shattered the 3 day opening weekend box office records for March. Ice Age took in 47.9 million dollars, beating the previous March champ, Liar Liar, that brought in 31 million in 1997. Now there were a few mitigating circumstances, including a great ad campaign and the first full trailer for the new Star Wars film, but the fact remains that Ice Age shocked everyone with such a strong beginning...everyone except the Beefboy.

The last few years we've slowly seen the baton pass from Disney's old fashioned hand drawn animation style to the new digital style animation favored by Fox and Dreamworks. Are we seeing the end of hand drawn animation? Sit back, relax, enjoy, and let the Beefboy do, what the Beefboy does best...and that's break it right on down for you.

While Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire only gained an anemic $84 million in 2001 (it cost $90 million to produce), it's direct competitors, Shrek and Monsters Inc., managed to bring in box office at number 3 and 4, respectively, for the entire year (only surpassed by Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings). Shrek and Monsters Inc. represent the vanguard of digital cinematic animation, the type of animation that was pioneered by the boys at Pixar, who made Toy Story seven years ago. Ever since Toy Story's release in 1995, Disney has given us a string of hand drawn animated movies that have successively performed poorly. Fox abandoned hand drawn cel animation after its release of Titan A. E. in 2000, which shut down a whole production studio and threatened to end Fox's bid for the animation market, permanently.

Fox recovered by purchasing a small computer animation outfit called Blue Sky Studios, who had previously done effects for commercials and feature films (the cockroaches in Joe's Apartment). Blue Sky, who did Ice Age, is a good example of the big studios new strategy to create feature length animation; find a small digital animation group and utilize their smaller, "edgier", staff to produce this generation's animated movies. Disney is cozy with Pixar ,who produced Monsters Inc. and Dreamworks has contracted PDI, who gave us Shrek. In fact almost every major studio has found their own small digital animation company to produce new computer animated features, meanwhile Disney has cut it's 2, 200 member staff of cel animators in half and is looking to work with them on a part time basis. It looks like cel animation is becoming about as scarce as a decent male role model on the Lifetime network.

So, is there hope for those of you who share the Beefboy's love (and as you know, the Beefboy is all about love) of cel animation? Of course! There's always hope. In fact, in a lot of ways, the Beefboy's alternatives are far better than what has ever been offered by local animators, it's just that you're going to have to try harder to find these gems.

Japanese cel animation has been kicking the tar out of America's version for twenty years. If you have any doubts about that, go to your local video store and rent the film Akira and compare it to any hand drawn Disney film you've seen lately...

I'll wait…

Now tell the Beefboy he's right! Let's not forget about Princess Mononoke, which was among Roger Ebert's ten best for 1997 and Metropolis that is currently visiting an art theater near you.

There's also a bit of a cel animation revolution taking place at a little cable venture called Cartoon Network. If you're not keeping up with what's going on over there, you're missing some of the most innovative and entertaining animation ever! What began as a storehouse of old Hanna-Barbara 'toons has grown into a powerhouse of a creative endeavor. Not long ago they dipped their toes in the business of creating new content,which led to Johnny Bravo, Dexter's Laboratory and Space Ghost Coast-To-Coast. They followed that success with the Power Puff Girls, which has become the most popular cartoon on television and will be released as a major motion picture on July 3rd. Not content to rest on it's laurels, Cartoon Network recently premiered Samurai Jack, an episodic,action-adventure-fantasy-science-fiction-comedy animation series that has tone, pacing and design, so unique, that the Beefboy will forgo trying to describe it and just suggest you check it out yourself.

So, is Disney's hand drawn animation on the way out? Yes. But who really needed another musical with a soundtrack from an aging rock star and a whole slew of hackneyed literary and mythological characters anyway? What we have, in the way of edgier, next generation digital animation movies, is far better than what we were getting previously. Furthermore, that leaves cel animation to the innovators in Japan, and here, at the Cartoon Network, who treat the genre (and us) with the respect it deserves. See? There's hope after all.

Dig it!

-The Beefboy