A lifelong animation fan, director Steven Spielberg created his own studio in the late Eighties, under the name of Amblimation (based on his company Amblin Entertainment, and distributed by Universal Pictures). The studio produced three feature films, including An American Tale: Fievel Goes West (1991), We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story (1993), Balto (1995). These films may not be classics per se, but they do stand as underappreciated features from a distinct studio. (It's interesting that these films--save for one--primarily consist of animal characters.) Amblimation, unfortunately, closing down in mid Nineties due to poor box office reception (not to mention competition from rival animation studios), while many of the employees went on to work for the animation department at the newly-formed DreamWorks studio at the time. A similar (though rather much-shorter-lived) studio around the same period was Turner Feature Animation, which released their first and only film Cats Don't Dance (1997), a period musical featuring anthropomorphic animals in early-20th Century Hollywood.
|A red-sweatered Steven Spielberg, with his T.V. stars of the Nineties|
Chris Meledandri (former President of 20th Century Fox Animation, and producer of such films as Ice Age, 2002, and Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who, 2008) founded the studiothe late 2000s, with the intention of creating feature films with low budgets but with great appeal and quality. Their first film, Despicable Me (2010), featured everyone's favorite bad-guy-turned-good-guy Gru, and well as his continued adventures (Despicable Me 2, 2013) and the origins of his Twinkie-shaped henchman (Minions, 2015). Their other lesser-known features, prior to 2016, include Hop (a 2011 poorly-received live-action/animated hybrid featuring Russell Brand as a rock star Easter bunny) and an adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (2012). The studio really began branching out in 2016 with the crowd-pleasing The Secret Life of Pets and the showstopping Sing.
|Chris Meledandri, with Pharrell Williams|
|Minions (2015), a Three Stooges/Looney Tunes-style slapstick comedy|
|The Secret Life of Pets (2016) emphasizes cute and distinct characterizations of animal pets|
|Sing (2016) contestants await their calls--or exclusions.|
These studios show no signs of slowing down, as an adaptation of Dr. Seuss' classic book How the Grinch Stole Christmas (featuring the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) is in the works at Illumination, following this summer's release of Despicable Me 3. Warner, on the other hand, has a few Lego spinoffs ahead, including The Lego Batman Movie next month and a Ninjago feature based on the popular toy brand. Actor/comedian Dax Shephard (Parenthood, Hit and Run) has recently been tapped to co-direct an animated film version of Scooby-Doo for the studio.
Walt Disney once said, Animation is different from other parts. Its language is the language of caricature. Our most difficult job was to develop the cartoon's unnatural but seemingly natural anatomy for humans and animals. Here's to Warner and Illumination for especially keeping the spirit of animal animation and caricature alive.