Thursday, June 1, 2017

Jam Filled Toronto

Jam Filled Toronto is the current name of Dan Krech Productions, DKP Studios, Arc Productions, and Starz Animation. Whew, that’s a lot of name changes. The studio started out as Dan Krech Productions, which mostly did CG effects for movies, but had their own straight-to-dvd movie, The Nuttiest Nutcracker. Krech changed the name to DKP Studios and continued to do effects in movies, though they had a theatrically released movie in 2006 named Everyone’s Hero. The studio was then bought by IDT Corp, who was then shortly after bought by Starz Entertainment in 2006. In 2011, Starz sold the animation company to a Canadian consortium who then changed the name to Arc Productions. Things were going pretty well at Arc until August of 2016, when they revealed that they were closing their doors and filing for bankruptcy. They locked all 500 employees out of the building on the ploy that there was a payroll glitch and they hadn’t gotten paid. Jam Filled Entertainment bought Arc shortly after and hired back about half of their employees. It is still currently in business, with an upcoming CG film titled Blazing Samurai due out in August.

The first movie released by any of the studios was Everyone’s Hero, a story about a boy that loves baseball in the early 30’s, and the possessed ball and bat that he pals around with. Look, I haven’t seen this movie, but that’s all I can really gather about it. Something interesting about the production of this film was that it was partially directed by Christopher Reeve before he passed away in 2004. His son, Will, plays a small role in the film. The film was not a hit, grossing only $16.6 million. Critical reception was not much better, with most complaints centering around the predictable story and the fact that the animation made Babe Ruth look like Shrek.

Starz’s output of movies picks up a bit, with the first being The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie in 2008. Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales, had his company, Big Idea, Inc. create the popular Christian TV/straight-to-video show from 1993-2003. Big Idea produced the first VeggieTales movie, Jonah, in house for a release in 2002. The film didn’t do as well as Vischer would hope and the studio faced bankruptcy in 2003. The studio was then auctioned off to Classic Media and continued putting out VeggieTales. The second movie, The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, had been written way back in 2002, but the whole financial ruin thing put a damper on that. Starz had been making the VeggieTales TV show starting in 2006, so they handled the animation for the movie as opposed to Big Idea. The movie ended up being a bomb for Starz, making $13 million against a $15 million budget. They realized after that that VeggieTales was better suited for TV, and put all their eggs into that basket. I can’t say that I’m completely shocked by the performance of both movies. At that time, the average kid that didn’t go to church didn’t know what VeggieTales was, so wouldn’t go see the movie. Heck, I knew about VeggieTales, but by the time these movies came out I had stopped watching them years ago. VeggieTales is now on TV and has really lightened the Christianity to make it appropriate for all audiences. VeggieTales is now owned by Conglom-O...er...Comcast, thanks to their buyout of Classic Media.

9 was Starz’s next film, a movie adapted from a short story by Shane Acker. Tim Burton had seen the short story version of 9 and was so impressed that he helped produce it into a full-length feature film. Production had initially started in Luxembourg at Attitude Studio, but was later taken over to Starz in Toronto. The film is definitely in the same wheelhouse as anything else with Burton’s name on it, but I can’t say that it really stuck with me. Critics seem to agree, as they weren’t entirely impressed with it either. As is customary with strange animated movies that don’t appeal to a wide audience, it didn’t do too well at the box office. Starz’s last animated movie was the Disney distributed Gnomeo and Juliet. This is another movie that’s stuck in the non-canon milieu along with Valiant, Strange Magic and The Wild. It was released under the Touchstone Pictures banner, just as The Nightmare Before Christmas was 18 years before. Those two remained the only animated films released under Touchstone until Strange Magic. In this case I believe it was to further distance the movie from the official Disney canon. There has been confusion with The Wild and Valiant being part of the canon, so this was their way of making it obvious. The film, while it didn’t get great reviews, ended up being a sleeper hit for Disney, beating out Disney’s other film, Mars Needs Moms, which had a much bigger budget. Not sure why Disney had two of their movies released around the same time. The film grossed a respectable $194 million against a surprisingly small budget of $36 million. Seriously, that’s stop-motion animation level budget, not CG animation budget.

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil was Arc Animations first attempt at a feature length film, and was meant to capitalize on the moderate hit that was Hoodwinked! The first Hoodwinked! was created by Kanbar Entertainment, in their studio in Manila, Philippines. This location was conducive to lower production costs, so the movie was made for an astoundingly low $8 million. This was the first CG film to be independently funded, so its success was even more astounding. The Weinstein Company agreed to distribute late in its production and the film was a hit due to the low production costs, grossing $110 million. Pretty good for animation that looked pretty bad by 2005 standards. The sequel was announced in 2006, but disagreements between their new financial partners at The Weinstein Company caused it to be delayed until 2011. Instead of being made in their small studio in Manila, Arc Animation made it, though in the same style as the first, and with a larger budget thanks to The Weinstein Company. This didn’t help the movie, however, and it bombed at the box office, grossing a little over $16 million against a $30 million budget. If they would have stuck with the original production costs, they would have at least broke even! I feel like it was dumb luck that the first film did as well as it had, seeing as the whole fractured fairy-tale genre was done to death by the Shrek films. Also, films with a pun in the title should not be allowed to exist. Arc Animation, like all of the previous studios, focused primarily on TV and straight-to-dvd. It seems that the future is a little more set now that it's owned by Jam Filled Entertainment, but who knows, the studio has gone through four different owners.


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