Cartoon wars
Pixar and DreamWorks Animation dominate the CGI market but other big studios want a piece of the animated action.
By Paul R. La Monica, senior writer

NEW YORK ( Hollywood is gearing up for a major cartoon showdown.

Pixar and DreamWorks Animation dominate the market for animated films using computer generated images. But several other major media firms are hoping to make a crack in this lucrative area.

"Hoodwinked," a novel take on the tale of Red Riding Hood, was a surprise hit in January.
Paramount hopes to cash in on the CGI craze with
Paramount hopes to cash in on the CGI craze with "Barnyard" due out later this year.
"Ice Age 2: The Meltdown" will be released in March. The first "Ica Age" movie was a blockbuster for Fox.

"It used to be that Pixar was the only game in town. But now other studios have gotten into the fray," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., a box office tracking firm.

The theatrical release calendar is littered with CGI films this year. The Weinstein Co., the independent film studio founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein after they left Miramax, have already released two CGI films: "Hoodwinked" and "Doogal."

"Doogal," which came out last week, has been a commercial and critical flop but "Hoodwinked," a Rashomon-esque take on the tale of Red Riding Hood, has been a surprise hit. "Hoodwinked" has grossed more than $50 million since being released in January, according to movie industry tracking firm Box Office Mojo.

Later this month, News Corp (Research).-owned Fox will be releasing "Ice Age 2: The Meltdown." The first "Ice Age," released in 2002, grossed $176 million. Fox is also the distributor for a CGI movie called "Yankee Irving" this summer.

Sony (Research) has two CGI films on tap for later this year: "Monster House" and "Open Season." Time Warner's (Research) Warner Brothers studio also has two CGI movies due out this year: "The Ant Bully" and "Happy Feet." (Time Warner also owns And finally, Viacom's (Research) Paramount is releasing "Barnyard" in October.

But are people interested in seeing this many animated films? After all, the industry's two pioneers also have movies coming out. Pixar (Research), which is being acquired by Walt Disney (Research), has yet to have a movie that's flopped and hopes are extremely high for this summer's "Cars."

And DreamWorks (Research), which has had hits with its two "Shrek" movies and last year's "Madagascar" is releasing "Over the Hedge" in May and has "Flushed Away" tentatively scheduled for the fall.

"Some of these movies could be in trouble. I suspect that a bunch will fall by the wayside. There is not enough demand," said Dennis McAlpine, an independent media analyst.

Dergarabedian agrees with that assessment. "There seems to be an insatiable appetite for family films but if you have too many coming out at the same time some of these movies will get hurt," he said.

Clearly, the box office allure of CGI films has attracted the interest of all the major studios.

The two "Shrek" movies, for example, have grossed more than $700 million in the United States while the six Pixar films have combined to generate nearly $1.5 billion in U.S. ticket sales. And that doesn't even factor in the international box office gross and DVD revenue from these movies.

"The temptation is too great for Hollywood to resist," McAlpine said.

Still, McAlpine said other studios should not necessarily expect similar success. He argues that it's the characters behind the hit Pixar and DreamWorks movies, not the mere fact that they are computer-generated, which has made them popular with both kids and adults alike.

"Hollywood has never been bashful about its own competence," said McAlpine. "If studios see somebody else do something, they think they can do it better. But it's not as simple as it looks -- the story has to attract people."

What's more, traditional forms of animation aren't dead yet either, despite the hubbub about CGI films.

Dergarabedian points out that "Curious George," a hand drawn movie based on the popular children's book series about an inquisitive monkey, has done well since it was released last month. It has grossed about $45 million. And none of the films nominated for Best Animated Feature in this Sunday's Academy Awards are computer-generated either.

Click here to make your Oscar predictions on

For more about Disney's purchase of Pixar, click here.

For a look at the Nightmare on Wall Street for DreamWorks Animation, click here.

The reporter of this story owns shares of Time Warner through his company's 401(k) plan. Top of page

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