Who says great animation can’t save a mediocre story? Exhibit A: Hotel T

Regular readers of this too-sporatic blog know I believe that great animation CAN save a weak story. The mantra that “Story, story, and story” are the three most important elements in an animated film is still heard throughout the land, but it’s still wrong.  Further evidence of how wrong, or at least how incomplete, can be found in the surprise success of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Hotel Transylvania.

A drawover by Genndy Tartakovsky from animation dailies*

Go to Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll see that the critics had little good to say about the film’s story, even among the critics who enjoyed the film. But audiences are digging the insanely cartoony style. As I write this the opening weekend numbers are incomplete, but it’s safe to say this is Sony Picture Animation’s best opening among six attempts (Monster House, Open Season, Surfs Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Smurfs). The current estimate is $43 million for the north American Box office by Monday, and while I wouldn’t be surprised if that estimate is slightly inflated, it’s a solid opening that projects out to a domestic total box office of $150-170 million. Not blockbuster status, but for a September release and a long-troubled project, it’s better than anyone dared hope. In fact, it sets a new record for the domestic opening weekend for September for all films, live action and animated.

For some comparison, Cloudy also opened in September and was SPA’s previous best opening weekend for a fully-animated film: $30.3 million. This is good news for Sony, for Genndy, and for a future filled with more extraordinarily cartoony CG films!

*It still amazes me how much we were allowed to blow these rigs up to match Genndy’s draw-overs. This still is a good example of what the rig allowed before all the tweaks were applied to match that drawing.

5 Responses to “Who says great animation can’t save a mediocre story? Exhibit A: Hotel T”

  1. David Bernal Says:

    I am LOVING how cartoony 3D animation is evolving!!! Its so inspiring! I am curious about how intuitive/enjoyable it was to animate this extremes? Because it ususally takes a lot of tweaking to get to this gorgeous exaggeration, but I ve been reading new technologies were developed… I am fascinate by 3D getting to “draw” poses /deform geometry to any shape intuitively, rather than to be constrained to preset “limits” or having to pre/post-model specific shapes per shot. Awesome step towards a cartoony future, now I am triple excited for Cloudy 2!
    & the more I learn about story the more its clear its about character, a few days ago I read this small and nicely put argument by Chuck Wending: Character is everything: Here’s how you know that character is the most important component of storytelling — when you remove it, the story dies. It’s like yanking the walker out of an old dude’s hands. You can remove the plot, and characters will still make one. Setting? Story can work without one. Hell, no setting is a setting. Theme? Someone will add their own. Mood? You can steer the mood but you can’t control it — mood, like art and profanity, is in the many eyes of the monstrous D&D beholder. Character is why we show up. It’s why we watch movies and read books. Character is the lynchpin of story. To unpack that a little more… (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/09/11/25-writing-rules-i-presently-live-by/)

  2. smacleod Says:

    Great post. I agree that a weak story can be pleasant to watch when the performances are entertaining. Can’t wait to see this. Would love to see MORE draw overs by Genndy! Thanks for sharing this one. I’m rooting for Sony, I think Surf’s Up and Cloudy are two of my favorite films animated or otherwise.

  3. Guillermo Molina Says:

    I was gonna message you .. congratulations on this film I think its really achieving its goal.. Its funny how sometimes we forget that there’s some magic in simplicity and that not all films should be Deep and have complex plot nets. I’m really looking forward to watching the film

  4. Chelsea Jauregui Says:

    This is very interesting, I’m an animation student at Cal State Fullerton, and I’ve learned so much from reading your blog. I would love to interview you for an assignment in Larry Loc’s History of Animation class. I sent you an email with details, if you are willing. Thank you!

  5. Morris Says:

    Hi there Kevin. You’re absolutely right about the impact of good animation – it can heavily trump a lacking story: my personal view in this regard dates back to Spirit and El Dorado – the caliber of animation quality in those films is top-notch despite their lacking stronger stories. I didn’t mind their stories, or the characters, I found them quite entertaining and endearing however they never cease being visual feasts. Can you show some Chel work or more Spirit and give us your spin on these films??

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The animation and animation-related musings of Kevin Koch