Since its November release in 2012, the internet has spawned a plethora of fan art, fictional crossovers (Elsa and Jack Frost are perfect together), and a variety of articles discussing whether or not the DreamWorks box-office bomb, turned quiet hit deserves a sequel.
Fans all over the world gradually discovered this underrated animated feature, and slowly became a hummed favorite among fan-fiction writers and artists. A petition was created at Change.org for DreamWorks Animation to bring back these magical and lovable characters, which is currently less than 1,500 digital signatures away from their 15,000 sign-up goal. There is even another petition going around to have Disney approve a crossover with Elsa from Frozen. So with all this late (maybe too late) fandom happening, why is DreamWorks deciding to opt out of a sequel?
Let's go back four years and remember that this was one of the least marketed animated features to come out of DreamWorks, especially during the holiday season. After years of a pleasant partnership with Paramount, the studio began searching around in 2012 for a new distributor and therefore stalling and nearly killing all previously planned promotional materials for the film through Paramount. They signed a deal with 20th Century Fox later that same year with the successful film The Croods being their first feature together. This lead to the animation studio losing about $85 million in its initial theater run and bit of a rocky stretch between Jeffrey Katzenberg (DreamWorks CEO) and his long-winded relationship with Paramount Studios.
At this time, with the year end quarter looming over the studio, the financial write-down of $87 million was just too much. What's more, it caused the largest layoff at DreamWorks Animation to date, leading to 350 members of their staff out of 2,200 losing their jobs. Katzenberg told analysts during a discussion of the company's fourth-quarter performance at the time stating, "Guardians was the first movie of ours, after 17 in a row, that didn't work. When that happens, it really makes you rethink everything."
“These things are very, very difficult to do. I would say it’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do since we started DreamWorks. We’ve never had to lay anybody off. It was against our culture. But it’s the right thing for us today, and it makes DWA strong going forward.” — Jeffrey Katzenberg via The Hollywood Reporter
Based on William Joyce's The Guardians of Childhood book series and The Man in the Moon short film by Joyce and Reel FX Creative Studios, you'd think this film would have been a smash hit with the right publicity. Guardians was originally set to have been the first installment in a trilogy of animated films built around Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and Jack Frost.
Peter Ramsey directed the film, while Joyce and Guillermo del Toro were executive producers, with voice acting by Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, and Jude Law. This being the creative case, many have also suggested other causes (even a curse was one man's theory) and concluded that the reason for this film's failure was on its darker subject matter and creative take on long-beloved mythological (and also religious-based) characters, therefore not appealing to the correct demographic. Director Peter Ramsey set out to reach anyone and everyone who's ever believed in these creatures with badass, tattooed Santa Claus being the pièce de résistance. According to Animation World Network however, Ed Hooks writes:
The budget for 'Rise of the Guardians' was north of US$160 million and, in order to justify that expense, the creative team attempted to stretch the appeal of the story across too wide a demographic range. If they had started out with an intact and viable story, and then budgeted to tell that story in the most economical way, we would not now be poking around in the cinematic grave yard.
As always in the world of feature #animation and its business, money is always the culprit in final feature decisions. The studio just cannot risk another flop with its new owners/distributors (Comcast/NBCUniversal) and start off on the wrong foot. Even after positive reviews, high ratings (73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Animated Feature, Rise of the Guardians is yet another victim of bad timing and poor planning in this industry.
The #DreamWorks Animation film release schedule as of this moment (along with their distributors) looks as such:
- The Boss Baby (March 31, 2017, 20th Century Fox)
- Captain Underpants (June 2, 2017, 20th Century Fox)
- Larrikins (February 16, 2018, Universal)
- How to Train Your Dragon 3 (March 1, 2019, Universal)
- Everest (September 27, 2019, Universal)