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Animated Clash of the 'Titan'

Fox is excited about its science-fiction feature aimed at the teen market that's due out Friday, but the studio seems forever locked in battle with the tit-for-tat animation giant Disney.

June 12, 2000|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For veteran animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, it must seem like an unpleasant sense of deja vu all over again.

In 1997, 20th Century Fox made its first foray into feature-length animation when the studio released their musical "Anastasia," only to see the Walt Disney Co. step in and re-release its 1989 animated classic, "The Little Mermaid," on the same day.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 13, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo caption--A caption accompanying a story about the movie "Titan A.E." in Monday's Calendar misidentified the photos from the animated films "The Little Mermaid" and "Anastasia." "The Little Mermaid" photo was on the left, "Anastasia" on the right.

On Friday, Fox will roll out Bluth and Goldman's latest animated effort, the big-budget, galactic adventure "Titan A.E." Lurking in the wings again with the power to dampen Fox's hopes is none other than Disney, which is releasing its G-rated "Fantasia 2000" on the same day that the PG-rated "Titan A.E." bows.

Goldman, who co-directed "Titan A.E." with Bluth, said it comes down to Disney not wanting any other studio to gain a foothold in animation. "It's their territory," Goldman said. "We're stepping on their turf."

Bluth charges that "Disney would like to monopolize the animation business, which I think is totally wrong. By monopolizing it, it won't grow. It needs to grow. I would hope that someway they'd grow up, mentally, and let it happen, but they don't seem to."

"Fantasia 2000" already had a successful four-month run earlier this year at large-format Imax theaters, grossing about $50 million. Disney now wants to broaden the audience by opening the film in 1,300 regular theaters for a four-week run.

But "Fantasia 2000" isn't the only animated movie "Titan A.E." has to contend with. The film will be sandwiched between Disney's "Dinosaur," which opened May 19 and is expected to occupy theater screens all summer long, and DreamWorks' clay animation British-made comedy, "Chicken Run," which opens June 21.

The following week Universal unveils "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle," which combines TV's animated squirrel and moose with real-life actors Robert De Niro, Jason Alexander and Rene Russo, and on July 21, Warner Bros. comes out with "Pokemon 2," the sequel to last summer's hit based on the trading-card craze.

The stakes are high for Fox animation. According to sources, "Titan A.E." cost about $90 million, and so far the early tracking hasn't been encouraging. And unlike Disney features or even popular TV cartoons made into movies ("Pokemon," "Rugrats") "Titan A.E." doesn't come with a built-in audience.

Disney's decision to place "Fantasia 2000" directly up against "Titan A.E." has rankled Fox. There is still a belief heard on the Fox lot that while "Anastasia" should have performed better on its own when it debuted Dec. 14, 1997, with $14.1 million, "The Little Mermaid" ate into the box office for animation that weekend by taking in nearly $6 million.

Goldman said that when "Anastasia" opened overseas, it had trouble finding available billboard advertising space because Disney had been there first.

"Disney would buy up all the billboards, not just the ones they would normally use," Goldman said. "They were buying it all out so Fox couldn't even get the billboards. Disney people would call and apologize and say, 'We're sorry, but our orders from Burbank are to crush you and our jobs are on the line.' "

While that sort of bruising competition might be fine for live-action movies, where studios compete on a fairly even playing field, Bluth believes that it only harms the animation business.

Disney executives declined to comment on their competitive strategy.

Disney Follows Suit With Common Release Date

Fox announced in December that it would release "Titan A.E." on June 16. Disney, meanwhile, opened the Imax version of "Fantasia 2000" on New Year's Day and kept it on Imax screens for four months. On April 12, Disney informed Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc., an industry box-office tracking firm, that it would be releasing "Fantasia 2000" in regular theaters on Friday.

Fox is hopeful that if it can only get teenagers into the theater seats, "Titan A.E." will sell itself. Produced by Bluth, Goldman and David Kirschner, "Titan A.E." combines 3-D computer animation and traditional 2-D animation in a dazzling array of visual images of deep space and alien worlds. It also features the voices of box office stars Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore, and a driving soundtrack filled with a heavy metal beat produced by Grammy-winning producer Glen Ballard.

The film is set in the year 3028. The human race has been forced to flee Earth, which is destroyed by a fierce race of alien skeletal, energy-pulsating blue creatures called the Drej. Before the Earth is incinerated, a brilliant scientist is forced to leave his son, Cale, with others. Promising they will be reunited one day, he gives the boy a ring genetically encoded with a map to the Titan, a spaceship that holds the secret to the salvation of the human race--thus, the title "Titan A.E." (After Earth).

When we next meet Cale (Damon), he has grown into a young man toiling unhappily on a grungy salvage station in space with a big chip on his shoulder because his father never came back.

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