Animated films perform well at the global box office and are holding up on DVD, but how well do international productions perform outside their home territories? Leonard Klady reports

One of the most resilient and enduring genres is the animated film. The breathtaking computer dynamism of Pixar’s Oscar-winning Toy Story 3 has taken giant strides from Winsor McCay’s comparatively crude 1914 rendering of Gertie The Dinosaur. But while the technology has kept abreast of the times, the two films are brethren in spirit.

Following the February release — and surprise international success — of WDSMPI’s feuding garden gnomes saga Gnomeo & Juliet, the coming months will see the release of sequels to Pixar’s Cars and DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda as well as the launch of potential franchises in DreamWorks’ Rango, with Johnny Depp voicing a lizard-turned-gunslinger, and 20th Century Fox’s Rio starring Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg as love birds on a migratory fling in Brazil.

In 2010, five of the 10 highest-grossing global titles — WDSMPI’s Toy Story 3 and Tangled, DreamWorks’ Shrek Forever After and How To Train Your Dragon, and UPI’s Despicable Me — were cel mates. Toy Story 3 alone has generated close to $1.1bn theatrically. And crucially, DVD sales of these animated films are holding up.

“I would estimate [DVD sales of] animated films are off by about 5% while live-action films have taken a hit of 30%-40%,” says David Kornblum, vice-president of theatrical sales and distribution at Walt Disney Studios.

‘DVD sales of animated films are off by about 5%, while live-action films have taken a hit of 30%-40%’

David Kornblum, Walt Disney Studios

Outside the US, Asia and Europe have strong traditions in animation. In Japan, theatrical animations regularly dwarf the competition powered over the last 20 years by the creations from Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. The most recent, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s The Borrowers, based on the beloved UK novel by Mary Norton about a young girl who lives with her family under the floorboards of a house, had grossed almost $110m from its home market alone by early March. And Japanese audiences are just as enthusiastic about US animations: in 2010 The Borrowers was the third-highest grossing film of the year behind Toy Story 3 which took $123m in Japan, its second-biggest market after North America.

Apart from France, Japanese anime is not competitive theatrically outside Japan, though the Pokemon franchises sells well on DVD in Europe and Latin America. Japanese animators have also been slow to adopt the 3D format with the first wave of 3D pictures expected in late 2011.

Japanese audiences are as enthusiastic about US animations

A trio of European animated productions have recently performed well around the world. A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures, a co-production between Brussels-based nWave Pictures and Illuminata Pictures in Los Angeles, has generated in excess of $68m from 35 territories. It has played everywhere to date, save English-speaking territories and Japan, with standout performances in France ($11.1m) and South Korea ($8.3m). Germany’s Ambient Entertainment has found success with Animals United, with more than $35m grossed theatrically to date from a handful of European territories. Gnomeo & Juliet, produced by the UK-based Rocket Pictures, has grossed more than $100m worldwide since its release in February. All three were produced in 3D.

Though most animations are aimed at the family market, there are notable exceptions including Sylvain Chomet’s Oscar-nominated The Illusionist and Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s critically acclaimed My Dog Tulip. “My Dog Tulip will bring back its investment but it basically goes across the grain of what a commercial animated film needs to be,” says the film’s producer, Norman Twain. “It’s not in 3D, it’s not suited for kids and its story is too complex and nuanced. I’m very proud of the picture but I’m currently working on something simple and direct, a 3D animated Christmas-themed picture.”

Released by New Yorker Films in 2009, My Dog Tulip grossed $210,172 in the US.