DreamWorks Animation is in trouble. It's laying off 500 people, closing an office, and most of its leadership is leaving. Being blamed for this disaster is a string of big-budget misses, including blaming 2014's Mr. Peabody & Sherman for being "too clever" for audiences.
Deadline reports that DreamWorks Animation will start releasing two films a year instead of three in an attempt to reduce costs and increase profit. Other shake-ups include the firing of 500 employees and the closing of its Northern California office. It's also losing its vice chairman, Chief Operating Officer, and chief of marketing. If all of that wasn't bad enough, B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations — which stars, among others Seth Rogen, Melissa McCarthy and Bill Murray — is going back into production and has lost its June 5, 2015 release date. With no word on when it'll actually be seen.
All of this despite having the highest grossing animated film of last year in How to Train Your Dragon 2.
The most depressing part of this story comes from an analysis of DreamWorks Animation's problems from Deadline's Anthony D'Alessandro:
Last March's Mr. Peabody & Sherman, based on the 1959 character from Jay Ward's Rocky And Bullwinkle Show cartoon series, was just out of its time — 55 years later — and as one marketing consultant puts it "too clever" for audiences. When the film was being tested, a constant comment from mothers, the decision maker in the household when it comes to heading to the multiplex, was that Mr. Peabody was too sophisticated. Moms don't go to the movies to think, but to escape. The $145M gamble opened to $32.2M stateside, finaled at $111.5M and only made 1.5 times its domestic B.O. abroad ($161.4M); stellar DWA titles can do close to three times that.
Putting aside the extremely reductive and slightly patronizing statement that moms don't like thinking about movies, the fact that the big lesson being taken from Mr. Peabody & Sherman is to not invest in clever and complex movies is very bad news. Our opinion of the movie was that it had a lot of heart, but failed in to do more with its jokes. Note: the issue stated here isn't that the time-travel was too complicated to follow. It's that it was "too clever" and "too sophisticated."
Which seems even more absurd when you compare it to The LEGO Movie, where the success is based heavily in how clever it was with the premise of "make a movie based on this toy." Honestly, there's not enough attention being paid to the fact mentioned first: that it's based on a 55-year-old character that was the basis of a few shorts on a TV show. It would have to have been a stellar film to not get tossed into the pile with other poorly-conceived and even-more-pooly-executed nostalgia piles like Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs.
Hopefully, this won't result in a bunch of dumbed down content from DreamWorks, as an insider in the same article points out that the opposite problem afflicted Turbo:
In 2013, the $135M snails-as-cars feature Turbo posted a $21M bow and a domestic take of $83M. One insider close to the film attributed its misfiring due to its "lack of layered complexity and sharp sense of humor," which audiences clearly shelled out for respectively that summer with Pixar's Monsters University and Universal/Illumination's Despicable Me 2.
The big thing missing from both films is a smart sense of humor, not an abundance of "cleverness."