August 3, 2010 / 6:55 AM / 8 years ago

Families fickle over computer-animated animal pics

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Fox was weeks away from releasing “Marmaduke” in June when a dubious reporter asked a studio executive about prospects for the family comedy.

“I have learned never to bet against any dog movie,” the executive mused.

The optimism was understandable considering Fox’s $143 million domestic success with 2008’s “Marley and Me.” But unlike that holiday hit, summer’s dancing-dog comedy was a live action and CGI hybrid of the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” species.

No problem-o, right? After all, the ‘munks rang up a combined $447 million domestically for Fox with two family comedies.

Problem-oh: “Marmaduke” fetched less than $33 million after costing $50 million to produce.

But as with some other recent furry-creatures missteps — including the past weekend’s “Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” — industryites suggest the picture’s creative problems were specific to “Marmaduke” and not the genre.

“‘Garfield’ was very early in the talking-furry-creatures trend and also was very successful for us,” Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder noted. “‘Marmaduke’ didn’t work as much as we would have liked, but I don’t think it’s a problem with the genre.”

Warner Bros.’s “Kitty Galore” coughed up a $12.3 million furball from its first three days. But again, Monday-morning quarterbacks blamed the $85 million project rather than its concept.

The 3D sequel followed Warners’ $93 million domestic success with 2001’s 2D “Cats and Dogs.”

“Was there truly the need for a second movie?” a top executive at a rival studio asked. “Obviously somebody thought so. But it seems there just wasn’t enough interest there, and 3D will not make a bad movie good.”

As with any release, project costs can determine whether a fur-filled pic will turn a profit. For instance, Disney’s 2009 family adventure “G-Force” rang up $119 million domestically but was considered a flop after costing $150 million to produce.

“You have to pay attention to all of the usual considerations of casting and timing and cost structures on these pictures,” a studio executive cautioned. “Furry animal movies can certainly gross. You just have to figure out how to make them profitably.”

“Kitty Galore” is certain to bleed some red ink for Warners and co-production partner Village Roadshow. But Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said there’s no cause for concern about the studio’s next live action-with-CGI animals movie — “Yogi Bear,” set to go pic-a-nicking in multiplexes on December 17.

“The ‘Yogi Bear’ trailer is one of the best-testing trailers in our company’s history,” Fellman said. “Movies have their own individual DNA, and that’s the magic of this business. Nobody goes out there with a 100% track record, and you need to recognize that. So it’s foolish to say live action movies with CGI animals don’t work.”

Still, there is no sure-fire inoculation against animal-pic rabies, a CGI-laced peril captured oh-so-ironically in the title of Summit Entertainment’s April opener “Furry Vengeance.” The Brendan Fraser starrer cost $35 million to make; it collected less than $18 million domestically.

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