Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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The secret of summer’s blockbuster animated movies

July 16, 2015

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Minions
Minions

Summer has become the season for big animated movies, and 2015 films are smashing records.

Minions (the prequel to the Despicable Me films) had the second-biggest opening weekend of all time for an animated movie, raking in $115.2 million. It earned $46.2 million on Friday, July 10 alone, the single best opening day for an animated film ever. Add in the overseas totals from the past two weeks, and it’s already at close to $400 million.

Minions is being seen by plenty of grownups, like Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me. 

Saw “Minions” with daughter and nieces. Whoever decided it was perfectly alright for random nonsense to happen in kids movies: I approve.

— Peter Sagal (@petersagal) July 14, 2015

Earlier this summer, the animated Inside Out, also claimed a box office record. The Pixar movie earned $91 million on its opening weekend, making it the biggest debut for an original film.

Inside Out was completely created just for the screen and not based on source material or a book or a remake. That’s remarkably difficult to find these days, and it’s even more impressive that audiences turned out in droves to see something they knew little about, except for the fact that it was from Pixar.

While both films have a long way to dethrone Frozen (the highest grossing animated film of all time, with $1.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales) these impressive stats reinforce the fact that animated movies with originality and appeal to all ages are likely to draw big crowds.

Minions (and the Despicable Me) films, are packed with adult humor that goes straight over the heads of really little ones (they probably just giggle at a minion flirting with an inmate fire hydrant and don’t get the sexual implications).

Beyond that, the minions themselves are inexplicably appealing, with their gibberish language and goofy ineptitude. The filmmakers have found a way to create characters that are silly, but not gratingly annoying. As Forbes points out, these affable evildoers are a creation specifically for this generation, which makes kids feel like the minions are theirs and not their parents.

Inside Out, which on the surface is a brightly colored treat, actually deals with some challenging emotions.  Coping with life changes, stress and uncontrollable emotions are all big and heady topics which the film tackles in the most colorful and cute way possible. It is subject matter that resonates with all generations.

Kids can’t take themselves to the theater, and adults are often unwillingly forced to sit through whatever new family friendly offering comes out.

Over the past 20 years, the film industry has recognized that, and offered up some engaging animated fare that appeals to young and old. It’s the reason that the top grossing animated films of all time (Frozen, Toy Story 3, The Lion King, Despicable Me 2 and Finding Nemo) are largely movies that have a generational crossover appeal.

Sure, parents may be sick of Frozen on repeat now, but on the first half-dozen viewings there were enough visual tricks and throwaway adult lines to make it bearable. Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me 2, both have plotlines about children getting older, guaranteed to tug at heartstrings.

Finding Nemo is another Pixar beauty that is funny, but also a tumultuous journey about a parent going to extreme lengths to save his child. And The Lion King, which is the oldest movie in the Top 5, has maintained its spot, even though it is a Shakespeare-influenced tale dealing with death and guilt.

Since studios pay attention to huge hits, the success of creative and inspired movies like Inside Out and the Despicable Me franchise may mean fewer movies like the mediocre Planes, which performed just well enough to merit a sequel, but felt formulaic and filled with cliches.

For story ideas, talk to local theater owners and patrons for their views on animated films. Which draw best in your town? Which ones are adults talking about on social media?

Story Ideas
The Top Grossing Pixar Movies of All Time

Why Minions Are Good for Our Kids and Our Culture

Inside Out Finds the Joy In Sadness and Vice Versa

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