As the cartoon market continues to boom, the trend toward vertical integration continually realigns the playing field and, increasingly, animation companies come and go. But true to its name, the Indianapolis-based Perennial Pictures just keeps rolling along, continuing to turn out new hand-crafted cartoon specials each year for the burgeoning homevideo market.
“We’re weird,” declares Perennial president Jerry Reynolds. “It even goes beyond (being independent) because we still do all the work in the United States.” This includes the inking and painting of every cel at a time when the industry standard is to farm the work out to overseas studios or do it digitally. But for Reynolds and his staff of a dozen artists and technicians, keeping the work at home is a source of pride.
“It’s the way we work,” he says. “I’m sure our ink-and-paint bill is higher than if we sent it overseas, but we make it up in other areas. It’s a nice way to work and, unless we can’t afford to do it anymore, I don’t see any reason to change.”
The company also continues to self-finance its films, putting up roughly half of its production costs, with the balance coming from homevideo advances.
Most of Perennial’s half-hour specials are Christmas-related, with titles such as “Deck the Halls,” “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Last year the company turned out its first feature-length work, titled “The Ugly Duckling’s Christmas,” and currently it’s working on a Halloween-based comedy called “Witches in Stitches.”
After selling its first toon special to Showtime in the mid-’80s, the studio redirected itself to target the homevid market, a decision affected equally by business and creative considerations. “We really weren’t in a position to do series work, and when you take that out, you take out an awful lot of the television stuff,” Reynolds says. “Also, our shows tend to be on the soft side, if you want to call it that, and TV people are not real interested in that.”
In the U.S., that is. Internationally, the situation is different, and thanks to a distribution pact with Sunbow Entertainment, which has a large global presence, Perennial’s overseas profile is growing. “A lot of our revenue in exhibition has come from overseas,” Reynolds notes. ” ‘The Ugly Duckling’s Christmas Wish’ hasn’t been on television in the United States yet, but it did very well overseas last year. In Germany it won its timeslot.”
A package of six holiday specials also has been sold to the Family Channel, which has likewise welcomed the studio’s “soft” story-telling style.
Somewhat edgier is the seven-minute cartoon “Rat on a Hot Tin Can,” which Perennial produced as part of Hanna-Barbera’s “What a Cartoon!” shorts program, for play on Turner’s Cartoon Network.
The next step for the Indy-based indie, according to Reynolds, is to venture into the world of licensing and merchandising. “One of the things we have never had is the ability to develop character licensing potential out of these one-shot wonders,” he says. “We’re looking toward doing a series of half-hour shows direct to homevideo featuring the same character, and that will help us in the long term as far as visibility and longevity.” The studio itself will bankroll the first such project, featuring the original character Crawford the Cat.
Despite the trend on the part of toon industry Goliaths to gobble up the Davids, Reynolds sees his company remaining independent. “We’re pretty much determined to,” he says. “We’re small and pretty much considered a boutique, and not really competition for (the major studios).
“But ultimately,” he adds, “they may need our product.”