CANNES — The world premiere of Pixar and Disney’s digital 3-D toon “Up” at the Cannes Film Festival tonight marks a defining moment for the technology. It also speaks to digital, stereoscopic 3-D’s appeal overseas — showing the technology isn’t just an American obsession.
“Up,” from director Pete Docter, made headlines when it was chosen as the fest’s opening-night film: No animated pic has ever opened the fest before.
It’s also a defining moment for Disney, which hasn’t brought a movie to Cannes since “The Ladykillers” five years ago. This year, Disney has the most signage of any major studio, and “Up” is one of the few Hollywood titles playing here.
Even before the marriage of Disney and Pixar, the Mouse House was the market leader in 3-D. That experience, combined with Pixar’s innovative style, begat “Up,” the first 3-D title from John Lasseter’s Pixar.
“Up’s” presence at Cannes is a huge boost for 3-D, whose beauty, at least from a business perspective, lies in the higher ticket price. On the creative side, filmmakers including Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Peter Jackson, James Cameron and Tim Burton are all directing 3-D films.
“I really think we are at the tipping point where we’ll have the ability to release a movie in 3-D only,” said Disney Motion Pictures Group prexy Mark Zoradi.
Disney’s prominent presence at Cannes is an unusual twist. Zoradi said Docter would have been willing to show his film in 2-D at Cannes, but fest director Thierry Fremaux and others wanted it to play in 3-D.
Many might have thought it would be DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg walking down the red carpet, not Disney. Katzenberg is a frequent presence on the Croisette and has become the public face of 3-D, even if Disney is the market leader. He has circled the globe for the past 18 months, urging theater owners to convert more screens to 3-D.
Now, Disney is taking the spotlight. Studio announced earlier this week that it will screen the 3-D redos of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” at the Venice Film Festival, where Lasseter will be honored with a lifetime achievement award. Studio also will show a partially completed version of 3-D toon “The Princess and the Frog.”
The headlines coming out of Cannes and Venice are especially important for the international 3-D effort.
So far, foreign auds seem as willing as Americans to pay higher prices for 3-D tickets. And the gap between the number of 3-D screens in the U.S. and the number overseas is closing fast.
By the time “Up” opens, there will be 2,000 3-D screens in the U.S. and 1,900 overseas, according to Zoradi.
Six weeks ago, when Paramount and DreamWorks Animation’s “Monsters vs. Aliens” bowed, there were only 1,600 3-D screens internationally.
The biggest territories for 3-D so far include France, the U.K., Mexico and Russia. As an example, 3-D screens in the U.K. repped only 20% of the total theater count, but contributed 50% of the gross.
“Monsters” opened to $58.2 million domestically; 3-D screens accounted for 28% of the total screen count but contributed 58% of the gross. Toon has stayed on the top 10 chart both domestically and internationally for seven weeks.
Toon has grossed $186.8 domestically and $143 million overseas, where it is rolling out slowly.
“I think ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ was very important in being the first wide release to play in 3-D. We haven’t heard any anecdotes of consumers balking at paying the uplift in price,” said Paramount international prexy Andrew Cripps.
“Finally,” Cripps said, “after years and years of talking about it, 3-D is going mainstream.”