“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is providing DreamWorks Animation with a much-needed morale boost after a tough 2014 filled with disappointing films at the box office, a significant drop in its stock price and drama surrounding a potential sale.
With the company’s first-ever win in the animation category at the Golden Globes and now an Academy Award nomination, the “Dragon” sequel looks to be the frontrunner when the Oscars are handed out Feb. 22. Disney had won seven of the past eight years at the Globes.
Awards recognition is great, but with no sequels on the horizon for 2015, it could be another tough year at the box office for DreamWorks Animation.
The awards recognition comes shortly after DWA chief Jeffrey Katzenberg named Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria as co-presidents of the studio. Both have extensive knowledge in launching and running successful franchises, with Arnold having overseen “How to Train Your Dragon,” and Soria, “Madagascar,” both major moneymakers for the company across a variety of platforms from TV shows and consumer products to live touring shows and theme park experiences.
“The folks at the studio are so happy for us,” Arnold said of Katzenberg and the rest of the DWA executive roster. “They’re on our indirect crew.
“I feel very fortunate” for the Oscar nomination, she added. Arnold is a contender in the category with director Dean DeBlois. “I feel that it’s further acknowledgement of our whole crew, the passion and the artistry that comes through. It’s a great honor by the industry and the film community at large of the work that you’ve done. It’s a validation.”
Animated features have long been known for taking around three years to produce. But with Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” which was filmed over 12 years, live-action films “can start to empathize with animated movies,” Arnold joked. “They take a long time.”
Arnold and Soria are now focusing on managing the rest of DWA’s film slate for the next several years, which has involved taking a closer look at release dates.
“We hit the ground running on Monday as we got started in the new year,” Arnold said. “I think the great thing she and I agree on is there are really good filmmakers here. What we do best is help those filmmakers get the best version of their movies on the screen. We’re figuring out the particulars of that. There’s a lot of good stuff in the works. A lot of good ideas and projects.”
DWA needs a hit outside of “Dragons” after “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” struggled in 2014, earning $273 million worldwide, and “Turbo” ($283 million) and “Rise of the Guardians” ($307 million) before that. “Madgascar” spinoff “The Penguins of Madagascar” was poorly reviewed and earned $287 million toward the end of 2014.
That compares to “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which generated $618 million around the globe, up from the first’s $495 million, in 2010.
Looking ahead, DWA has just one film on the schedule this year, the alien invasion comedy “Home,” which will get a big promotional push given that it features original songs by Rihanna.
The company has just that lone release set for 2015 because “Kung Fu Panda 3” was moved out of this year and into 2016, in order to steer clear of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” “Trolls” is also currently set for a 2016 release, later in November; DWA believes it could launch a new franchise.
Now that it has two veteran producers at the helm, DWA is looking to reduce the production costs of its films — down from the $135 million to $145 million it’s been spending.
Beyond “Trolls,” based on the popular toy line of the 1960s that DWA purchased outright in 2013, the studio also has franchise potential with “B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations,” “Boss Baby” and “Mumbai Musical.” Sequels to “Puss in Boots” and “The Croods” are planned as well.
And then there’s a third “How to Train Your Dragon” set for 2017.
DeBlois, who wrote and directed the first two “Dragon” films, is currently penning the script for the third.
“We’re excited about the third and final chapter of this story,” Arnold said.
A renewed focus on stories that appeal to broader audiences will help put some distance from reports that DWA is looking to find a new partner or buyer — last year, that included everyone from Japan’s Softbank to toymaker Hasbro.
To win the Globe, DWA beat out Disney’s “Big Hero 6,” Fox’s “The Book of Life,” Laika’s “The Boxtrolls” and WB’s “The Lego Movie.”
With “The Lego Movie” not even in the running for an Oscar, “Dragon 2” has less competition to contend with for Oscar gold.
“Big Hero 6” is not yet on homevideo platforms, while “How to Train Your Dragon 2” has been available since November — and broken sales figures for a family title from Fox, which distributes DWA’s films. Interest in the film on digital platforms has picked up since the Globes win and should only increase now with the Oscar nomination.
“We never take anything for granted,” Arnold said. “It was a good year for animation. The five nominated movies really represent a really diverse slate” made up of a mix of hand-drawn and CG animation. “We’re in such good company.”
While the “Dragon” franchise has a strong fanbase, awards may not necessarily mean much to its younger audiences.
But nominations and actual wins do cause people “to take a second look” at the films and its spinoffs, Arnold said. “It just makes people who haven’t seen the movie pay more attention. That’s a good thing for us.”