As it turned out, the movie quickly made over US$200 million (£142 million) in rentals. Its distributors Universal began doing deals with cinema chains for more films to be released online just weeks after their theatrical launches.
The success of Trolls World Tour coincided with a supposed revolution in “remote” animation production, brought on by the pandemic. As on-location casts and crews continue to adjust to navigating new safety precautions and guidelines, feature-length cartoons by comparison appear well suited to remote working. Initially, there was even talk of an upsurge in the production of animated media that appeared somewhat pandemic-proof.
Fast forward 12 months, however, and the situation looks a little more tricky. Economic pressures mean that the animated movie industry might just be starting to shrink even if they’re more viable to produce in a pandemic landscape. A case in point is the Walt Disney Company’s recent announcement of plans to shut its computer animation division Blue Sky Studios. Its sudden demise after 34 years will undoubtedly rob popular cinema of one of its most creative and imaginative studios.
Blue Sky has made significant contributions to the shape and direction of US animation. Amid the late-1990s tussle for power between Pixar Animation Studios and its rival DreamWorks, Blue Sky came onto the scene somewhat under the radar compared with its larger competitors.
Formed in February 1987 by animator Chris Wedge, the studio started out in software design and animated adverts before later shifting focus towards visual effects and character animation, providing CGI for a number of blockbusters like Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) and Fight Club (1999).
Meanwhile, Wedge’s computer-animated short film Bunny (1998) won the Academy Award for best animated short film. This was quickly followed by Blue Sky’s debut digital feature Ice Age (2002), which led to a highly successful franchise spanning two decades. In the years that followed, Blue Sky produced 13 feature films and a host of short cartoons, spin-offs and television specials, balancing original franchises with imaginative re-tellings of a number of popular media products.
The future of animation
While many animation studios have come and gone, the unforeseen closure of a such a leading player as Blue Sky will lead to hundreds of layoffs and the cancellation of its animated films already in production. Warnings about Blue Sky’s future were immediately sounded once it was acquired by the Walt Disney Company as part of its broader acquisition of previous owners 20th Century Fox in 2019. This meant Disney now owned two of the three major players in US animated production, following its earlier US$7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar back in 2006.
Disney’s growing monopoly of the entertainment industry over the last two decades has certainly caused widespread alarm. Don’t forget, the Mouse House also bought Marvel for US$4 billion in August 2009. In the face of the success of animation during the pandemic, the demise of Blue Sky might appear part of a broader Disney corporate strategy to gain market advantage by purchasing and then closing competitors.