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Posted at 10:20 AM ET, 04/28/2010

How to Train Your Sequel: DreamWorks says 'Dragon's' long tail = Franchi$e!

By Michael Cavna

dragon1.jpg Hiccup, dragon trainer. (DreamWorks Animation SKG)

It opened with a box-office hiccup, but great ghost of Thor, has it come roaring back as the feel-good story of the box-office spring.

As DreamWorks Animation prepares to release its fourth and [please] final "Shrek film, it finally has another movie it can build a worthy franchise on: "How to Train Your Dragon.

In the studio's financial report yesterday, DreamWorks Animation honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg said: "2010 is off to a strong start, thanks in large part to the performance of 'How to Train Your Dragon,' which - having grossed nearly $375 million to date in worldwide box office - has" -- and then came that magic word -- "become DreamWorks Animation's next franchise."


Then Katzenberg delievered the kicker: "We plan to release the sequel theatrically in 2013."

Jeffrey and Co. went on to say that "How to Train Your Dragon" has "contributed $59.7 million of revenue to the quarter" [yeah-yeah-yeah] ... "driven primarily by merchandising and licensing activities" [blah-blah-blah] and that it "has reached approximately $180 million in domestic box office" [yup-yup-blah-blah] and "approximately $195 million in international box office to date" [yep-old-news-got-it].

The key here is that DreamWorks Animation -- which actually saw its price dip immediately after "Dragon" "underperformed" in its opening weekend in March -- has acknowledged that it fully realizes what it has in this 3D tale-of-yore.

Thanks to a long box-office tail, "Dragon" finished atop the box office last weekend, of course, and has bested such would-be "comics culture" challengers as "Kick-Ass" and "The Losers." It hung around long enough to begin nabbing up the 3-D theaters that "Alice in Wonderland" was vacating. And it has come to dominate the pre-summer season before it begins to disappear with "Iron Man 2" and "Toy Story 3" and -- yes -- "Shrek 4" on the numerical horizon of sequels.

This represents more than just the coronation of a studio's next animated franchise. A "Dragon" sequel also signals:

1. That DreamWorks Animation didn't give up on "Dragon" too soon. The industry could have bailed on the 3-D film -- but "Dragon" found enough of an initial audience that it hung and clung around till word-of-mouth really began to cascade.

2. That smart use of 3-D is rewarded. Everyone from Katzenberg to James Cameron has derided the cheesier, ham-handed uses of newer 3-D technology [that's right, they're looking squarely at you, "Clash of the Titans"]. "Dragon," by contrast, offers some of the most exhilarating 3-D flying scenes that the animated screen has yet seen.

3. That old pros bring much-needed craft to cutting-edge animation. Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders are midcareer animators steeped in such 2-D films as "Lilo & Stitch," "Mulan" and "The Lion King." The leap to "Dragon's" 3-D (and with only a 14-month window to deliver) represented a big step for them -- and they embraced it with all the aplomb and poise and storycraft that you would hope for from veterans trained in traditional animation.

As DeBlois, 39, said to Comic Riffs in March: "We got to play with a whole new bunch of tools, including CG and 3-D. The amount of depth you can get into, and the sense of reality, is amazing."

That, even as the 40-something Sanders chimed in: "The fun thing is, you're working very hard for people not to notice the 3-D."

Now, for the sequel, DeBlois and Sanders will have a larger window (years instead of months) in which to work. They'll have the name-brand of "Dragon" (which promises to do well on DVD later this year) on their side. And they'll have all the good will toward a plucky, stuck-it-out "Dragon" beneath their wings.

Now, if only we could quash all studio instincts that are reaching spasmodically for a "Clash of the Titans" sequel...

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By Michael Cavna  | April 28, 2010; 10:20 AM ET
Categories:  The Animation, The Holly Word  | Tags:  Box office, Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois, DreamWorks, DreamWorks Animation, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Lilo & Stitch, Lion King, Train Your Dragon  
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Couldn't "Kung Fu Panda" be another film franchise for DreamWorks? I should think it offers plenty of opportunity for many new adventures of Po et al.

Posted by: seismic-2 | April 28, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

>> "Panda 2" (aka "the Kaboom of Doom") is planned for next year. I haven't yet heard DreamWorks attach the official "franchise" tag to Po & Co. yet -- but they're certainly positioned to "go Shrek" if the sequel succeeds.


Posted by: Michael Cavna | April 28, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

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