And the biggest cartoon of all time overseas is …

For proof, if you needed it, that the animation business is no longer owned by Disney or any of its subsidiaries, look no further than Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the third film in this prehistoric series has now passed Finding Nemo to become the top-grossing cartoon of all time overseas. Variety even notes that IA:DotD is poised to become only the ninth film ever — live-action or otherwise — to gross over $600 million in the “foreign” market.*

It’s a much different story in North America, where IA:DotD currently ranks 21st among animated films and 117th among movies in general. And when you combine the “domestic” and “foreign” grosses, IA:DotD currently ranks 5th among animated films worldwide, behind Shrek 2, Finding Nemo, Shrek the Third and The Lion King.

Still, however you look at it, the success of this film is a striking example of how computerized animation has taken over the business and, in some sense, levelled out the playing field. As I noted in my review of the original Ice Age seven years ago, successful animated films at that time had largely consisted of movies that were produced in partnership with Disney (e.g. the Pixar films) or in explicit rivalry with Disney (e.g. the DreamWorks films) — but Ice Age and its sequels, which are produced by 20th Century Fox, don’t appear to have given Disney a moment’s thought. They’re just there — and audiences have been turning out for them in droves.

It’s also a striking example of just how important the overseas market has become to the Hollywood studios. In the months before, say, Angels & Demons came out, people would sometimes ask me, “Why are they making a sequel to The Da Vinci Code? I thought the first film wasn’t all that successful.” Well, as it happens, The Da Vinci Code did do decent business in North America ($217.5 million), but it did much, much better overseas ($540.7 million), and sure enough, Angels & Demons has followed a similar template, earning about two-and-a-half times as much overseas ($348.6 million) as it did in North America ($133 million).

Or, to return to the field of animation, consider this: Jeffrey Katzenberg, who runs the show at DreamWorks (and who ran the show at Disney during their “renaissance” in the late ’80s and early ’90s), said last week that he wasn’t sure whether there would be a sequel to Monsters vs. Aliens, even though the film still ranks ahead of IA:DotD in North America — and why wasn’t he sure? Because MvA actually made less money overseas than it did at home. “Domestically it has performed at a level that would surely qualify it as a sequel, and internationally it did not,” he said. “This is the first movie we’ve had that’s right on the bubble.”

Financial success, here or abroad, says nothing about a movie’s artistic merit, of course. But the growing importance of the foreign market is something to keep in mind, whenever the conversation turns to Hollywood and what might motivate the studios to do something or other.

* The other eight films that have grossed over $600 million overseas are: Titanic, the third Lord of the Rings, the last two Pirates of the Caribbeans and four of the first five Harry Potters.

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