|Scene from Foosball (Metegol)|
Animation is certainly in a golden age right now if you look at box office receipts. The fact that animation has its own category in the Academy Awards is a reflection of the fact that it has become very, very big to Hollywood. (The Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was first given for films made in 2001.) It is not uncommon when there are two or even three animated films in a year that gross one hundred, one fifty or two hundred million dollars.
Moving from Hollywood to Latin America, the top three grossing films at the Argentine box office this year are all animated: Monsters University, Despicable Me 2, and Foosball (Metegol), a homegrown animated feature from Argentina directed by one of that country’s most respected filmmakers, Juan José Campanella. His 2009 film The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, MIFF 2010) won the Oscar for best foreign language film.
Foosball, set to U.S. Premiere at MIFF’s Family Day on Saturday, March 8, 2014, tells the story of how the foosball figures in a local bar come alive to help one of the bartenders save his village and win the heart of the girl he loves. This lavish computer-animated magical romp through Argentina’s soccer culture has already proven to be a financial success thanks to strong foreign sales in Europe, Latin America and Asia, as well as becoming a box-office breaker on its own home turf. With a budget of $21 million, Foosball—which broke the opening weekend box office record in Argentina—is the most expensive film, animated or otherwise, ever produced in Argentina, as well as the most expensive animated feature ever made in Latin America. The film was funded by a Colombian oil exec Jorge Estrada Mora, whose resources made it possible for Campanella to set up an animation studio in Buenos Aires and hire advisors like Disney animation veteran and Despicable Me story originator Sergio Pablos.
“Most of the times when studios outside of Hollywood make films, they feel like the stories we just came out with, a year or two behind and with a lesser budget,” said Simon Otto, the head of character animation on DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon in a recent story in The New Yorker. “Metegol (Foosball) felt like, here’s somebody who’s telling a story of a cultural thing that’s local to where the movie was made, that would never be made in Hollywood but that has universal appeal. That piques my interest every time.”
This year will see the wide theatrical release of 11 animated movies—up from six a decade ago— including six studio movies in the summer alone, making it one of the most saturated periods ever for computer animated movies. In total, 75 animated movies have been released since 2008, according to Hollywood.com. And an additional 13 movies are slated for release in 2014, not counting films released in fewer than 500 theaters.
Low-to-mid-budget foreign animated features are increasingly common from every corner of the world, and such films stand a better chance of breaking out when they don’t attempt to replicate the form and subject matter of big-budget American animated features. Hollywood should prepare themselves for this new wave of competition as other countries begin distributing their crop of animated films around the globe. —Tatyana Chiocchetti
MIFF’s complete line-up for the 31st Miami International Film Festival (March 7–16, 2014) will be announced in late January.