Hollywood Controversies: Antz vs A Bugs Life - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Hollywood Controversies: Antz vs A Bugs Life

But what are the chances?....

1998 gave us two competing big budget comet-asteroid movies, in the form of Deep Impact & Armageddon. It would also see a public feud play out surrounding a pair of computer-animated films about insects, both starring a non-conformist ant who falls in love with an ant princess, leaves the mound, and eventually returns and is hailed as a hero. DreamWorks' Antz & Pixar's A Bugs Life.

The story behind the two competing twin animated movies is an alleged case of industrial espionage. Former head of Disney's film division, Jeffrey Katzenberg had left the House of Mouse amid a bitter feud with CEO Michael Eisner, and went on to found DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. DreamWorks' then acquired Pacific Data Images (PDI), long Pixar's contemporary in computer animation, with plans to rival Disney in animation. Katzenberg still kept in touch with old friend John Lasseter and its alleged he found out about Pixar's sophomore release through one of their meetings, during the post-production development of Toy Story.

Lasseter had long respected Katzenberg's judgment and felt comfortable using him as a sounding board for creative ideas. Various friends in the close-knit animation community recount that, around this time, Lasseter was telling them to get cracking on their own films because "if [Toy Story] hits, it's going to be like space movies after Star Wars" for computer animation companies.

In October 1995, when Lasseter was overseeing post-production work on Toy Story at the Universal lot's Technicolor facility in Universal City, where DreamWorks was also located, he called Katzenberg and dropped by with Andrew Stanton, one of the writer's of Toy Story and A Bugs Life. When Katzenberg asked what they were doing next, Lasseter described what would become A Bug's Life in detail. David Price writes in his 2008 book The Pixar Touch that Lasseter later recalled...
"I should have been wary, Jeffrey kept asking questions about when it would be released."
Despite their friendship, the first Lasseter knew of DreamWorks 'bugs' movie was when he saw the announcement in the trade papers. Lasseter, feeling betrayed, called Katzenberg and asked him bluntly if it were true. Katzenberg admitted it, but claimed that Antz came from a 1991 story pitch by Tim Johnson that was related to him in October 1994, a year before their conversation surrounding A Bugs Life. Lasseter, who clearly did not believe the story, cursed at Katzenberg and hung up the phone.

DreamWorks had been expected to launch their animation division with The Prince Of Egypt. It was the first feature the company began work on, with a November 1998 release date already announced. However, not long after the trade papers announcement of Antz, Disney, specifically Michael Eisner, set the release date for the second Pixar feature. A Bugs Life would debut the same week as The Prince Of Egypt, and was all but guaranteed to be that Holiday season's big release.

The feud between the pair, and Pixar's Steve Jobs, then played out in public, and was further fueled when Katzenberg pushed The Prince Of Egypt to December 1998 and brought forward the opening of Antz from spring 1999 to October 1998, a month before A Bugs Life was due to premiere.

Jobs was furious and called Katzenberg and began yelling. Walter Isaacson 2011 book 'Steve Jobs' recounts the conversation where Katzenberg made an offer: He would delay production of Antz if Jobs and Disney would move A Bug's Life so that it did not compete with The Prince of Egypt. Jobs believed it "a blatant extortion attempt" and would not go for it, explaining that there was nothing he could do to convince Disney to change the date. Katzenberg is then alleged to have suggested that if Jobs wanted to, he could simply slow down production on A Bug's Life without telling Disney. If he did, Katzenberg said, he would put Antz on hold. Lasseter also claimed Katzenberg had phoned him with a similar proposition, but Katzenberg later denied these conversations ever happened.

Lasseter recalled that during another conversation, Katzenberg began explaining that Disney was "out to get him" and that he was the victim of a conspiracy (upon his departure from Disney, Michael Eisner had convinced Disney's board not to give Katsenberg his contract-required bonus). Lasseter came to the conclusion that Pixar and A Bugs Life were just cannon fodder in Katzenberg's fight with Disney.

As the release dates for both films approached, a press frenzy ensued. Lasseter publicly dismissed Antz as a "schlock version" of A Bug's Life. Jobs told the Los Angeles Times, "The bad guys rarely win". In response, DreamWorks' head of marketing Terry Press suggested, "Steve Jobs should take a pill." Although the contention left all parties estranged, Pixar and PDI employees kept up the old friendships that had arisen from spending a long time together in computer animation.

Who was the winner financially? Well Antz is said to have come in at an estimated $105 million production budget, but it might've actually only cost under half that. In the 2008 book The Pixar Touch, author David Price writes that a rumor, "never confirmed", was that Katzenberg had given PDI "rich financial incentives to induce them to whatever it would take to have Antz ready first, despite Pixar's head start". These incentives are alleged to have been paid directly from DreamWorks, outside of Antz production budget, although then retroactively factored in for tax purposes, and are alleged to account for somewhere in the region of a staggering $60 million payout to PDI when they achieved the impossible and shaved six months off the animation process! Meaning Antz base production figure is in the mid-$40 million, with its final box office gross sitting at $178 million. About a four times return on investment, if the alleged financial incentives are correct.

A Bugs Life, on the other hand, cost $120 million to produce and took $363 million. Over twice the take, but only three times return on its production costs. But, really, its legacy is so much more than that financial figure. The Pixar feel is more timeless, the character's more connectable. Antz is more verbal and revolves around satire, with a script heavy with adult references, whereas A Bugs Life is much more accessible to the entire audience, with a lot more visual gags.

In the end, did it really matter that the two similar films were released at the same time? Roger Ebert, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, didn't seem to think so,
"Will A Bug's Life suffer by coming out so soon after Antz? Not any more than one thriller hurts the chances for the next one. Antz may even help business for A Bug's Life by demonstrating how many dramatic and comedic possibilities can be found in an anthill."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad