Animation Deceptively Strong So Far in 2011
From looking at the movies individually, it may seem like animation has taken a bit of a hit in 2011. For instance, Rio is the year's top-grossing animated movie so far with $131.7 million, which is a far cry from How to Train Your Dragon at the same point last year. But the genre has excelled on sheer volume.

Five animated movies were released nationwide from January to April, and, collectively, they have racked up $383 million thus far (and that's not counting the partially-animated Hop). That means animation's up 80 percent over the same period last year when How to Train Your Dragon alone accounted for $210.4 million. One has to go back to 2006 for a comparable gross for animation, and that year was similarly packed. Including grosses from late 2010 movies Tangled and Megamind, animation has contributed over 12 percent of box office earnings so far this year.

Rio's $131.7 million haul is fine, but it's on the low-end for high-profile 3D animation. The movie passed {lnk41510}Robots{/lnk}'s final gross this past weekend to move out of last place among Blue Sky Animation movies, but it's not going to reach Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! It will also be the studio's least-attended movie ever. However, Rio has more than made up for its tepid domestic showing with over $313 million (and counting) overseas, and a worldwide total approaching $450 million is an impressive feat indeed.

Rango is the year's second highest-grossing animated movie with $121.2 million. The movie has performed decently considering the limitations of the Western genre, but some disappointment sets in when factoring in that Johnny Depp's name was a critical part of the marketing, which helped catapult Alice in Wonderland to blockbuster levels a year earlier. Rango has also struggled overseas, where it's so far earned $119 million.

The year's first animated movie was also its biggest surprise: Gnomeo and Juliet has made $99.5 million, or slightly less than the combined total of distributor Walt Disney Pictures' four other pre-Summer 2011 movies. It's also earned at least $90 million overseas for a worldwide total of around $190 million, which is impressive considering it initially seemed like a B-level effort that wasn't going to get a real push from Disney ahead of movies with greater expectations like I Am Number Four and Mars Needs Moms.

Speaking of Mars Needs Moms, that sci-fi animated dud more than off-set Gnomeo and Juliet's strong performance for Disney. With just $21 million in domestic earnings, the Robert Zemeckis production suffered from a perfect storm of factors, including an off-putting title, a saturated market, the creepiness of its motion-capture characters and a general lack of interest in sci-fi animation. The movie has made even less overseas and is surely responsible for a bunch of big red numbers in Disney's accounting ledgers.

Even worse than Mars Needs Moms (but not as costly), Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil has grossed just $9.2 million. That's less than one-fifth of the original movie's $51.4 million, and attendance is an even smaller fraction. The movie is slowly rolling out overseas, though it's going straight to video in many territories and probably won't be able to significantly reverse its fortunes with foreign revenue.

Animation's big year will continue this weekend with Kung Fu Panda 2, which is positioned to be the first major animated hit of 2011. Another surefire draw, Cars 2, follows four weeks later. Winnie the Pooh arrives later in the Summer with far lower expectations, though it will aim to leverage nostalgia for both the beloved characters and hand-drawn animation.

After that, audiences will have a few months to detox from the animated onslaught before Shrek prequel Puss in Boots kicks off the holiday season on Nov. 4. Happy Feet 2 and Arthur Christmas also open in November, then The Adventures of Tintin hits theaters in time for Christmas.

With all of these major releases still to come, there is a strong chance that animation in 2011 will top 2010's $1.5 billion record.

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