Wednesday, April 23, 2014


The Tinsel press reports:

... In a far-ranging conversation, [Disney Studio chairman Alan] Horn touched upon a number of Disney’s most prized franchises. At the top of that list was Disney’s breakout Frozen, now the highest-grossing animated film of all time. Horn told his audience that Disney’s sole focus at the moment was getting the Frozen musical ready for Broadway and that a sequel hadn’t even been discussed. ...

But it will be discussed. And reasonably soon.

However ...

... [Chris] Buck claims there's been no talk of a follow-up, despite the film's massive popularity and worldwide profits. "Everyone's asking if there will be a 'Frozen 2', but at the Studio there's actually been no talk about it!" Whether we will see more of Elsa and Anna is, according to the Oscar-winner, totally in the hands of the directors. "John Lasseter has always said it's up to the filmmakers. If they feel there's another story to tell and one that's equal to the first, then the Studio will support it, as will John. It has to be our passion to do another, seeing as they take three or four years! If there's a story we feel passionate about, then they (Disney) would support us." ...

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Moving On Up

Mr. Register climbs northward.

Warner Bros Animation’s EVP Creative Affairs Sam Register has been promoted to President, Warner Bros Animation and Warner Digital Series. The second part of the title refers to Register’s role as head of a newly formed live-action digital content production unit where he will oversee the development and production of original live-action digital series, working with both Warner Bros TV-based creative talent as well as outside writers and producers. The studio already has such a division in Studio 2.0, which has spawned series like Childrens Hospital, which migrated to TV via Adult Swim.

Conglomerates are getting more involved all the time with digital content and internet delivery.

Warner Bros. has been expanding in the animation area. Warners Animation Group (WAG) is creating theatrical animated features on the main Warner lot, following the Chris Meledandri model of Develop-Projects-In-Southern-California-And-Produce-Them-Elsewhere.

Mr. Register, it appears, will continue to concentrate on home screen venues, expanding into live-action. While it would be good if he spends most of his time developing new animation, we wish him well in his added responsibilities.

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Our World, Part III

Corporatism now, corporatism tomorrow, corporatism FOREVAH.

Open-Internet advocates are calling foul on new rules that would allow broadband companies to strike special deals for preferential treatment

The Federal Communications Commission plans to propose new rules that would allow Internet service providers to charge content companies for preferential treatment over the “last mile” to users, according to multiple reports, in a blow for advocates of “Net neutrality,” the principle that consumers should have equal access to content available on the Internet. ...

If our fine corporations can't monetize what was previously low-cost or free, what is the point of being U.S. of A., Inc.?

Not too much, I should think. (The Golden Rule: Those that have the gold, make the rules.)

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

At DreamWorks Animation, TV Division

Today I spent part of my morning in the Unum Insurance skyscraper in Glendale, where DreamWorks Animation's television group continues to expand, grown from one floor to wo. And next week three. ...

DWA TV has taken over a total of four floors in the building, two near the top and two near the mid-section. One floor is filled to the brim with artists and tech directors working on the previously announced King Julien (a Madagascar spin-off), Puss in Boots (from Shrek) and Veggie Tales in the House.

There's also a bunch of other series and pilots happening, but since they haven't (so far as I know) been announced, and I've got no desire to get angry phone calls from DWA managers, I will keep the titles and subject matter to myself.

As for the physical plant, one floor is bursting at the seams with execs, techies and artists, one floor is beginning to fill up (although it's still pretty empty) with newer shows I don't think have been announced yet, and yet another floor will have crew from Dragons, Defenders of Berk coming over from their Ventura Boulevard digs in Studio City. (I'm told that starts to happen next week. The crew has a bunch of new episodes to produce, and will be continuing at full speed.)

Elsewhere in and around DWA:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is just a few months away from its release and DreamWorks Animation has released the first five minutes of the most awaited animation movie during a special presentation at Wonder Con.

The first five minutes of the forthcoming sequel reintroduces Hiccup and his dragon friend Toothless in breathtaking scenes including delightful dragons racing and some dangerous skydives.

The first instalment of the 3D animation movie was the highest earner for Dreamworks and its sequel has created enough buzz already. ...

The t.v. series Dragons: Defenders of Berk is designed to mesh with the theatrical versions of the continuing story.

Click here to read entire post


This has the earmarks of a hybrid animated feature.

... Disney has hired Jon Turteltaub to direct a feature based on the venerable family film ride "Small World", [the Disneyland attraction] with the catchy tune.

Jared Stern pitched Small World and will write the script. He, Turteltaub and The Lego Movie‘s Dan Lin will be the producers. This one will take awhile to come together but it is envisioned as a potential franchise for the studio. ...

"Family film ride"? Aren't we getting a little ahead of ourselves? ...

I would love to see what the plot line is on this baby. But if Warners can make a movie based on Legos and get themselves a hit, Diz Co. should be able to conjure something with "Small World."

And look on the bright side. If they can't create a blockbuster, maybe we won't have to endure eight sequels.

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Union Station Opening, Shot by Ward Kimball

The celebratory parade for the opening of the last major train station in the U.S. of A.

Union Station opened in 1939 in downtown L.A. Then, it was a major railroad hub. Today, it's a railroad station and a focal point for Los Angeles's urban transit system. It now contains trolleys, subways, and the ever-popular choo-choo trains. ...

The footage shows downtown L.A. on May 3, 1939 when Union station opened for business. Photographed by Ward Kimball, one of Walt Disney's Nine Old Men (long before they were nine old men.)

Ward was twenty-five-years-old at the time, and already a train buff. He was working on Pinocchio.

H/t to the Wise Old Animation Producer.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Our World, Part II

Bonus Fun

Over the past several days there have been complaints from some laid-off Disney feature employees who are a little chapped. Their story goes like this:

They worked on the animated feature known as Frozen (and many of them on earlier features), and now they're at liberty. (The company's choice, not theirs.)

So they've now discovered that everyone who's labored on the picture, and is still a Disney employee, gets a nice fat bonus check. But they get nada because they no longer work for the company.

For some reason I've received a few e-mails and phone calls about it. ...

And I, good union rep that I am, have (in turn) called the company on their behalf. And said this:

I understand these bonuses Diz Co. is handing out to Frozen staffers are discretionary, and totally within the corporation's purview. But look at the situation from these separated employees' perspectives. They worked alongside everybody else, worked their tails off the get the picture done, worked to the best of their abilities, and then the company laid them off.

I get how someone who resigned and went somewhere else, maybe left in the middle of the picture, deserves nothing. They walked out, so the hell with them. But these people wanted to stay. And they worked hard. And the company used their work. And Frozen ended up making a billion-plus dollars.

I understand that the Walt Disney Company is under no obligation to pay a separated employee more of anything (or a non-separated employee, for that matter), but the crew-members were doing pretty much the same job on the same movie, and now months later, some get a big extra check and some don't rate so much as an all-day sucker.

You okay with that? ...

The answer (paraphrased) was, "Sure. We're fine with it."

Our world, Disney style.

Click here to read entire post

Our World

As we slide back toward the level of unionization we last saw ... oh ... a century ago, there is this.

The United Automobile Workers union unexpectedly announced Monday that it was dropping its effort to force a new unionization vote at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Bob King, the U.A.W.'s president, said his union was basing its decision on the belief that the National Labor Relations Board’s adjudication process in the dispute “could drag on for months or even years.”

The union lost a vote at the plant in February, 712 to 626, and soon afterward it asked the labor board to order a new election, asserting that anti-union statements and threats by Tennessee lawmakers had prevented a fair election. ...

As noted here a couple of days ago, we live in a time of the New Oligarchs, those lucky duckies who live in their own plush, parallel universe. And want to keep it that way, while paying less for the privilege.

... The median pay for the top 100 highest-paid CEOs at America’s publicly traded companies was a handsome $13.9 million in 2013. That’s a 9 percent increase from the previous year, according to a new Equilar pay study for The New York Times.

These types of jumps in executive compensation may have more of an effect on our widening income inequality than previously thought. A new book that’s the talk of academia and the media, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, a 42-year-old who teaches at the Paris School of Economics, shows that two-thirds of America’s increase in income inequality over the past four decades is the result of steep raises given to the country’s highest earners. ...

“What Piketty’s really done now is he said, ‘Even those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don’t really get what’s going on.’ He’s telling us that we are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy. A society of inherited wealth.” ...

The rich will always be with us. I get that. But American taxes have become less progressive over time, so you now have the folks in the Top Tier, who make most of their money from the stock market, paying an effective tax rate of 15%, while poor working slobs (you and me) shell out 18% ... 22% ... 25%.

If we just went back to the tax rates Ronald Reagan signed into laws in 1987, we would have a more progressive tax system, and the bottom 30% of the population would catch a better break.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Eggs

This being Easter Sunday ...

Charles Solomon narrates a short history (or longer history, if you pick the right tab(s) at the left of the linked screen) of insider caricatures in animated features, featurettes and shorts.

... For animators, an Easter egg is an in-joke, a caricature, or some other surprise hidden in a movie. Disney animator Eric Goldberg says the practice goes back at least to the 1930s: "You can look at 'Ferdinand the Bull,' for example, from 1938, and there’s a scene where all the characters are caricatures of staffers. There’s Ward Kimball, there’s Art Babbitt, there’s Freddie Moore, and at the end, the matador himself is Walt Disney. If Walt can take a joke, then so can we." ...

H/t: President Emeritus Tom Sito.

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Your World Box Office

The Cartoons keep accumulating.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Grosses)

Rio 2 -- $48,000,000 -- ($276,863,098)

Frozen -- $7,600,000 -- ($1,129,173,000)

The Lego Movie -- $7,600,000 -- ($441,259,672)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $2,200,000 -- ($258,682,777)

Rio 2 has outgrossed Mr. Peabody after three weeks in the world marketplace. ...

And Deadline tells us:

... Disney is having a fantastic run overseas with both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Frozen. The Marvel sequel has passed the $500M while Frozen has broken more records, becoming the highest international animated grosser of all time. Frozen is No. 1 in Japan where it is skating past the $100M market. ...

Rio 2 had a stupendous $48M gross from 65 markets this weekend with its biggest hold in China where it earned another $7.5M and raising its overall cume in the market to $23M. The animated Fox feature opened to No. 1 in Italy with $2.4M and among most holdover markets, the bird was sitting pretty at either the No. 1 post or a close 2nd among the new openers. ...

The Lego Movie built another $7.6M from roughly 2,980 screens (657K) admissions to bring its overall international cume to $189.4M. ...

People sometimes sneer at Fox/Blue Sky making all the sequels, but it shouldn't be a mystery. Blue Sky in particular has a sterling track record with blockbuster foreign returns with its franchises, so it's guaranteed the company will do more of them.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Of, By and For the Incorporateds

As if we didn't know it before, but it's always good to be reminded.

Writing for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels discusses a forthcoming study in Perspectives in Politics by fellow poli-sci acedemics Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page. Their research provides stunning new evidence of the hegemonic dominance of the rich in our democracy.

Looking at 1,779 national policy outcomes in the United States over a period of over twenty years, Gilens and Page found that:

... economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. ...

The differences between the influence of average people and moneyed elites on the policy-making process were not small, either. Bartels says that the preferences of economic elites (defined here as citizens at the 90th percentile or above of the income distribution) were fifteen times as important in affecting the government policies that were enacted on the national level.

I don't know what's "stunning" about it. Anybody with half a brain can see that the Top Tiers pretty much get their own way. ...

Just a few examples from the recent past:

* In California, entertainment labor unions are fighting hard for a tax incentive bill that will largely benefit (wait for it) ... large entertainment conglomerates.

* The Affordable Care Act subsidizers private insurance plans and is pilloried by Republicans, even as they work to turn the government's single page plan (Medicare) into a version of ... the Affordable Care Act.

* The Federal Government bails out General Motors and Chrysler when they teeter on bankruptcy.

* The Federal Government bails out the Large Banks when they're sliding into insolvency. (And also fails to criminally prosecute bank officers for money laundering and fraud.

I concluded long ago that we are, like it or not, the United States of America, Inc. The Republicans want to remove the crumbs the riff raff consume at the dinner table, while the Democrats want to add a few crumbs. (Which is why I'm a Democrat.)

But face it: By and large, it's the same. We're a corporatist state, so live with it.

Click here to read entire post

Your American Box Office

With Rio 2 right behind Captain America 2.

U.S. - Canadian Box Office

). Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DIS), 3,825 theaters (-113) / $9.8M to $10.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $24.5M to $25.4M (-38% to 40%) / Per screen average: $6,650 / Total cume: $200M / Wk 3

2). Rio 2 (FOX), 3,975 theaters (+27) / $9.2M to $9.5M Fri. /3-day cume: $23M+ (-41%) / Per screen: $5,700 / Total cume: 75.9M / Wk 2

3). Heaven Is For Real (SONY), 2,417 theaters / $7.8M Fri. / 3-day cume: $18.9M to $20.1M / Per screen: $8,000 / Total cume: $26.8M to $27M+ (5-day) / Wk 1

4). Transcendence (WB), 3,455 theaters / $4.8M Fri. / 3-day cume: $11.5M to $11.8M / Per screen: $3,300 / Wk 1

5). A Haunted House 2 (OPRD), 2,310 / $3.8M to $4.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9M to $9.4M / Per screen: $4,000/ Wk 1

6). Draft Day (LGF), 2,781 theaters (0) / $2.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $6M (-37%) / Total cume: $19.5M to $19.7M / Wk 2

7). Divergent (LGF), 2,486 theaters (-624) / $2.15M to $2.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.5M to $6M (-18%) / Total cume: $$133.6M to $134.2M / Wk 5

8). Oculus (REL), 2,648 theaters (0) / $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.3M (-53%) / Total cume: $21.3M / Wk 2

9). Bears (DIS), 1,720 theaters / $2.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5M / Per screen: $2,900 / Wk 1

10). God’s Not Dead (FREE), 1,796 theaters (-64) / $1.6M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4M to $4.9M (-11% to 14%) / Total cume: $47.5M to $48.4M / Wk 5

Mr. Peabody and Sherman, now out of the Top Ten, plays on 780 screens and has a total accumulation of $106,743,000. This is much higher than last summer's Turbo but far from DreamWorks Animation's high-grossing best.

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Investment Basics

The longer I invest for retirement, the more I realize that most people (me included) should make the program as simple, easy and stress-free as possible, then stick with the program.

Toward that end:

Doesn’t Matter: Your theories on tax policy.
Does Matter: Taking advantage of tax sheltered retirement accounts.

Doesn’t Matter: Developing tactics for every short-term market move or geopolitical risk.
Does Matter: Crafting long-term principles that can guide your actions through multiple scenarios.

Doesn’t Matter: Your political views.
Does Matter: Creating a comprehensive financial plan.

Doesn’t Matter: How cheap your trading commissions are.
Does Matter: Keeping your overall investment costs in check.

Doesn’t Matter: The inevitable market correction.
Does Matter: How you react when stocks fall. ...

Many artists I talk to would rather eat Vaseline sandwiches than spend time researching stocks and bonds. But the dirty little secret is, smart investing is simple and easy to implement. The difficult part is overcoming your lizard-brain emotions and fleeing from a sinking market at precisely the wrong time.

Which is why for many people, the Three-Fund portfolio -- Total Stock Market, Total International Stock Market, Total Bond Market -- is the best solution:

Does the Three-Fund portfolio seem overly simplistic, even amateurish? Get over it. Over the next few decades, the overwhelming majority of all professional investors will not be able to beat it."

-- Dr. William Bernstein, financial author, advisor

Many have a tendency to over-worry investments. But think about it. The fewer moving parts, the less time needed to think about what should be done. Three funds equal three choices. Easy.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

B.O. Forecast

... has the movie with macaws on top.

The Mojo's Forecast (April 18-20)

1. Rio 2 - $25.1 million (-36%)

2. Captain America - $22.7 million (-45%)

3. Transcendence - $20.9 million

4. Heaven is for Real - $15.3 million ($21.8 million five-day)

5. A Haunted House 2 - $11.9 million

6. Bears - $7.4 million

For those keeping score at home, as of Thursday Mr. Peabody and Sherman was just out of the Top Ten with $106,383,000 (domestic), The Lego Movie had $251,860,000 (domestic), and Frozen was an eyelash shy of $400,000,000. (Also domestic.)

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Running Out of Dresses

It's not just about a billion-plus in theatrical grosses.

... Toys, dolls, and clothes have always been a big part of strategy at Disney, the world’s largest licensing company. Even so, it’s hit an unexpected merchandise jackpot with Elsa, the Snow Queen of Arendelle, and her ice gown. “It took everyone by surprise worldwide,” says Stephen Berman, chief executive officer at Jakks Pacific (JAKK), a manufacturer that sells to chains such as Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and Target (TGT). “This is a new Disney princess franchise. It happens maybe once or twice in a business career.” In January, stores sold out of Jakks’s version—price, $20—and some retailers are ponying up to airlift reinforcements from Chinese factories.

Buyers stocked only about as many of the ice gowns as they did Rapunzel outfits from Disney’s 2010 Tangled. But since its Nov. 22 opening, Frozen has become the top-grossing animated film of all time, with worldwide theater receipts of $1.1 billion When shipments do come in, Disney stores limit customers to two dresses to curb black market sales.

Tasia Filippatos, a Disney spokesperson, declined to comment on the size of the Frozen merchandise market. ...

The market is BIG, but retailers initially got faked out.

Early on, Elsa dress sales were slow and stores thought they’d over-ordered. “There was big uh-oh moment at the beginning,” O’Loughlin said.

Then kids fell in love with the movie princess, who has a kingdom trapped in ice and a sister, Anna, who searches for her across the tundra.

As sales began to climb and orders poured in after the Christmas holiday, Jakks had trouble restocking because of Chinese New Year, which shut down manufacturing in that country for a month until mid-February. Much of the “Frozen” merchandise is made in China. ...

So Diz Co. has played catch up with the merchandise thingie ... and shy about saying how lucrative it is. However, we know one thing for certain sure. If all those people inside the Hat Building hadn't made the movie, then the dresses wouldn't be flying off the shelves.

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Mychal Simka -- TAG Interview

TAG Interview with Mychal Symka

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link
Mychal Simka resides in a somewhat different space than many animation creators. He rewrites and reconfigures animated features, turning them into different movies ...

Mychal was raised in Anaheim, and his mother worked at Disneyland for a lot of years. (Mr. Simka went to the park a lot as a kid, and continues to visit regularly.) With that background, you might expect he would have ended up animating at Disney Feature animation ... or maybe storyboarding.

Nope. Instead, he became a casting director, and then found his way into animated features as a writer and voice director. He talks about both those things, plus the world marketplace for lower budget CG features in this TAG pocast.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Meanwhile Overseas

The Macaws zoom right along.

Rio 2, now in 65 markets, had its biggest weekend yet with $63.5 million, bringing the animation’s total to $125.6 million internationally. That’s definitely on the right track for both Blue Sky and Fox with already $171.8 million worldwide, just about doubling the sequel’s $103 million production budget.

Rio 2 had its best debut in China, in 2nd place with $12.6 million. Among the last big markets that have yet to open the animation, we have South Korea, Poland and Japan, all coming in May. Ultimately Rio 2 should end up somewhere between $450 and $500 million worldwide, more or less around the final tally of Rio, $484.6 million. ...

If Fox can continue making $500 million on a $100 million budget, then Fox will continue in the theatrical animation business. Click here to read entire post

Middle Kingdom Partnership

The Mouse dives into a LARGE market.

Walt Disney Studios and Shanghai Media Group Pictures will co-develop stories with Chinese elements, says an executive of the Magic Kingdom.

"The deal focuses on the weakest point in the Chinese film industry, the storytelling," says Stanley Cheung, managing director of The Walt Disney Company, China.

Under the deal, US-based action, adventure and fantasy writers will team with locally based Chinese writers and filmmakers to develop stories and scripts that bear all the hallmarks of Disney films and feature authentic Chinese elements fit for local co-production and aimed at the international market. ...

Diz Co.'s partnership mirrors DreamWorks Animation's (earlier announced) partnership. And both appear to have the same "weak point" issue. Like Disney, DreamWorks has more direct control of story development.

But are these Chinese-centric features going to find a wider global audience? And how profitable will they ultimately be?

Click here to read entire post

Ending the Fox Late-Night Block

But ordering up new prime-time candidates.

Fox will end its late-night Saturday cartoon block, Animation Domination High-Def, after less than a year, but it is continuing its commitment to the animation initiative.

The network has ordered two half-hour series from the Animation Domination production unit that it plans to air in prime time, most likely on Sunday, in the next year. It has not announced the names of the series.

"We're as enthusiastic as ever about investing in this growing initiative to be able to incubate our way into the next Sunday night animation hit," says Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, who oversees multi-platform programming for Fox. The Simpsons and Family Guy are two long-running Sunday successes for the network.

Regarding the above, questions come to mind:

* Why is Fox discontinuing it's late night cartoon experiment? Too raunchy? Too unprofitable? If it's one or both of these things, why move ADHD product to prime viewing hours on Sunday nights?

* What shows, animated or otherwise, will give way for the newer Animation Domination High-Def offerings?

* Is the WGAw going to be covering these new shows? ADHD specializes in low-rent animated half-hours that are non-union top to bottom. Will that change now that ADHD's product is shifting to the Fox network in prime-time? Will the Animation Guild, which has a contract with Fox TV Animation, have a contract for this work?

* Is ADHD, with low wages and no benefits, going to become the new cartoon business model for Fox?

I don't have any answers to the questions above. But I sure as hell would like to.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

French Animation Hub

Illumination Entertainment uses a Paris animation studio for much of its production work, but there are other cartoon hotspots in France:

The French town of Angouleme already has an international reputation for its Comic book Festival, but now it’s also gaining a reputation for animation. Dozens of studios have opened there over the past 15 years creating around a thousand jobs in the town.

France is the top animated film producer in Europe, and third worldwide behind the US and Japan. Thanks to government support and funding, animation is a growth sector in France, now employing around 5,000 people.

The town of Angouleme, in the west of France, is making a name for itself as a hub for animation, even attracting studios away from Paris.

You will note that France uses "government support and funding" to juice up its animation sector. You can also see here how Angouleme does indeed have a cluster of animation studios.

(Exactly how big they are, the Google map doesn't say.)

Click here to read entire post


Rupert's minions have apparently upset some people.

Fox’s NSFW Easter cartoon is drawing some holiday heat. The animated short on the network’s Animation Domination High-Def (ADHD) online channel is a raunchy (and quite catchy) music video titled “The Easter Bunny’s Coming” (video below).

The Parents Television Council, an independent watchdog group that monitors network programming and frequently protests content, called the video “X rated” and crowned it “the most explicit material we’ve ever seen produced by a broadcast television network.”

“We thought we had seen the worst of ‘ADHD’ when Fox aired a segment several months ago with high school characters gleefully taking cell phone pictures of their genitals and texting the photos to other students,” said PTC president Tim Winter. “That content pales in comparison to the material in this new video.” ...

Genitals? On the INTERNET!?

Tim Winter doesn't get around much, does he? ...

Meantime, I was over at the Fox Animation studios, today, where a table read was in progress for the first episode of Family Guy's new season. A staffer clued me:

"Seth doesn't come to table reads anymore. He hasn't come in a couple of years. They put a big speaker phone in the middle of the table and he he does his parts over that."

Another artist said Mr. Macfarlane spends a lot more time in his new headquarters in Beverly Hills. And that he doesn't review every facet of the show like he used to, but delegates a lot more. (Smart, in my opinion.) He's got live-action projects, animated projects, and a movie coming out the end of May. Who's got time to look at every design, set of dailies, and storyboard?

Across the hall at American Dad, work goes on for the series' new, fifteen-episode season on TBS. Artists are hoping that TBS will pick up yet another fifteen episodes as early as May, when the writers will get word of new installments.

"When Fox canceled the show last year, the American Dad writers went elsewhere and Fox couldn't get many of them back when TBS picked up the series for another season. Don't think they want to make that mistake twice."

On the subject of episode orders, at one time there was talk of Family Guy having a few less half-hours in the new season, but now it appears there will be twenty. (Or so I'm told.)

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cable Cartoons

The Time-Warner family of cable networks does well with the animations.

... Across the second week of April, and with a full primetime programming scheduled (8 – 11 p.m.), Adult Swim ranked #1 in Primetime delivery of adults 18-34 among all basic cable networks. Adult Swim’s Total Day weekly averages also ranked #1 on basic cable among adults 18-34, 18-49 & 18-24 as well as men 18-34, 18-49, & 18-24. Total Day delivery also grew +3% among men 18-49 vs. the same time period last year. ...

Across the second week of April 2014, Cartoon Network ranked as television’s #1 network among boys 6-11 & 9-14 on Thursday Night (6-8 p.m.), and the #1 network among boys 9-14 on Monday Night (6-8 p.m.). ...

But there's confusing this:

For the week of April 7, 2014, Disney Channel ranked as TV’s #1 Total Day network for the 148th-consecutive week among Tweens 9-14 (379,000/1.6 rating) and for the 147th time in the previous 148 weeks in Kids 6-11 (440,000/1.9 rating) – dates back to week of 6/13/11.

Disney Channel defeated Nickelodeon by 23% in Kids 6-11 (440,000 vs. 358,000) and by 56% in Tweens 9-14 (379,000 vs. 243,000).

In Prime, Disney Channel stood as cable TV’s #1 network for the 464th-consecutive week among Kids 6-11 (735,000/3.1 rating – 8+ years) and 201st-straight week among Tweens 9-14 (659,000/2.7 rating – 3+ years).

You will note how everybody is Number One, except the demos in each press release are a teensy bit different from one conglomerate to the next. (18-34 is NOT 15-17, not even close.) On the other hand, Adult Swim is a success by any measure.

... What started nearly 15 years ago as a two-hour programming experiment has emerged as the biggest success story in late-night television: an irreverent, disruptive anti-channel that blends live action and animated original series to the delight of 18-35 year old males across the country. While the press clamored over the network talk show hosts’ game of musical chairs, culminating with David Letterman’s recent retirement announcement, Adult Swim quietly swept ratings among the covetable young male demo across 2013. ...

Adult Swim underwrites a lot of non-union animation. TAG aims to change that as time goes on. The rest of the network is Animation Guild oriented. No reason AS can't be the same.

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Maybe Write Down Time?

The Street isn't sure about the economic health of Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

... Analysts are divided over whether the MPAS will force DreamWorks Animation to take a write-down. Analyst Ben Mogil of Stifel Nicolaus predicted “Peabody” would cost DreamWorks Animation $41 million in a note Monday while Morgan Stanley forecast the company would break-even or take a modest write-down.

DreamWorks Animation will report its quarterly earnings at the end of this month, and Mogil posited, ”the question now becomes whether the company writes the film off with this quarter results, as was the case with “Rise of the Guardians” or waits to see how DVD fares, which was the case with ‘Turbo.'” “Turbo” cost DreamWorks Animation $13.5 million in its most recent quarter.

“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” has already topped “Turbo” in the United States, grossing $105 million to the $83 million “Turbo” made. “Peabody” has lagged overseas, however, grossing $143 million thus far with South Korea the only new market left.

“We estimate that the international box office will be in the $155mn range (was $255mn), triggering a loss of $41mn,” Mogil wrote. ...

I'm guessing that we won't be seeing Mr. Peabody and Sherman 2: When Time Travelers Attack anytime this century.

But I'm betting that, come summer, How to Train Your Dragon II is a major winner for the company.
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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Joys of Like-O-Meters

Lauren Davis writes:

How useful are animation focus groups when deciding whether to re-tool a cartoon series? According to this behind-the-scenes comic by Green Lantern: The Animated Series showrunner Giancarlo Volpe, the answer is: not very. ...

And Mr. Volpe draws. ...

I wouldn't say that testing and focus groups provide no information or guidance, but corporate entities rely on them way too much.

Disney TVA/Disney Channel (to use but one example) religiously focus group and test animated shows long before they ever make it to air. If the test scores are high enough, then the half-hour pilots/animatics/whatever get green-lit to series. If it bombs or under-performs with the tots and their "Like-O-Meters", the half-hour ends up in the ash can of failed pilots.

The tyranny of five-year-olds. It's wonderful that artists' destinies and livelihoods rest in their grimy little hands.

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Mining the Vault

Nobody likes sequels. But everybody loves remakes.

Cinderella -- This one started out as a project directed by Mark Romanek, previously responsible for One Hour Photo and Never Let Me Go. He's been replaced by Kenneth Branagh, and the film will be in cinemas in March next year.

Pete's Dragon -- The 1977 live-action/animation hybrid, about an orphan boy and his big cartoon dragon, is set for a remake.

The Jungle Book -- Disney's version already has a release date pencilled in for October next year, with Jon Favreau directing the live-action/CGI hybrid. We also have some encouraging casting news, with Idris Elba having signed up to lend his dulcet tones to Shere Khan. ...

Then, of course:

Originality. It's a good thing. But not in Hollywood.

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Animation Predominates

The Fox block, it does well. Particularly the Griffins.

... Fox's "Family Guy" and ABC's "Resurrection" were Sunday night's highest-rated network shows among key young adults, though it appears that golf-boosted CBS had the best ratings overall.

"Family Guy" scored a rating of 2.1 among key 18- to 49-year-old viewers, according to early numbers from Nielsen. Though Peter Griffin et al were down 9% from last week, the animated comedy was the top nonsports program on the major networks in the advertiser-coveted age group. ...

Fox continues to cash in on prime time animation. I've got no idea why every other broadcast network avoids animation between 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. The only thing that occurs to me is that they don't want to cozy up to the WGAw.

But maybe that's not it. Maybe they just don't want to rain on Rupert's parade.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The East Coast Feature Animation Studio

It's based in Connecticut, and doing well.

... More than any other U.S. filmmaking operation today, Blue Sky is demonstrating the enormous power and sway the international market can have on Hollywood. But judging by the coverage (or lack thereof) of Blue Sky’s films from most stateside media outlets, you could be forgiven for thinking of the studio as the RC Cola of feature animation, a third-tier operation without the cultural and commercial heft of Pixar, DreamWorks, and Disney. (Or, for that matter, the upstart Illumination Entertainment, which has basically only the Despicable Me movies and The Lorax to its name.)

The things you need to know about Blue Sky studios is

1) Fox tried to sell Blue Sky ... before the company realized Ice Age was going to be a big hit.

2) Blue Sky pioneered the use of tax subsidies, moving from White Plains, New York to Connecticut to get money from the state.

3) Blue Sky's features cost less than Pixar's and DreamWorks's, but more than Illumination Entertainment's. A Blue Sky features costs in $95-110 million range, while Illumination Entertainment products run $75-$80 million. Blue Sky brings in temporary staffers during crunch time and puts them up in corporate apartments. The company isn't unionized but pays competitively. Chris Meledandri, a specialist in keeping budgets low, ran both Blue Sky and Illumination Entertainment at different times.

4) Blue Sky's core staff has been on board for years.

5) Blue Sky's animated features are (mostly) profitable.

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World Box Office

The Cartoons, they continue to do well around the globe.

Foreign Box Office -- (World Accumulations)

Rio 2 -- $62,300,000 -- ($164,200,000)

The Lego Movie -- $9,500,000 -- ($424,718,771)

Frozen -- $8,000,000 -- ($1,112,532,000)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $3,800,000 -- ($249,214,979)

The rundown as described by Deadline:

Warner Bros’ The Lego Movie continues building its overseas cume with an additional $9.5M this weekend on over 3,100 screens. The total international tally now stands at $173.3M. Lego clicked in Germany with a No. 1 bow – ahead of newcomer Divergent and holdovers Rio 2 and Noah. ...

Frozen, meanwhile, has glided up a notch on the all-time box office chart, now standing at No. 8 with $1,113M. Disney is confident Frozen will soon pass Ice Age 4 to become the highest grossing international animated release of all time. It added $8M this weekend. ...

Rio 2 dropped 20% in its second outing in the UK, earning $2.9M from 1,100 dates. ...

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The Jobs Boost From Free Money

This isn't much of a surprise.

British cartoons boom as industry is reanimated by tax relief deal -- Tax credits tipped the balance, says CBeebies boss who has commissioned six new series from homegrown studios ...

The creative surge comes after a helping hand from George Osborne, who has introduced a tax break for the animation industry, amounting to around 20% of production costs. Announcing the measure in his 2012 budget, Osborne said he wanted to ensure that Wallace and Gromit stayed at the top of the global animation game.

The effect has been to revive an industry that had been down in the dumps, with even the production of Thomas the Tank Engine being shifted in 2010 from Britain to Canada. Kay Benbow, head of CBeebies, said the tax credits had "tipped the balance", with more and more projects that had been pre-ordered by the channel suddenly going ahead. ...

Productions that had been outsourced overseas are being repatriated, he said, and there are signs of inward investment as foreign producers start to place work with UK animators. Blue-Zoo is adapting one animation for a Japanese client. ...

It has, of course, become a buyers' market.

Companies and conglomerates now look around for the biggest subsidies, and set up shop where the money spigot is biggest. And when the cash flow gets turned off, they move on to a new locale with a generous dole.

Robust and unfettered free enterprise is truly a wonder to behold. Now, let's get the lazy moochers off of food stamps so we can make room for bigger farm subsidies.

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Retirement Theft

The past few weeks I've talked to various fifty-something members who have a lot of years and cash in Guild retirement accounts, but aren't old enough to cash in. Some are still employed and hanging on to their long-time profession, and some are encountering longer stretches of down-time and wondering what they're going to do for the next fifteen years of their working lives. But no matter where somebody is in their career, they should be aware of this:

... A new study finds that the typical 401(k) fees — adding up to a modest-sounding 1 percent a year — would erase $70,000 from an average worker's account over a four-decade career compared with lower-cost options. To compensate for the higher fees, someone would have to work an extra three years before retiring.

The study comes from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Its analysis, backed by industry and government data, suggests that U.S. workers, already struggling to save enough for retirement, are being further held back by fund costs.

"The corrosive effect of high fees in many of these retirement accounts forces many Americans to work years longer than necessary or than planned," the report, being released Friday, concludes.

Most savers have only a vague idea how much they're paying in 401(k) fees or what alternatives exist, though the information is provided in often dense and complex fund statements. High fees seldom lead to high returns. And critics say they hurt ordinary investors — much more so than, say, Wall Street's high-speed trading systems, which benefit pros and have increasingly drawn the eye of regulators.

Consider what would happen to a 25-year-old worker, earning the U.S. median income of $30,500, who puts 5 percent of his or her pay in a 401(k) account and whose employer chips in another 5 percent:

— If the plan charged 0.25 percent in annual fees, a widely available low-cost option, and the investment return averaged 6.8 percent a year, the account would equal $476,745 when the worker turned 67 (the age he or she could retire with full Social Security benefits).

— If the plan charged the typical 1 percent, the account would reach only $405,454 — a $71,000 shortfall.

— If the plan charged 1.3 percent — common for 401 (k) plans at small companies — the account would reach $380,649, a $96,000 shortfall. The worker would have to work four more years to make up the gap. (The analysis assumes the worker's pay rises 3.6 percent a year.) ...

Over the past two years, trustees of the TAG 401(k) Plan have pushed to get fees down. As of August 1st, the TAG 401(k) Plan will be administered by Vanguard Mutual Funds. Our fund selection won't change very much, but overall costs will be lower.

Long term, this will mean participants have more folding money in their wallets when they step off the work merry-go-round and spend more time on the front porch, thinking deep thoughts.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sequels for a Popular Hybrid Animated Feature

From the trades.

In a Reddit AMA this morning, Avatar director James Cameron expounded on the [Avatar] franchise’s timetable in regards to the screenplays, writing, “The second, third and fourth films all go into production simultaneously. They’re essentially all in preproduction now, because we are designing creatures, settings, and characters that span all three films. And we should be finished with all three scripts within the next, I would say, six weeks. There’s always pressure, whether it’s a new film or whether it’s a sequel, to entertain and amaze an audience. I’ve felt that pressure my entire career, so there’s nothing new there. The biggest pressure I feel right now is cutting out things I love to get the film down to a length that is affordable. There hasn’t been a problem finding new and wonderful things to include in the movie.” ...

Avatar is a lot like Gravity. Sure, it's got some live action in it, but mostly it's an animated feature, tricked up to look like a live-action, sci fi pic.

So. These days, James Cameron is a director of animated features as much as anything else. Which gives you an idea of how mainstream animated features have become.

Add On: "Why Saying Animation is for Kids is Bullshit."

(They're speaking -- mostly -- about traditional animation, but the rule applies to all kinds of animation ... even animation that passes for live-action but really isn't.)

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Box Office Animation Bookends

... with two animated features in The List.

Add On: But as Saturday gives way to Sunday, Rio fades a bit and Captain America WS regains the top spot.

U.S. - Canadian Box Office (revised)

1). Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DIS), 3,938 theaters (0) / $11.7M Fri. / $17.8M Sat. (+49%) / $11.4M to $11.7M Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $40.5M to $41.4M (-57%) / Total Cume: $157. 9M to $158.4M / Wk 2

2). Rio 2 (FOX), 3,948 theaters / $11.9M Fri. / $15.2M Sat. (+28%) / $11.6M Sun. (-24%) / 3-day cume: $37.6M to $38.7M / Wk 1

3). Oculus (REL), 2,648 theaters / $4.9M Fri. / $4.3M Sat. (-12%) / $2.8 Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $11.8M to $12M / Wk 1

4). Draft Day (LGF), 2,781 theaters / $3.57M Fri. / $3.8M Sat. (+75) / $2.4M Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $9.75M / Wk 1

5). Divergent (LGF), 3,110 theaters (-521) / $2.3M Fri. / $3.26M Sat. (+41%) / $1.8M Sun. (-45%) / 3-day cume: $7.48M (-42%) / Total cume: $124.87M / Wk 4

6). Noah (PAR), 3,282 theaters (-289) / $2M Fri./ $3.18M Sat. (+55%) / $2.2M Sun. (-30%) / 3-day cume: $7.3M (-57%) / Total cume: $84.7M / Wk 3

7). God’s Not Dead (FREE), 1,860 theaters (+102) / $1.56M Fri. / $2.1M Sat. (+35%) / $1.79M Sun. (-15%) / 3-day cume: $5.46M (-30%) / Total cume: $40.8M / Wk 4

8). The Grand Budapest Hotel (FSL), 1,467 theaters (+204) / $1.17M Fri. / $1.8M Sat. (+54%) / $1M Sun. (-40%) / 3-day cume: $4M (-33%) / Total cume: $39.4M / Wk 6

9). Muppets Most Wanted (DIS), 2,261 theaters (-791) / $565K Fri. / $975K Sat. (+73%) / $635K Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $2.1M (-65%) / Total Cume: $45.6M / Wk 4

10). Mr. Peabody And Sherman (FOX), 2,001 theaters (-930) / $445K Fri. / $790K Sat. (+76%) / $510K Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $1.7M (-65%) / Total cume: $105M+ / Wk 6

As Deadline noted:

The animated family film Rio 2 from Fox’s Blue Sky Studios has soared to the top spot this weekend, besting Disney/Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier which is expected to drop roughly 59% in its sophomore frame. The budget for Rio 2 is said to be about $103M and internationally it has already taken in over $55M (as of last weekend).Rio-2 It will have made roughly $100M worldwide after its debut this weekend here in the states.

A huge force for the picture on social media, of course, is Bruno Mars who is on a world tour right now in Japan. “He’s feeding the Rio 2 fans across his 51 million Facebook and 18 million Twitter followers,” said RelishMix CEO Marc Karzen who also noted, “YouTube views are climbing and on par for animated (films), but fan reposted clips to owned studio trailers are soaring at a healthy 8 to 1 ratio.” The first Rio opened in 2011 to $39M so the sequel is performing about 10% better. The sequel received an A CinemaScore.

We did an interview with Rio 2's director Carlos Saldanha two years back. Find it here.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Predictions of B.O.

Rio 2 near the top.

Animated sequel Rio 2 could cruise to around $40 million this weekend, which would put it in a close race for first place against Captain America: The Winter Soldier. ...

Playing at 3,948 locations, Rio 2 could give the Captain a run for its money. The first Rio opened to $39.2 million around the same time in 2011, and ultimately closed with a solid $143.6 million. While it was well-liked enough, its reputation doesn't seem to suggest a huge bump for the sequel. ...

Regardless of how Rio 2 performs at the domestic box office, its sure to be a big hit internationally. The first one earned $341 million, and this one seems well on its way to matching that number (it has already earned over $55 million). ...

Rio 2 will likely perform ahead of the original. If not here, then in the wider world. Click here to read entire post

Nik Ranieri

A week and a half from now, we'll be running an expansive interview with veteran Disney animator Nick Ranieri. Nik talks in detail about his long career, from Roger Rabbit to Wreck-It Ralph, but I wish I had asked him about this:

On Working With Chuck Jones

I didn't like to do freelance but I couldn't pass up the chance to work with Chuck Jones [on a a Roadrunner short called "Chariots of Fur".] I remember as he was going through the scene with me in his office, I was geeking out in my mind about how amazing the experience was. "I'm getting pitched a scene by Chuck Jones, this is awesome", I thought as I nodded with professional restraint.

A bunch of us from Disney worked on the short and used aliases so as to avoid any conflicts. Eric Goldberg, Will Finn, Joe Haidar, Raul Garcia were some who freelanced. All used aliases.

I thought I'd be clever and spell my name backwards. So I submitted my credit as " Irein Arkin". Unfortunately, Chuck didn't like the spelling and changed it to Irene...the big dope! Oh well, still a great experience....

Interesting side note to the above: In the mid-nineties, Disney Feature had personal service contracts with the studio which tied them exclusively to Diz Co.

But funny thing: Chuck Jones was doing one of his last shorts, and lots of Disney animators wanted to work with him. And one day I got a phone call from Chuck Jones Producctions:

CJP: Hello, is this the union?

Hulett: It is.

CJP: Well, we have a problem over here. We've got a bunch of animators from another studio free-lancing on a short, and they have contracts that say they can't work for other companies.

Hulett: These are Disney animators, right?

CJP: Yeah. How did you know?

Hulett: Because they're the only group in town with exclusive contracts.

CJP: Yeah. So they're ... a little nervous. We want to give them screen credit, but they want to know if they can use fake names in the credits.

Hulett: If it's fine with them, it's fine with the union. Just be sure you have letters from each of them saying they want to use fake names. It wouldn't be good if they change their minds later and file grievances. ...

I was never clear on the title of the short where animators used phoney names. But I guess Chariots of Fur would be it. (Happily, the statue of limitations has long-since run out.)

Nik did an interview with Animation Podcast back in 2005. You can listen to it here.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Next Release

Which should do well.

The picture is DWA's summer release, and Scott Mendelson at Forbes is bullish:

... The original How To Train Your Dragon earned $494 million in 2010, a fine sum but less than even the likes of The Croods ($587m). Ten years ago Shrek 2, a well-liked sequel to a popular and leggy original, shocked pretty much every box office pundit and grossed $440 million in America and $916 million worldwide, or basically double the original film’s $440m gross.

Last year Universal’s Despicable Me 2 pulled the same trick, earning $970m off of the original’s $543m. Of course, it’s possible that the film will play like Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 and earn just a little over the original’s worldwide gross (think $550m), which would still make it a hit compared to its $165m budget. ...

I'll go wild here and say that Dragons 2 will do way better than Meatballs 2.

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One More In The Mix

DoubleNeg goes where others -- with results both good and bad -- have gone before.

Says Matt Holben, DNeg co-founder and CEO:

'Animated Feature Films are an exciting next step in the development of Double Negative. We recognise that whilst there are synergies wtih VFX it requires a different approach. We are thrilled that Tom Jacomb has joined us to develop our new division. We are excited by the long-term potential of feature animation and are determined to build a sustainable pipeline of work.'

So Double Negative is jumping into the feature animation game, hoping to replicate Pixar, Illumination Entertainment, Dreamworks, etc. I say good luck to them.

But the thing of it is, pipelines don't matter very much. Having a team with story chops is really most of the game. If you don't own that, great surfacers, lighters, animators and a manager with a long resume but short talent for molding an entertaining story with compelling characters buys you little.

Maybe Tom Jacomb is the right guy. I hope he is, because another successful animation studio means more jobs for more cartoon people. But the field is crowded, and making second-rate product is a good way to end up in the remainder bins at Toys R Us.

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The movie might be out of theaters, but the soundtrack goes on ... and on ... and on.


DISNEY’S SOUNDTRACK TO FROZEN refuses to budge from the No. 1 slot on the Billboard 200. The set spends its ninth nonconsecutive week atop the list, having sold 149,000 copies in the week ending April 6 (down 8 percent), according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The album is one week away from tying Disney’s The Lion King for the longest run at No. 1 by an animated film soundtrack.
Lion King roared for 10 nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1 in 1994 and 1995.

Frozen has now sold 1.9 million units. It has been among the top three bestselling albums every week for the past 14 consecutive weeks. ...

-- Keith Caulfield, Billboard

And ... I donno ... the performance of the movie and associated products might have something to do with this:

Shares in The Walt Disney Company (DIS) have been outstanding performers in recent quarters, even when you consider how strong this five year bull market has been. The stock price of this bluest of the blue chips have been red hot, outperforming the S&P500 by nearly thirty percentage points since January 1, 2013. ...

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