Just about two years ago, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said something similar when looking at the future of his company’s animation division. The goal, according to him, was to top the work being done at the most successful animation producer of modern times, The Walt Disney Company. Hastings was less bullish with his phrasing, however:
NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell thinks his company’s animation business is more promising than Disney’s, and looking at this year’s box office returns it’s hard to argue with him.
All things considered, it’s hard to argue against Shell’s point. Harder still when considering the disastrous first two weeks in theaters for Disney’s Strange World, only months after Pixar’s big theatrical bet of the year, Lightyear, underachieved while in theaters. The timing of Shell’s boast hardly seems a coincidence.
“I honestly think that not only are we challenging Disney Animation, but I would take our animation business over theirs right now,” Shell said at an investor’s conference this morning. “I actually think we have an animation system now that rivals if not surpasses Disney.” (The quote was reported by financial analyst Rich Greenfield.)
Whether the Netflix boss was being humble or really did think Netflix was still far behind Disney, his company has certainly come a long way since those comments. It’s harder to judge Netflix’s success in animation as there aren’t box office receipts we can use to compare results, but in terms of output, the streamer’s original animated feature slate has certainly made great strides towards catching up with Disney, if it hasn’t already. One can only wonder what films like The Sea Beast and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio could have achieved with a wide theatrical release.
Illumination is responsible for Minions: The Rise of Gru, 2022’s biggest animated hit at the box office, and has a potential blockbuster waiting in the wings with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, coming out in April 2023. The studio also recently launched a dedicated adult animation company, Moonlight, and looks primed to make moves into that space. And there is an terrific buzz for Dreamworks’ upcoming feature Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which has received praise from critics and preview audiences alike.

For those who need a refresher, we have a list of what animation assets NBCUniversal’s parent company Comcast owns, but Shell is specifically referring to Dreamworks and Illumination.

We’re very fired up about catching them [Disney] in family animation, maybe eventually passing them,” he said, also admitting that the streamer had “a long way to go just to catch them.

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