While one animated film topped the box office this past weekend, another became the highest-grossing movie of the year (so far, though likely it's to stay this way through the second half of 2010). This isn't surprising given that nearly every animated feature released these days is done so in 3D, which greatly magnifies their box office take because of the $3 or so surcharge added to the ticket price. But will it and should it continue this way? The profits say yes but the audience might be saying no.
For example, although I've heard great things about Despicable Me, which over the weekend earned $60 million -- more than double the take of fellow opener Predators -- I also hear that there's absolutely no reason to see it in 3D other than to appreciate some in-your-face use of the format during the end credits. Fortunately there is still the 2D version available in most multiplexes, despite the fact that years ago industry leaders predicted and expected these films to be exclusive to 3D screens.
I know a few families who are very thankful that theaters' projection and screen conversions went so slowly. These people save $20-25 on tickets by attending the 2D version every time. Still, as far as I can tell there is no great backlash against 3D animated films the way there has been this year with the 3D retro-fitting issue. Even if not every animated film seems to need to be seen in 3D, I don't recall any being criticized for looking worse in the format (well, not from the writers who hate 3D altogether) the way we've seen with films like The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans.
It occurs to me, though, that I don't remember anything about the use of 3D in Toy Story 3, the film that just topped the 2010 box office chart (overtaking the live-action 3D movie Alice in Wonderland). Especially compared to the depth-trickery of its preceding short, Day & Night, there was neither an overbearing exploitation of the gimmick or a notable employment of the expansive scope that 3D has to offer. Did I just not notice because Toy Story 3 features a more closed-in setting than a scenic film like How to Train Your Dragon, during which I felt adequately wowed by the 3D effects? Or, was it because I pay more attention to the characters in Pixar films and so don't need to be as bombarded with nor am I as concerned with spectacle while watching them?
Whatever the reason, I'm finally getting to the realization that if I don't notice or appreciate the 3D, that's enough cause not to pay the extra cost. And since I might not know beforehand if it's worth it, I might as well just avoid the 3D versions like the economical families do. This coming from the guy who saw and got excited about (and recommended via Cinematical) nearly every digital 3D release from Monster House on. But like most moviegoers, I haven't come out of an animated film with so much to praise regarding the 3D aspect since Coraline.
God forbid there ever comes the day that all animated features are exclusively 3D, as these are the films that are most seen by families as a family and are therefore already the costliest kind for many adults. So far this year there was Despicable Me, Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek Forever After. And still to come this year are the animated films Alpha and Omega, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, Megamind and Tangled, all of which will be released in 3D. All of them might not be worth seeing at all, let alone in the theater. But how many can truly, truly be worth seeing in 3D over 2D? I bet none.