Ice Age billboard

Disney shutters Blue Sky Studios

Earlier this month, Disney announced that it’s shuttering Blue Sky Studios, the home of the “Ice Age” franchise.

Founded in 1987, the studio gained success in the aughts, thanks to the highly successful “Ice Age” films. While none of their films cracked the billion dollar level at the box office like Pixar, Illumination, or DreamWorks, the “Ice Age” films were especially popular overseas.

The studio produced 13 films. The final one, “Spies in Disguise” (released Christmas Day 2019), didn’t do so well at the box office, only earning $171 million. I haven’t seen the film yet, but was disappointed to see the trailers show a cool looking idea (Will Smith as an animated spy) was just a lead-in to a lackluster premise (Smith’s character turned into a pigeon).

Blue Sky’s most successful films

Blue Sky’s five top-grossing films globally:

  • “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” (2009), $886 million
  • “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (2012), $877 million
  • “Ice Age: The Meltdown” (2006), $660 million
  • “Rio 2” (2014), $500 million
  • “Rio” (2011), $484 million

In terms of reviews, Blue Sky’s adaption of “Horton Hears a Who” was the most popular film (a Metacritic score of 71 and 79% on Rotten Tomatoes), followed by “The Peanuts Movie” (Metacritic: 67, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%).

Why the shutdown

Blue Sky was the animation arm of 20th Century Fox. As such, when Disney bought Fox, they also got Blue Sky. Even back in 2017, I thought Blue Sky’s future was in doubt as soon as the buyout was announced.

As for why the shuttering:

  • Disney likely doesn’t need a third animation studio. Though the Blue Sky assets won’t go to waste: Disney’s producing an “Ice Age” animated series for Disney+.
  • The aforementioned lackluster performance of “Spies in Disguise.”
  • Disney’s spent the past year or so getting hit financially, between: buying out 20th Century Fox; the pandemic shutting down or severely limiting attendance at movie theaters and Disney theme parks; the lack of sports for part of 2020 (hurting ESPN); cord cutting leading to less revenue from their cable arms; and the costs involved in starting up and running Disney+ (though it’s a success).

The usual concerns

Ice Age: Continental Drift DVD
“Ice Age: Continental Drift” DVD cover. (Blue Sky Studios)

As I said before, there’s reasons against Disney being allowed to buy out Fox’s assets. The loss of diversity in media’s one reason; the shuttering of Blue Sky doesn’t help.

Additionally, such mergers (and shuttering of divisions deemed redundant) usually lead to layoffs. In this case, Blue Sky employed 450 people, though Deadline notes Disney will try to find the workers other positions internally. Hopefully, the Blue Sky employees will find other work.

Finally, the shuttering of Blue Sky also means their ongoing projects are being shelved, including a film based on the graphic novel “Nimona.” This seems like a loss from a diversity standpoint, as the graphic novel prominently featured LGBTQ characters. The fact the film was less than a year away from completion also makes this unfortunate.

Other thoughts

For me, I liked Blue Sky’s earliest “Ice Age” films, as well as “The Peanuts Movie” from 2015. The studio’s films had a different tone from its rivals: Blue Sky didn’t try to be as “high concept” as Pixar; Blue Sky lacked DreamWorks’ “Shrek”-era reliance on pop culture references; finally, nobody will confuse the studio’s mascot, Scrat (from “Ice Age”), with Illumination’s mascots, the Minions. (Scrat did get a few shorts, versus an entire film being made about the Minions.)

Blue Sky came up with some clever takes on the 20th Century Fox fanfare. “The Peanuts Movie” had a piano theme (played by Schroeder):

“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”‘s 3D release gave us a “prehistoric” version of the logo:

“Another film for kids!” by Gene Hunt is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)

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