Families get fickle over CGI animal pics

'Cats and Dogs' latest to disappoint; 'Yogi Bear' up next

Fox was weeks away from releasing June's "Marmaduke" when a dubious reporter asked a studio executive about prospects for the family comedy.

"I have learned never to bet against any dog movie," the exec mused.

The optimism was understandable considering Fox's $143 million domestic success with 2008's "Marley and Me." But unlike that holiday dramedy, summer's dancing-dog comedy was a live action and CGI hybrid of the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" species.

No problem-o, right? After all, the 'munks rang up a combined $447 million domestically for Fox with two family laughers.

Problem-oh: "Marmaduke" fetched less than $33 million after costing $50 million to produce.

But as with some other recent furry-creatures missteps -- including the past weekend's "Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" -- industryites suggest the pic's creative problems were specific to "Marmaduke" and not the genre.

" 'Garfield' was very early in the talking-furry-creatures trend and also was very successful for us," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder noted. " 'Marmaduke' didn't work as much as we would have liked, but I don't think it's a problem with the genre."

Warner Bros.' "Kitty Galore" coughed up a $12.3 million furball from its first three days. But again, Monday-morning quarterbacks blamed the $85 million project rather than its concept.

The 3D sequel followed Warners' $93 million domestic success with 2001's 2D "Cats and Dogs."

"Was there truly the need for a second movie?" a top exec at a rival studio asked. "Obviously somebody thought so. But it seems there just wasn't enough interest there, and 3D will not make a bad movie good."

As with any release, project costs can determine whether a fur-filled pic will turn a profit. For instance, Disney's 2009 family adventure "G-Force" rang up $119 million domestically but was considered a flop after costing $150 million to produce.

"You have to pay attention to all of the usual considerations of casting and timing and cost structures on these pictures," a studio exec cautioned. "Furry animal movies can certainly gross. You just have to figure out how to make them profitably."

"Kitty Galore" cost Warners and co-production partner Village Roadshow at least $85 million to produce and is certain to bleed some red ink. But Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said there's no cause for concern about the studio's next live action-with-CGI animals movie -- "Yogi Bear," set to go pic-a-nicking in multiplexes on Dec. 17.

"The 'Yogi Bear' trailer is one of the best-testing trailers in our company's history," Fellman said. "Movies have their own individual DNA, and that's the magic of this business. Nobody goes out there with a 100% track record, and you need to recognize that. So it's foolish to say live action movies with CGI animals don't work."

Still, there is no sure-fire innoculation against animal-pic rabies, a CGI-laced peril captured oh-so-ironically in the title of Summit Entertainment's April opener "Furry Vengeance." The Brendan Fraser starrer cost $35 million to make; it collected less than $18 million domestically.