Last week, the bad news many animation fans and professionals had long been anticipating came to pass: Spies in Disguise, the Christmas 2019 release starring Will smith and Tom Holland, would be the last-ever original feature film from Blue Sky Animation, which would close. The studio, which was founded in the late '80s, had become the in-house animators for 20th Century Fox -- which is now 20th Century Studios under the ownership of the Walt Disney Company. And since Disney owns both Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, it never seemed like Blue Sky had much of a chance for survival there...but people hoped against hope.
The studio behind the Ice Age and Rio franchises, Blue Sky Animation sometimes struggled to find its identity, with movies like Horton Hears a Who! and The Peanuts Movie skewing very young but Robots and Epic asking a lot more of their audiences than the average third grader is likely to give.
Some are likely to point at consistently falling revenues -- their biggest box office hit came out in 2009, and 2019's Spies in Disguise was its lowest grossing film by a wide margin -- but even there, you could point to Disney's Fox acquisition and the apparent desire to bury Spies in Disguise as a more likely culprit for its performance (the movie fared reasonably well with critics and audiences, and had the benefit of a pair of big stars to promote it).
Whatever the case, Blue Sky is done, and this feels like as good a time as any to look back on the studio's track record, and look at how the movies stack up against one another. What's the best film they put out? What's the worst? We looked at the box office and Rotten Tomatoes to compile a quick rundown.
But while you read through this, remember also that these guys produced TV specials, short films, and even contributed to live-action movies like Joe's Apartment (they did some of the dancing cockroaches) and Fight Club (the "slide" penguin).
Ice Age: Collision Course
After five feature films, six short films, and a pair of TV specials, the Ice Age franchise went out with a whimper in what would turn out to be Blue Sky's most critically-reviled film by a wide margin.
Ice Age: Collision Course hit theaters in 2016, bringing in a modest $408 million, the lowest box office since the first Ice Age -- but that one had come out in 2002, meaning that the buying power of its $383 million haul was bigger...and its budget was just slightly more than half what Blue Sky spent to make Collision Course. The film also managed a paltry 18% positive on Rotten Tomatoes.prevnext
Ice Age: Continental Drift
With a 38% positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a box office tally of $877 million, Ice Age: Continental Drift puts Ice Age: Collision Course to shame...but that's about it. The movie marked the point in the franchise when many fans started to wonder whether there was any gas left in the tank -- and a pretty significant number seem to have decided "no" when it came time to buy, or not buy, tickets to the next one.prevnext
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Three years before Continental Drift, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs had done somewhat better at both the box office ($886 million) and with the critics (46%). Still, it was the first movie from Blue Sky ever to rank below 50% on the Tomatometer (something that would happen exclusively to the studio's sequels, with its first installments always rating well with critics and fans).
Even taking a little beating from the critics likely felt fine, though; Dawn of the Dinosaurs marks the highest box office take for any Blue Sky Animation film for Fox -- and since it came out in 2009, it significantly outpaced other high-performing movies that came out in the 2010s, when accounting for inflation and increased production costs.prevnext
In 2014, as Ice Age was beginning to show its age, Blue Sky tried to get another franchise going with Rio 2, a follow-up to their successful 2011 movie, which ultimately performed almost identically to its forebear. Where Rio cost around $90 million and made $484 million, Rio 2 cost a little over $100 million and made back $500 million. Even the time lapse and consequent inflation doesn't really blow the curve that much for this movie, making it -- like the first -- a reasonable success but not by any means the kind of runaway train the studio had likely hoped.
It's also the only movie Blue Sky produced to rank less than 50% on Rotten Tomatoes (this one got 48%), that isn't an Ice Age sequel.prevnext
Ice Age: The Meltdown
We've reached it! The point where there are no more movies with a sub-50% Rotten Tomatoes score and, after this, no more sequels. It's likely a sign that maybe after this, Blue Sky should have focused less on sequels and more on new concepts that would connect and build the brand, but it is what it is.
In any event, Ice Age: The Meltdown was a big hit, taking in $660 million globally in 2006 money. That was enough to make it the year's second-highest-grossing animated movie, behind Cars, and the sixth-highest overall, behind Superman Returns, at the domestic box office, while it earned a 57% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes.prevnext
Robots was an odd movie and, sandwiched between the first two Ice Age movies, an odd choice for a sophomore feature for a new studio. Robin Williams, of course, elevates everything he's in, but the movie earned only about 2/3 of what Ice Age had, lowering the bar significantly for future Blue Sky productions at the box office, while earning a 64% rating at Rotten Tomatoes -- certainly not bad, but also not close to the 77% of its predecessor.
The movie has found a cult following in the years since its release, and it's hard to fault the way it wears its heart on its sleeve, but at the time, it seemed like a bit of a dud.prevnext
After Shrek, everybody made at least one attempt to make a hip, postmodern fairytale-style animated movie, and this one was the shot Blue Sky took. With a 65% Rotten Tomatoes score (the same for critics and the audience!) and a $268 million box office haul that wasn't Shrek or Ice Age money but certainly better than a lot of movies, including some Blue Sky considered hits, they could have done worse. But in hindsight, a lot of fans feel like they also could have done a lot better.prevnext
With Rio, as noted before, the studio found a modest financial success, a fair success with critics and audiences, and what they thought was potential for a new franchise to help bolster the studio's lineup, which at that point was basically just Ice Age and one-offs. The movie earned 72% positive reviews and $484 million against a budget of less than $100 million, so it certainly was good news for the studio, even if it wasn't quite the $886 million that Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, out immediately before this, had earned.prevnext
Ferdinand was the kind of movie that seemed like it should have been a bigger hit -- but then again, there were a handful of those for Blue Sky in its later years. The 2017 movie tied Rio's 72% with critics, but didn't come close to its box office haul, earning just $296 million. Financially that could be considered a success only if measured against the movie that immediately preceded it from Blue Sky, The Peanuts Movie, which earned less than $250 million in spite of having a much more recognizable IP at its heart. Still, Ferdinand was another movie that felt like it should have popped more than it did, and on some level it just felt behind the times. The children's book it's based on had a surge in popularity after it was referenced in the Sandra Bullock hit The Blind Side, but that was in 2009 -- nearly a decade before this movie finally lumbered into theaters.prevnext
Spies in Disguise
Financially, Spies in Disguise was Blue Sky going out with a whimper, although it's arguable -- and certainly critics would argue -- it was the best new brand that the studio had come up with in years. But that 76% Rotten Tomatoes score was obscured by a paltry $171 million box office gross -- the smallest in Blue Sky's history by a wide margin -- and by Disney's obvious lack of interest in what Blue Sky had to offer.prevnext
The flagship of the Blue Sky brand remains its best-reviewed original IP and the biggest hit they ever had that wasn't based on a concept that was already legendary before Blue Sky ever got their hands on it. Its 77% review score isn't much better, obviously, than Spies in Disguise's 76% -- but its multiple sequels and spinoffs certainly speak for themselves, as does the $383 million box office draw -- about seven times the movie's budget, and roughly $557 million in today's money.prevnext
Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who!
It's hard to go wrong with Dr. Seuss -- although certainly the feature film adaptations have to add a lot of stuff not native to the beloved children's author. This was to be the only Blue Sky adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book, but Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who! was extremely well-received.
The film earned a 79% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and while its $297 box office draw was hardly Ice Age money, it was almost 400% of its original budget.prevnext
The Peanuts Movie
Who's going to give you better source material than Dr. Seuss? Well, very few people -- but maybe Charles Schulz is a strong suspect. The film made just $246 million, significantly less than a lot of the other Blue Sky productions, but did manage to get an 86% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and surprise fans with how much they actually liked it.prev