When most people hear the name “Blue Sky” you most likely would associate them with the long running Ice Age film series, a series that many people think it should have stopped after just the first film. But the company was much more than a Sequel Generating machine like other companies such as Illumination, if you look at their history and the films that they released you’ll find something more then that.
The company was originally founded in 1987 by Animation Director Chris Wedge, and originally worked on producing effects for Various Commercials like M&M to films such as Alien Resurrection, Star Trek Insurrection and Fight Club. In 1997 20th Century Fox bought a majority interest in the VFX studio but in 1998 their business outlook all changed thanks to an animated short called “Bunny”. It was made to test how the studio could make CG films like Pixar and Dreamworks, and even won that year’s Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. They got the green light from the higher ups and 2002 the Company changed forever with the release of their first film, “Ice Age”.
The film had a troubled development, with many Fox executives thinking they should cancel the project, especially after the recent Box office Bomb Titan A.E. which Fox released in 2000. Ice Age was released March 12, 2002 was was a success both with critics and audiences earning almost $400M on a budget of only $59M. With the success their first film the studio began production on their next film, “Robots”, which was also a modest success in 2005.
But with success comes the temptation to milking a franchise dry, which is what the executives at Fox wanted to do with Ice Age. Not many people remember how liked the first film was and how it was liked by both critics and audiences, but the reputation each sequel gave the franchise made people forget the positives of the first. In 2006 “Ice Age 2” released with $660M returns on an $80M budget, but received less positive reviews. In 2008 BlueSky approached Dr. Seuss’ estate and pitched an adaptation of “Horton Hears a Who” and released it in 2008, but only earned $297M compared to an $85M budget. “Ice Age 3” released in 2009 and earned $886M on a $90M Budget, you see the pattern right?
In 2011 BlueSky released “Rio”, their second Franchise, and earned $484M on a $90M Budget, then in 2012 released “Ice Age 4” and received $877M on a $95M Budget. So the pattern has become clear now. Every other movie was an Ice Age film, and they kept making Ice Age films because of how much money they made, despite each film arguably getting worse and doing worse with critics and viewers, yet people still saw them and Fox saw no reason to stop. But the series took a hiatus and BlueSky released “Epic” in 2013, based on the children’s book “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs” after beating out Pixar for the film rights. It was a modest success earning $268M on a $93M Budget, then “Rio 2” in 2014 earning $500M on a $103M Budget, but did less well with critics and audiences.
And finally in 2015 they did the fantastic “The Peanuts Movie”, after Charles Schulz’s son Craig Schulz saw how they treated Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who he decided to let BlueSky make the film as long as the Schulz family was given full creative control, and the result was BlueSky’s highest reviewed film and is arguably the best film in their lineup, but sadly it wasn’t the runaway success Fox had hoped, and what does a company do when they want money? Milk an already existing IP.
So Ice Age was brought out of hiatus and “Ice Age 5” was released in 2016, but surprisingly only made $408M on a $105M budget. The film was lambasted by both critics and audiences who had finally had enough of the series. It started so high and was the start of the studio, but also from this point became their downfall. In 2017 BlueSky released “Ferdinand” and it received $296M on a $111M Budget, looks like even John Cena couldn’t save that one, then after the 2019 Disney Buyout of Fox their final film “Spies in Disguise” in December of that year and only received $171M on a $100M budget, effectively ending their legacy.
So when the Disney buyout first happened Disney was possibly going to keep the studio around, with people from Pixar and Disney Animation to look over the studio, but after the 2020 Pandemic/Shutdown Disney was bleeding money and didn’t see a future in the company that no longer made movies that brought over $500M in returns.
The death of BlueSky was sad, and in fact kinda a waste. Paramount is currently trying to get into animated films, and since their partnership with Skydance Animation fell through Disney could have just sold BlueSky to them. Paramount gets an animation studio, Disney makes some money and nobody looses their jobs, a win win situation. But the Disney of today seems to keep making bad business decisions.
Remember, BlueSky was much more than Ice Age and Rio sequels, it was a studio forged when 2D was not doing as well and was a pioneer in 3D animation, both in advertisements and in film, it gave us great films like The Peanuts Movie, Robots and Epic, so let’s try to forget the few slipups and remember the great stories they did give us. In the end BlueSky may be gone, but their presence will still be felt for years to come.
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