Despite being founded as way back as 1993 and building a vast repertoire with work-for-hire services on various commercials, short films and direct-to-video features, Reel FX had a lot to prove when establishing itself as a legitimate animation studio ready to brave the choppy waters of feature animation. Unfortunately, its first go-around in that arena was Free Birds, a dismal byproduct of freshmen inexperience and blatantly mimicking a dated formula that resulted in one of the worst-reviewed animated films of 2013.
As such, when its next film The Book of Life started making the rounds, people weren’t all that excited for it. Reactions ranged from being cautiously optimistic to nearly dreading the fact that the company that made Free Birds was tackling a Day of the Dead-themed movie next.
And then the trailer come out.
All of a sudden, popular opinion about the film started to change. People were liking what they saw and were actually looking forward to the movie. There was obviously something there in the trailer (animation or otherwise) that got people excited for the first time about a Reel FX movie.
Fast forward to today, where Reel FX has achieved what animation fans had hoped for: creating a good animated film. The Book of Life has a 80% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a far cry from the 18% Rotten rating for Free Birds. What’s more, the film opened upwards of $17 million, the biggest domestic opening total for a film made by a company that’s not one of the big three animation studios.
It’s a pretty substantial goalpost for a company that’s only made two films so far, yet it’s also representative of something else, something more than just the fact that Reel FX made a good movie or even that it’s actually doing well in the box-office (for the time being).
It’s a strong confirmation of Reel FX’s position as a place for unique and creatively-driven feature projects.
In a piece on LinkedIn titled “The Book of My Life”, the film’s director Jorge Gutierrez describes his struggle and determination to engage in his own personal vision during his early years in the industry. Clearly, The Book of Life was a labor of love for him, having been slowly developed and bounced around various studios over the past 14 years. The fact that Reel FX felt confidant in him to say yes to his material and eventually bring 20th Century Fox on board is proof that, at their best, Reel FX can be a home for projects that wouldn’t normally get the spotlight anywhere else.
This is especially true when you look at the films reported to be in development. Beasts of Burden, an adaptation of a horror-themed comic book with 9’s Shane Acker set to direct. Honeymoon with Dad, an indie comedy directed by Danny DeVito (it appears to be something in live action). Monument 14, an adaptation of a trilogy of post-apocalyptic YA novels (also live-action), and W.I.S.H Police, centering around the Imaginary Crimes Unit, a worldwide force tasked with monitoring and apprehending Wicked Ideas Suddenly Human (W.I.S.H).
Reel FX still has a long way to go before it is looked upon as an exciting name in feature animation, but I’m more than confidant that The Book of Life could be its first step.
The Book of Life is now in theaters. Check out the website review here.
What do you think? Is Reel FX heading in the right direction after The Book of Life?