Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara described the DC Extended Universe, Harry Potter and LEGO franchises as the three pillars of his studio's blockbuster strategy back in 2015. In 2019, the results of that strategy have proven decidedly mixed. Any big overarching plot for the DC films has been scrapped in favor of a "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" approach. The second Fantastic Beasts landed with such a thud that it'd honestly be a shock if all five planned movies are completed.
This past weekend, Warner Bros.' third pillar, while not crumbling, significantly weakened. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part earned strong reviews, but its opening weekend total of $34 million is about $10 million under expectations and less than half of what the first LEGO Movie opened to in 2014. The LEGO Movie 2 probably isn't a bomb, but it's far from the blockbuster Warner clearly wanted it to be.
The underwhelming performance of the LEGO movie franchise weighs heavily on the nascent Warner Animation Group, the studio's feature animation production team. The LEGO Movie was the team's first film and its biggest hit by far. From there, the studio went all in on making LEGO movies. Four of Warner Animation Group's six released films to date have been brick-based. Oversaturating the market is probably a big reason why The LEGO Movie 2 isn't doing so hot. Once you've unleashed The LEGO Ninjago Movie onto the world, you can't really guarantee audiences that your next movie's gonna be must see cinema.
Warner Animation Group's two non-LEGO releases thus far have been Storks, an original feature, and Smallfoot, based on the children's book Yeti Tracks. Both were modest successes, kindly if not enthusiastically received (though Smallfoot did inspire one of 2018's best viral videos), neither making a ton of money domestically, but doing well enough overseas to turn a profit. Warner Animation Group films have not yet become the same kind of event for audiences as a new Disney, Pixar or Illumination film. With the LEGO franchise no guarantee of blockbuster success, how does Warner Animation Group compete?
Based on the studio's upcoming slate, it looks like Warner Bros. is relying on legacy properties from the Looney Tunes, MGM and Hanna-Barbera cartoon libraries to attract attention to its future animated features. There's sense in this decision, but also risk. It makes sense that Warner wants to keep its classic cartoon characters fresh in the minds of today's kids, and many of those characters are classic for a reason. None of those characters, however, were created for feature-length films. The classic Looney Tunes and MGM cartoons were all shorts, while Hanna-Barbera pioneered TV animation. Whether you can adapt such cartoons into full movies successfully remains to be seen.
Next on the release schedule is Scooby, a new Scooby-Doo movie that was originally scheduled for last fall but is now set to release sometime in the first quarter of 2020. Chris Columbus is developing the film alongside director Tony Cervone. After that, the one Warner Animation Group film with a set release date at this point is Super Pets, based on assorted DC Comics animal characters and set for May 21, 2021. Beyond those two films, there's a lot of projects in development with little official information.
Of the various Looney Tunes movies that have been in development over the years, two seem to be on the verge of actually getting made right now. One is Space Jam 2 starring LeBron James, the closest to a "slam dunk" any of the upcoming Warner Animation Group projects get, if only due to curious millennial nostalgia. The team of director Terence Nance and producer Ryan Coogler might make this one of the rare sequels better than the original, which, if we're being honest, wouldn't be that hard given we're talking about Space Jam. The other Looney Tunes film is another animation/live-action hybrid, Coyote vs. Acme.