Something Trippy This Way Comes to IMAX

For those who prefer computer animation in an enhanced state of mind, there’s something decidedly trippy coming to an IMAX theater near you.

The large-format film exhibitor has announced plans to join forces with DreamWorks, 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures on its next 3D venture, “CyberWorld,” a mosaic of eight animated features designed for three-dimensional viewing.

Set to hit IMAX theaters worldwide in October, the first-ever 3D animated exercise will feature, among others, scenes from “Antz,” DreamWorks’ 1998 maiden foray into animation; Sony Imageworks’ “Planet of the Apes”-esque “Monkey Brain Sushi” (the flick apparently takes place in a world run by apes); and Fox’s ingenious prime-time animated series “The Simpsons,” where Homer accidentally stumbles upon an alternate 3D universe. TV’s “Dharma and Greg” star Jenna Elfman has signed on to voice the computer-generated emcee who will guide audiences through the animated labyrinth.

Since IMAX’s debut in 1970, the medium has become virtually synonymous with the exhibition of exploratory chronicles/educational documentaries in the likes of “Island of the Sharks” and “Galapagos,” topics which visual splendors lend themselves to be projected with IMAX’s immersive large-screen technology.

The Toronto-headquartered franchise’s first major studio alliance came earlier this year with the millennial release of Disney’s “Fantasia 2000,” an updated version of the 1940 animated classic. With its scheduled collaboration with Sony, Fox and DreamWorks coming just months after the Disney deal, many are wondering if IMAX is slowly inching toward the direction of Hollywood?

“Our goal has always been to establish IMAX as a separate release window for studios, and we’re trying to provide audiences with a totally different viewing experience through IMAX technology,” said Brian Weisfeld, IMAX’s senior vice president of operation. “Our first step was taken with Disney’s ‘Fantasia 2000,’ which was a total success considered by both Disney and us.

“‘CyberWorld’ is our next collaboration with major studios, and it’s a sign of the future. The interesting thing with this particular project is that we’re changing audiences’ viewing experience. We are taking the same film and turning it into 3D. It’s totally revolutionary.”

Sony’s most memorable animated film to date is the half live-action/half animated “Stuart Little.” Fox, despite the TV success of “King of the Hill,” “The PJs” and “The Simpsons,” only has 1997’s “Anastasia” to show for in the film division (although its “Monkeybone” and “Titan A.E.” are both due out some time this year). And even though DreamWorks’ “Antz” and “The Prince of Egypt” were financially successful and well reviewed, they were still unable to break into the Top 10 highest-grossing animated films of all time (its “Road to El Dorado” is currently slated for a March release).

And who has got their hands on all 10 of the top grossing animations? Disney, of course.

Given the Disney stronghold, going IMAX is a smart way to go if studios want to rival the dominance of the Mouse Kingdom.

“This is a good opportunity for studios to expand their franchise,” says Weisfeld. “I think what they can do is try to do [animated film] a little better and do them different.

“Clearly, Disney has franchise and market lead in animation. And some of these studios are tying to do animation differently. And by doing it in 3D, they’re certainly doing that. And this is definitely one way for other studios to make a name in animation.”