Cartoon Brew has a list of 47 animated features that will potentially be released in 2016. Some have already been released outside North America, others are still in production.
There have been articles in the past about whether animation is wearing out its welcome or not, but now we are reaching a saturation point that is constrained by the calendar. With only 52 weeks in a year, next year could potentially see a new animated feature released almost every week. Is it possible for the box office to sustain that many animated films? Even if half of them don't get a North American release, that's still a new feature every two weeks.
With few exceptions, they are aimed at the family audience. That audience is now being courted by two other major franchises, Marvel and Star Wars, that will compete for box office dollars. While many animated features have budgets significantly lower than those from the big studios, they still need to earn enough to make their releases worthwhile.
With so many films hitting theatres so frequently, marketing is going to be extremely important. Films that have poor opening weekends are toast. There will be no time for word of mouth to build before the next animated feature arrives.
Many who have jumped into producing animated features are destined to be disappointed. That's when this bubble is going to pop. Audiences may not care. A dozen high profile animated features a year may be more than enough to satisfy the family audience. But what is this going to do to employment?
People who have been in animation for the last 20 years (except for those who worked in hand drawn animated features) have not seen lean times. The increase in TV animation, videogames and animated features has mostly been a continuous upward curve. Those who have been around longer remember that the animation industry was not always so robust. I can't believe that all these features are going to be profitable enough to keep their producers starting new projects. Should producers walk away, there are going to be people looking for work. Maybe TV and games can absorb them, but TV is experiencing its own potential bubble, with streaming being added to broadcast and cable. Is there enough money in that system to keep everything going?
The Disneys, DreamWorks, Blue Skys and Sonys have deep enough pockets to stay in the market for animated features, but they're a minority of those 47 films. There will always be features made for local markets in Europe, Asia and South America, but getting a North American release may become harder in the future. Even the Ghibli films have not pulled major box office in North America, which casts doubts that many of the freshman features coming will be successful.
I could be wrong, but how many animated features a year can the market sustain?