When DreamWorks' $60 million Sinbad, which featured the voices of such heavyweights as Brad Pitt (news), Michelle Pfeiffer (news) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (news), captured only $6.9 million in its debut, the film joined the growing ranks of hand-drawn films to flop in theaters.
''You're going to see traditional animation go into hibernation for a while,'' says animated-film historian Jerry Beck. ''It probably won't be back in full swing until we get nostalgic for that kind of drawing.''
The traditionally animated Road to El Dorado recouped only half of its $100 million budget in 2000. Last year's Treasure Planet, which cost roughly $140 million, captured only $38.2 million.
But the computer-generated Finding Nemo, which cost $94 million to make, has taken in $274.9 million, and counting.
Harvey Deneroff, president of Animation Consultants International, says the stunning visual effects created by computers have left hand-drawn films looking archaic to today's audiences.
''It may be that it doesn't impress as much anymore,'' he says. ''I suspect (traditional animation) is dead as far as most studios are concerned in terms of large-scale, big-budget films.''
At least two traditionally animated films are still to come this year: Brother Bear from Disney, due Nov. 7, and Warner Bros. Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Nov. 14.
Beck says that Sinbad would have flopped regardless of its style. The trailers, featuring behind-the-scenes shots of Pitt adding his voice to the hero, ''screamed 'Don't come see me!' It was a horrible marketing campaign.''
And Brandon Gray of BoxOfficeMojo.com says that recent hand-drawn films have focused on action aimed at boys, while computer-generated fare has targeted comedies for the whole family.
''Animated action is a hard sell,'' Gray says. ''Why go see cartoon action when you can see The Matrix or Terminator 3 do it just as well?''
But Disney chairman Dick Cook points to the success of last year's traditionally animated Lilo & Stitch, which took in $145.8 million, as proof of hand-drawn's potential. All a film needs, he says, ''is the right story. Good storytelling is a lot more important to an animated movie than the way it's drawn.''