Monday, February 27, 2012

Rant: The Marketing for "John Carter"

Walt Disney Pictures’ science fiction epic John Carter hits theaters in a couple weeks. For those of you who don’t know, John Carter is based on the first book in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series Barsoom. Edgar Rice Burroughs also wrote Tarzan of the Apes and several other series of novels. This is the first major, big budget adaptation of Burroughs’ epic series. It is being directed by Andrew Stanton, who directed two wonderful films at Pixar: Finding Nemo and WALL-E. WALL-E producer Jim Morris is one of the film’s producers. The film is a Disney production (no studios are listed, it’s listed as a Walt Disney Pictures production) and the score was composed by Michael Giacchino. He also composed the scores for four Pixar films: The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up and Cars 2.
This is essentially a live action Pixar film, even though it technically isn’t. Does the general public know this? Let’s say a majority of people didn’t look up any information on this film and saw the film’s trailer, they would probably think it was some big budget Star Wars clone. In other words, the marketing campaign for this film is one of the worst marketing campaigns for a Disney film as of late. It’s a great example of what is wrong with Disney’s marketing department these days.
None of the trailers implied that this was directed by Andrew Stanton. The trailers wouldn’t say, “From the acclaimed director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E”. First of all, animation is viewed as inferior kids’ stuff. Second of all, John Carter is a PG-13 film, so maybe mentioning two G-rated family films might drive audiences away, considering that a lot of people still regard Disney, Pixar and animation as kids’ stuff. A quick look at the YouTube comments for the trailer certainly proves this.

The title... John Carter is not a good title, it just isn’t. I am well aware that the main protagonist is named John Carter, but that’s such a boring title. The title of the first book was A Princess of Mars, but Disney apparently nixed that title because of how The Princess and the Frog performed, as they felt the word “princess” drove young boys away from the film. Again, why is Disney pandering to a certain audience? Shouldn't they be trying to make this film appeal to adults? Adults won't care if "princess" is in the title, unless they're idiots who think anything about a "princess" automatically equals "for girls only". I mean, Mars is also in the title, and the look of the film alone would convince them otherwise.
The title was then changed to John Carter of Mars. Not bad, it reveals who the main character is and the fact that the film takes place on Mars. Sounds interesting, but then Disney removed Mars from the title. Apparently they did this because Disney released the Image Movers Digital production Mars Needs Moms last March, and it failed at the box office. (In fact, it’s one of Disney’s biggest financial failures to date) Now that’s just wrong. They think having Mars in the title will remind audiences of that already forgotten motion capture film? Not only are both films different from each other, Mars Needs Moms bombed because there was barely any buzz for it, it looked terrible and it just came and went. It also received poor reviews.
The trailers... Well, they were alright for what they were, but they didn’t mention that the film was directed by Andrew Stanton nor did they mention that the film was based on the series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Why couldn’t they do that? The footage in both trailers have drawn mixed reception, same with what was shown in the commercials. The Super Bowl TV spot wasn’t anything special, either. The marketing is just... Lazy. It’s just the usual eye candy and action scenes routine. What about the story? The characters? It’s very telling when a fan trailer ( got this right, not the official trailer.
Now why am I ranting about the marketing for this film? Well, this is one of the few Disney live action films as of late that has a lot of passion and care going into it. I can’t say the same about failed summer blockbusters like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (which the film has been compared to quite frequently) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, or Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. This one is being directed by a director who takes storytelling very seriously, and some talented people are working on it. Early reviews say it’s a good film. The film is also ambitious, just look at it. Look at the visuals. The story is supposed to be good. I didn’t see any of that ambition in any of those other big budget Disney films I mentioned.
Yet this film probably won’t even make half of what On Stranger Tides made on its opening weekend ($90 million), because the marketing isn’t really generating any buzz. Expect the film to open with less than $50 million. If it does, it’ll be a shame. This has blockbuster written all over it, and it’s coming out in March, which has been a great month for blockbusters in the recent years. (Alice in Wonderland and 300, anyone?) John Carter is probably going to rely on legs to get it past $100 million if the film has such a low opening weekend.
Is that what Disney wants? A big budget blockbuster with a lot of ambition doing poorly on its opening weekend and relying on word of mouth to carry it past $100 million domestically? Wouldn’t they want this to succeed? They should’ve poured a lot of effort into the marketing campaign! Remember Tron: Legacy’s marketing campaign? Now that film was a huge risk. Its budget was big and it was a sequel to a film that was more of a cult classic than anything else. Disney didn’t want this to fail, so they kicked off the marketing campaign long before the film hit theaters when they surprised people at the 2008 San Diego Comic Con with a test trailer. (Back when the film was called TR2N)
That same trailer was slightly modified and released as the film’s first trailer in the summer of 2009, which was a year and a half before the film hit theaters. The next trailer hit in early 2010, and two more followed in the summer. The marketing for this was all over the place, and guess what? They had a big success on their hands! A sequel to Tron making over $170 million at the domestic box office?! $400 million worldwide? Who was expecting that? What kind of marketing does John Carter have? Being burdened by a boring title, we only got 2 trailers and couple TV spots.

If John Carter opens with around $35 million, it’ll need a 2.8x multiplier to reach $100 million. Who knows how audiences will react to this film, but $100 million domestically won’t be enough to impress Disney. In order to reach $150 million, it’ll need a 4.2x multiplier. That’s not easy for a blockbuster released in the spring or the summer to reach, unless it’s really good. Who knows, the film might really score with audiences and pull a 4x multiplier. $150 million still won’t impress Disney. Don't forget competition. Lionsgate's The Hunger Games is probably going to take away a good amount of the IMAX screens the film will be playing on, in addition to being a very highly anticipated film. Warner Bros.' Wrath of the Titans will take away the film's 3D screens, since Hunger is not in 3D. John Carter will lose a good chunk of theaters by the end of March. Then again, audiences might ignore the 3D versions just might see it in 2D instead. Losing 3D screens might not affect it, but losing IMAX screens? Maybe. Who knows. Then you might be saying, what about worldwide grosses? This will probably do very well overseas, but wouldn’t it be nice if it had a big domestic box office total? In return, the worldwide total would be even bigger. Let's say it grossed $200 million stateside and $400 million overseas, it'll be at $600 million. Not bad, and that would be a more impressive total than Prince of Persia and Tron: Legacy's worldwide totals.
If John Carter turns out to be a financial disappointment, then Disney’s marketing department is responsible. Instead of making Andrew Stanton’s visually exciting epic based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ sci-fi novels look like something interesting to mass audiences, they made it look like another big budget blockbuster that’s just action scenes and pretty visuals. Where’s the effort? This will be another woe in the history of Disney's marketing department, alongside Bolt, The Princess and the Frog and several other films that could’ve done so well but ended up underperforming because of poor marketing.
A sequel is already being planned, but if the film doesn’t go over well, then those plans might be in limbo for the next few years. Now the film might turn out to be a disappointment (even though early reviews are mostly positive), but why would they want it to fail? The film is rumored to have cost $250 million to produce, so why would they want to lose money. Several bad films go on to become big blockbusters, with the right marketing behind it.

Who knows, maybe I'll be proven wrong by the time May rolls around and John Carter passes $200 million domestically. Maybe it won't be anywhere near $100 million, who knows? I want the film to succeed, because it's supposed to be a good film and it's a project that a lot of thought and care went into. I mean, why would Andrew Stanton just direct a mindless popcorn flick? If it tanks, then it's possible that Disney will just cancel any ambitious projects that are in the works, or maybe not.

What are your thoughts on the marketing campaign for John Carter? Do you think the film will be a financial failure? A disappointment? Or will word of mouth make this an unexpected smash hit?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Extended Clip from Pixar's "Brave"

For some reason, Apple has this extended clip from Disney and Pixar’s Brave labeled as the film’s second trailer. I wasn't expecting that (I thought we were getting a trailer, not a clip), but I checked it out just a few minutes ago and I must say, it’s completely satisfying.
First off, the animation. It’s breathtaking, like all of the other Pixar films. The character designs are unique, and again Pixar continues the tradition of using interesting human character designs, which was something that started with The Incredibles in 2004. Pixar’s human character designs are usually satisfying, as we saw extraordinary work in Ratatouille and Up. Brave is no different, the designs are very appealing while also being unique.
It’s well-lit, another plus, like any other Pixar film. The art direction is beautiful. Everything is well staged. Patrick Doyle’s score? While most of it shines towards the end of the clip, it’s certainly wonderful. It definitely captures the mood. Although I have nothing but high praise for the scores composed by Randy Newman, Thomas Newman and Michael Giacchino, I like that Pixar chose someone that hasn’t scored one of their films before.
Last but not least, it’s well-written. This has classic Pixar all over it, if the animation and staging alone wasn’t enough to prove it. The humor works, while having a bit of slapstick Warner Bros. cartoon edge to it, but it’s never distracting or over-the-top. Like all of the Pixar films, it seems like they have chosen the right voice actors yet again.
Overall, this clip was very satisfying. I was once skeptical about this film, but this clip put that skepticism to rest. Brave is the Pixar event that audiences need this summer, unlike last summer’s Cars 2. While I didn’t outright dislike John Lasseter and Brad Lewis’ action-packed romp, I believe Brave will keep people’s faith in Pixar going strong. I cease to believe that one film would drive people away from seeing Pixar films. Brave is classic Pixar, although the clip has had its fair share of naysayers.

As for the How to Train Your Dragon comparisons? I only see a few similarities, but that’s about it. Some might think that it’s unoriginal, being another fairy tale-style story about a rebellious princess. I have a feeling Pixar has something up their sleeve with this one, because they’ve tackled familiar stories before and gave us a fresh new take on them. This film should be no different.

One thing I want to know is, are they going to show this in theaters? This is quite different, because this is a scene and not a trailer. It does have the green "approved" screen before it and it ends with the "Summer 2012" screen. It begins and ends like a trailer. If this is shown in theaters, then that might get people more excited about it because most trailers for Pixar films are messy, but yet they still get people talking. While having the trailer for a film be an entire scene has been done before (The Lion King and Ice Age come to mind), it's still effective. It implies that Pixar is very confident in this film and they really want it to be seen as an event. Cars 2 was no event.

Also, the new poster is quite possibly one of the best Pixar posters I’ve ever seen. This poster is more akin to some of WALL-E’s posters. It’s a work of art. What I really liked about this poster is that it lacks any cuteness. A good number of posters (and DVD/Blu-ray covers) for most Disney and Pixar animated films have all of the characters smiling, making the films seem like kiddie fluff-fests. This poster on the other hand, much like Disney's better posters, is proof that these animated films are not just for kids. This poster makes the film look like a real epic. That said, this is an excellent poster much like the first one. If the rest of the marketing is like this, then that's good. Perhaps Brave will help shatter the belief that animation is a kids thing, although Pixar has slowly been putting that belief to rest since Toy Story first came out. Maybe this will help destroy that belief for good.
Anyway, that said, head on over to and check out the extended clip.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2012 Animation Box Office Predictions (Part 6)

Rise of the Guardians - When this comes out, it’ll be two years since DreamWorks made a film that wasn’t a sequel or a spin-off. Rise of the Guardians looks like it might be another surprise success, much like How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. This would make it the third non-sequel DreamWorks film to gross $200 million at the domestic box office.
It’s obvious that DreamWorks has been ramping up their ambitions since Kung Fu Panda. Instead of irreverant comedies with countless pop culture jokes with a sarcastic tone, we’ve been getting more serious films like How to Train Your Dragon along with films that focus more on the story than the jokes. While there a few comedies inbetween (Megamind, Madagascar 3), we’re also getting films like Dragon. From the looks of it, Rise of the Guardians might be another Dragon-like film.
DreamWorks’ films haven’t had great opening weekends since How to Train Your Dragon, which is why they struggle to get to $200 million. Dragon got there because it had a rare 5x multiplier, something animated films barely get. Word of mouth is what helps these films in the long run, but with low opening weekend grosses, $200 million is ultimately out of the question. Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots should’ve hit that mark by all means. Rise of the Guardians may have a smaller opening weekend as well, but it is opening before Thanksgiving and it doesn’t have much family-friendly competition.
Thus, I expect the film to pull an incredibly large multiplier. It’ll do so because it’s a holiday release, and it seems like the perfect holiday film for the whole family. Sony and Aardman’s Arthur Christmas couldn’t take off last year, but this’ll definitely take off. The opening weekend gross should be no less than what Puss in Boots pulled in. With a strong multiplier, $200 million will not be too hard to reach. A total like that will prove that films with good storytelling (if this film ends up being great) are what works, not forgettable comedies.
In the mean time, DreamWorks will probably keep their international hit franchises going while using that dough to support projects like this, Me and My Shadow, Truckers, Boo U, Rumblewick, etc. Their upcoming slate doesn’t include too many sequels anyway, so it’s an indicator that DreamWorks has other ideas for the future. We may look back on Panda and Dragon (along with the home video sales) as the very films that made this possible.

2012 Animation Box Office Predictions (Part 5)

Wreck-It Ralph - This is another one that’s tricky to predict. Walt Disney Animation Studios finally scored a huge hit with Tangled, which went on to gross $200 million, making it the highest grossing Disney animated feature since Tarzan in 1999. (Though Tarzan sold more tickets) Disney’s animated films have been getting good critical reception as of late, but terrible marketing is causing them to underperform. One must look at the multipliers. Bolt and The Princess and the Frog were poorly marketed, and consequently grossed less than $30 million on their opening weekends. They had strong legs and climbed to $100 million, which isn’t easy for most films. Tangled was lucky, grossing $48 million on its opening weekend and getting an extra boost from Thanksgiving week. Now if Bolt and Frog had big openings like that, $170-200 million would’ve been easy for them to reach.
This proves that audiences DID like these films, but Disney’s marketing department sells them short, which is why they have a hard time at the domestic box office. They did the same thing to Winnie the Pooh last summer. Now Winnie the Pooh wasn’t blockbuster material to begin with, but they could’ve had a good-sized success (somewhere between $80 million and $100 million) on their hands, but no. Instead, they put barely any effort into marketing it and just threw it out in the middle of a competitive summer. What were they thinking?!
The same thing will probably happen to Wreck-It Ralph if they pull these shenanigans. Wreck-It Ralph is an INCREDIBLY risky film. It doesn’t have four-quadrant appeal, and it’s an ambitious adventure comedy about video games. I can’t see tons of people flocking to see a Disney animated film that has a video game setting. Disney needs to market this as an event, and with a good-sized opening weekend (somewhere around $50 million), it can garner excellent word of mouth and easily pass the $200 million mark. Why can’t Disney do this? Walt Disney Animation Studios is back on track, and these films need to be successful. Disney executives see the rather disappointing box office returns (a gross below $120 million domestically), ambitious projects get scrapped. We don’t want that, now do we?
Anyways, I expect this film to at least gross over $120 million at the domestic box office. It all depends on what the opening weekend is going to be. A good-sized multiplier is guaranteed, since all of the post-2007 Disney animated films had them. I’m hoping it could gross $200 million and be the ambitious blockbuster Disney has been waiting for. The risks would be worth it, and more projects like that will come. Remember when Disney took risks like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Fantasia 2000, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet? The films either underperformed or flopped, either due to poor marketing or a lack of faith in the projects by the executives.
Wreck-It Ralph is ambitious, and there’s a lot of care going into it unlike those films I just mentioned. Those films were produced when production on a Disney animated film was dictated by executives, sticking their spoons in the broth. Hunchback’s uneven blend of mature themes and childish comedy (the gargoyles) didn’t appeal to audiences. Fantasia 2000 wasn’t box office material to begin with. Atlantis felt restrained, as if it was only allowed to be ambitious at times. Treasure Planet had the same problem, while also being backed by terrible marketing.
This is why Ralph is tough to predict. The marketing will probably be a bust, but the film will probably score a good-sized multiplier. Hell, Tron: Legacy pulled a 3.7x multiplier. If that can gross $172 million domestically, so can Wreck-It Ralph. Disney needs to kick off the marketing campaign now. Tron’s marketing campaign kicked off a good year and a half before the film even came out. There’s no trailer for this film yet! We’ve gotten announcements sporadically. What’s taking them so long? They need to get this film out there. If they do that, it’ll be the success they are hoping for. Disney marketing executives ought to have more faith in the in-house animated films.

2012 Animation Box Office Predictions (Part 4)

Finding Nemo 3D - The unexpected success of the 3D re-release of The Lion King drove Disney to commission more 3D re-releases of their films plus Pixar’s films. Beauty and the Beast 3D was next in line, but it hasn’t made half of what The Lion King 3D made. Why is that? The Lion King wasn’t available on home video when the release hit last September, people had to wait until October to buy the new Diamond Edition Blu-ray or DVD. A 3D Blu-ray version was also released.

On the same day, the 3D Blu-ray edition of Beauty and the Beast was released, although the film’s Diamond Edition has been available since October 2010. (It’s going back in the vault in two months) This is probably why Beauty and the Beast 3D has only made over $40 million at the domestic box office.
Finding Nemo is not in the vault, and it has been available on home video since its first and only release on DVD and VHS in November 2003. However, the film is not available on Blu-ray or Blu-ray 3D. I believe the re-release will outgross Beauty and the Beast’s 3D re-release, as it hasn’t been available in 3D before. Beast was, on Blu-ray 3D, but still. Also, like The Lion King, Finding Nemo is one of Disney’s highest grossing films (unadjusted) of all time. Beauty and the Beast’s gross and attendance were significantly lower than both.
I expect it to hit gross at least $50 million domestically. The highest it can go is $100 million. So it might be another Lion King 3D-sized success, or it may not do so well. Expect the film to hit Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D after the re-release.

Hotel Transylvania - Since Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sony Pictures Animation is now a big competitor in the animation field. While their collaboration with Aardman didn’t do so well, The Smurfs did. Hotel Transylvania can be a moderate success at best. It depends on how it appeals to the public. There’s a couple of similar animated films coming out this year: ParaNorman and Frankenweenie.
With no trailer out, it’s hard to predict. If the film turns out to be a good one, then $80 million should be the minimum, domestically. It could possibly be a break out hit, even though September is not really a hot month for films in general. An opening weekend of over $20 million is highly possible.

Frankenweenie - I expect this film to perform similarly to The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline. That means it’ll probably miss $100 million. Tim Burton’s films usually aren’t massive blockbusters, with a few exceptions of course.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2012 Animation Box Office Predictions (Part 3)

Brave - Last year, Pixar broke their $200 million winning streak with Cars 2. Cars 2 didn’t appeal to the adults and teenagers who normally attend Pixar films, because it lacked heart and it felt more like a toy commercial than anything. This is also why the film alienated family audiences. The film also had a hard time at the box office because of the typical parents who scream bloody murder when an animated film has content in it that isn’t always suitable for young children.
Brave probably won’t be bogged down by any of this. It’s a story rooted in the classic fairy tale tradition about a princess who is rebellious. If Pixar gave that classic story a twist, then it’s guaranteed to hit $200 million, but we don’t know that yet. Brave won’t be a romp that focuses more on comedy than the story, it won’t be a toy commercial and it won’t be a dull film. This film looks like every other Pixar film: Sophisticated, adult, well-made and it will also have something in it for everyone.
One thing that may hurt it (that is, if the film turns out to be another classic) is the content. Apparently Pixar is taking a different route with this medieval Scotland adventure. It’s supposed to be a dark fairy tale, much like the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. That means it’ll probably garner a PG rating (a rating they rarely get for their films), which means that it’ll garner controversy from parents who assume a G/PG-rated animated film automatically means “good for the kids”. Unfortunately, there are a lot of parents like that out there. Just look at some Yahoo reviews for Rango and Cars 2 and see all the complaining about the content in those films.
Then again, there are tons of parents who take their children to see animated films that have violence or frightening material in them, and don’t complain at all. Brave will appeal to those audiences, plus Pixar’s fans and the adults. Cars 2 just couldn’t appeal to anyone, whether it was family audiences, the fans or casual movie goers. Also, people probably won’t avoid this film just because Cars 2 turned out to be a dud. If they do, then something’s wrong with them. Brave should gross at least $50 million on its opening weekend, and probably hit the usual target for a Pixar film ($60-70 million), and then pull a strong multiplier and hit $200 million with ease. There’s a 90% chance that it will do this. 10% chance the film turns out to be a disappointment and consequently underperforms, or it fails to appeal to its target audience: Everyone. I highly doubt Brave will fail in any of those departments, even if it’s not a masterful film but simply a good film. That’s something Cars 2 wasn’t. In order to miss $200 million, it has to be on par with Cars 2. I doubt that will be the case.

Ice Age: Continental Drift - The previous Ice Age film, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, was the lowest attended yet it was only 3 million tickets shy of its 2006 predecessor. By now, audiences probably won’t have much interest in another Ice Age film. Given the performances of recent four-quels (Shrek Forever After, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), I predict there will be a a big drop in attendance. Likewise, the final gross might be below $150 million. I don’t see this doing much harm to Pixar’s Brave, it’s possible family audiences might skip this and just see Brave instead.
A sub-$150 million gross won’t really matter to Blue Sky, because the film is probably going to clear $800 million worldwide anyway. It’ll be another gargantuan smash hit for Blue Sky, but my question is, will they keep making more? Or will they focus on more original projects? Their upcoming slate seems indicates that Ice Age will be over after this film.

ParaNorman - It’s a bit too early to predict what this film will make. Laika’s first animated film, Coraline, was a moderate success. It was a good film, and it was a Henry Selick film, so The Nightmare Before Christmas feel of the film was probably another reason it did well. Coraline was not a smash hit mega-blockbuster though, but again, neither was Nightmare back in 1993.
ParaNorman will probably perform the same way. Stop motion films don’t do well to begin with, but this will appeal to the Tim Burton crowd. I’d say it’ll gross somewhere around $70 million domestically.

2012 Animation Box Office Predictions (Part 2)

The Pirates! Band of Misfits - Sony Pictures Animation’s first collaboration with Aardman, Arthur Christmas, had a tough time at the box office a couple months ago. It’s unfortunate, because the film was essentially a great treat for the whole family to see during the holidays. Perhaps it was the abundance of family films and children’s films that killed it (The Muppets, Hugo, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked) or maybe it was because the marketing wasn’t good. That film did grow some legs (it had a 3.8x multiplier), but it just came and went.
Aardman hasn’t had a box office hit in the United States since their feature film debut, Chicken Run, in 2000. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit grossed respectable numbers back in 2005. Flushed Away had a poor opening weekend and relied on legs to carry it past $60 million. Arthur Christmas grossed less than $50 million. Aardman’s films don’t really do a thing stateside, which is a shame. Their films are always good. I wonder why...
The Pirates! Band of Misfits (or In an Adventure with Scientists!, if you want to go by the film’s real title) will probably perform like the other post-Chicken Run Aardman films. It’ll have a small opening weekend, pull a 3.5x mutliplier and underperform completely. Like I said in the first part of my thoughts on upcoming animated films, audiences may reject this as a silly spoof of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Do casual movie goers in the states knows of the books that this film is based on? Probably not. The opening weekend should be no less than $15 million. With legs, it can hit $50 million, but don’t expect this film to be a hit. If it’s a sleeper hit that manages to hit $100 million, I’ll be surprised. I was hoping Arthur Christmas would be that sleeper hit.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted - This one was always a bit tricky for me to predict. Madagascar did very well back in 2005, almost hitting $200 million stateside. The second film made less, probably because it didn’t really deliver and it was a November release, unlike the first film which pretty much had the whole summer to itself, as nothing family-friendly stood in its way. (With the exception of Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, which was rated PG-13. No Pixar film came out in 2005, and the other animated films couldn’t touch it) Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is a summer release, unlike its predecessor, so it could probably do better.

DreamWorks’ animated films have been grossing less than $50 million on their opening weekends since How to Train Your Dragon (not counting Shrek Forever After), everything of theirs now seems to open between $35 to $45 million, even Kung Fu Panda 2 had a disappointing opening weekend gross. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’s opening weekend gross should be around $30-40 million.
How will it perform in the long run? Brave and Ice Age: Continental Drift will take its 3D screens away and annihilate it. It may pull some good numbers in its first two weekends (kids will eat it up), but that will probably be it. It’s possible that the film might even miss $100 million, the first DreamWorks animated film to do so since Flushed Away in 2006. It might be a bigger hit with kids than Brave, since Pixar films aim more to the adults. The film seems to be more of a fun romp than its talky predecessor, so it’s possible that kids will like that more than Pixar’s epic fantasy, which should cater to older kids, teenagers and adults.
If the film misses $100 million domestically, DreamWorks probably won’t care, since the film is pretty much locked to explode at the box office worldwide. This series is incredibly popular overseas, and with the European setting, it’s bound to do extremely well.

2012 Animation Box Office Predictions (Part 1)

Let’s get one thing out of the way, I’m no box office expert. I take great interest in the box office because it’s just something that happens to fascinate me. Some may ask, “What’s the point of following box office numbers? You’re not getting any of that dough!” I say it’s just fun to see how movies perform at the box office, and why they perform the way they do.

2011 was not a great year for box office, and it was a pretty dull year for animated films as well. Even non-animated family films suffered. Why is that? Could it be the quality of the films? The bad economy? Could it be because most of the animated films were family films that are in 3D? Let’s look at a good example, Blue Sky’s Rio. It got good reviews, it was fun for both kids and adults, it had colorful animation, not much competition (I highly doubt Hoodwinked Too! was a threat) and audiences clearly enjoyed it. (When I saw it, the audience applauded twice during the film!) What happened? How come this couldn’t gross North of $150 million at the domestic box office? This was arguably Blue Sky’s most appealing film to date.
Better yet, how come Kung Fu Panda 2 underperformed? Bad choice of release date, maybe? Lazy marketing? Critics liked it, and judging by the 3.5x multiplier it pulled, audiences liked it. How come it couldn’t reach $200 million? Cars 2 missed $200 million for obvious reasons, though it came very close. Rango apparently wasn’t audience-friendly, though the film still grossed $123 million domestically. Puss in Boots could’ve hit $200 million if it weren’t for the low opening weekend gross.
Perhaps it was because there was no big “event” animated film last year. 2010 had them (Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled), this year didn’t. Rango may have been innovative and daring, but that doesn’t translate to “audience friendly”, but it was still lucky to make as much as it did. Rio was colorful and appealing, but it looked like more of the same from the marketing. Pixar’s big film for the year was a sequel to a film that not too many people cared for in the first place, and it ultimately alienated their fans, adult movie-goers, and the family audiences that are always there for their films. Audiences somewhat avoided Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots on their opening weekends, probably tired of the DreamWorks’ formula, until word got out that both films were worth seeing. Arthur Christmas and The Adventures of Tintin didn’t seem audience friendly, like Rango, despite being good films.
At the same time, Gnomeo and Juliet was a small sleeper hit that seemed to appeal more to children, despite getting mixed reviews from the critics. The critically panned The Smurfs did very well. The Lion King’s 3D re-release did incredibly well for a re-release, and its performance was more impressive than most of the animated films that came out last year.
Box office seems to be getting better, thanks to the performance of last weekend’s releases: The Vow, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Safe House and the 3D re-release of Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Will the same happen for animated films? So far, Beauty and the Beast 3D made half of what The Lion King 3D made on its opening weekend, but that’s because the film has been available on home video in the 3D format. The Secret World of Arrietty won’t be an indicator of the fate of animated films at the box office. One film will be the decider: Universal/Illumination’s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. These are my box office predictions for those two films.

The Secret World of Arrietty - Japanese animated films never leave much of a mark at the North American box office. The fact that Pokemon - The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back is the highest grossing Japanese animated film in the United States is very telling. It only made that much because Pokemon was a huge phenomenon back in 1998 and 1999. The sequels failed to repeat that success. Any release of a Japanese animated film here in the states is always given a limited release.
Disney gave Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo a bigger release than usual (around 900 theaters) in 2009, but it ultimately grossed less than $15 million domestically. The Secret World of Arrietty is being released in at least 1,300 theaters across North America on Friday. Perhaps they are trying to introduce Americans to good Japanese animation, despite how Americans embrace Japanese animation, and animation in general. I expect this film to have a very small opening, somewhere around $8 to $12 million. The film will probably have very strong legs and end up with a gross that’s under $45 million.
It would be a miracle to see someone distribute a Japanese animated film in the states in over 3,000 theaters (the normal amount for a wide release) and market it like an event. Sadly, that’s not going to happen. However, if Arrietty performs very well, Disney might re-think things when it comes to distributing the next Studio Ghibli film.

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax - This is the big one. Unless this film completely disappoints everyone, from critics to family audiences, then it will be the “great decider” (as I like to call it) of the fate of animation at the domestic box office. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax pretty much has everything going for it: It’s based on a Dr. Seuss book, it looks very appealing, the animation is nice and colorful, it has good marketing behind it and it looks like it’ll be fun for everyone. Illumination’s Despicable Me was a critical success, while Hop wasn’t.
Also, is there any competition? Relativity's Mirror Mirror looks like it's going to appeal to family audiences, but it doesn't seem like much of a threat. Disney’s John Carter will appeal more to teens and adults, same with Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games and Warner Bros.’ Wrath of the Titans. Both Carter and Wrath are 3D films, so they’ll probably take away all of The Lorax’s 3D and IMAX 3D screens, which might hurt it. That will happen, unless most family audiences in the states are sick of 3D and just pay to see the 2D version instead. That happened with most of the other 3D animated films released in 2010 and 2011. There is no competition from any family films though, The Lorax has nearly two months all to itself before The Pirates! Band of Misfits opens, but I doubt that’s going to be any threat to the film’s box office.
Anyways, the opening weekend gross for this should be around $40-45 million. It could go up to $50 million, it’s very possible.  If it grosses around $45 million, then it'll be a bit higher than what Rango and Rio pulled in on their opening weekends in March and April of last year. If it delivers, which it most likely will, then expect the film to pull a 3.5-4x multiplier. This will be something for family audiences to see, an event they haven’t had for a while. Expect the film to finish up with around $150-170 million. It could even crack $200 million. If it does, then animated films will be back on track at the domestic box office.

Your thoughts? What are your predictions for these two films? Why do you think animated films did less than stellar business last year?

Upcoming Animated Films - My Thoughts (Part 16)

Illumination Entertainment pretty much proved to the animation industry that they could be fierce competition. With the unexpected success of their debut Despicable Me and the success of Hop, they are now one of the big competitors. Universal is also very confident in them. Their next animated film comes out next month (Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax), which is a guaranteed success, followed by Despicable Me 2 in 2013. They’re all set. It seems like most of their upcoming projects will animated comedies, much like most of DreamWorks' upcoming films along with some of Sony Animation's upcoming films.
I’ve left out two of their upcoming projects, the untitled Dr. Seuss biopic starring Johnny Depp and Gospel for Teens, since they are both live-action films.

The Addams Family
Tim Burton will direct this stop-motion animation take (yay!) on the classic show, which has been adapted into an animated series twice, first in 1973 and again in 1992. (Pictured above) This project is perfect for him. Enough said. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter will probably provide the voices of Gomez and Morticia.
Curious George
Back in 2006, a hand-drawn Curious George film was done by Universal and Imagine. Now Illumination is going to give it a shot. This will probably be a computer animated film, and nothing like the 2006 film. Expect this one to be a fun romp.

Emily the Strange
Rob Reger has been trying to make a film adaptation of his character, Emily the Strange, for years. Chloe Moretz will provide the voice of the title character, and Mirror Mirror scribe will write. (Shudder) Not sure how this will turn out.
This project is based on Ricky Gervais’ children’s books of the same name. The designs of the characters are well-suited for an animated film. I expect this one will be a lot of fun.
Pluto is a classic manga by Osamu Tezuka, but here’s hoping Illumination’s computer animated film adaptation won’t turn out like Summitt’s Astro Boy did back in 2009.
The creators of the Uglydoll line, David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, will produce this film adaptation. Like Flanimals, the designs of the Uglydoll characters seem perfect for an animated feature. This could work as a fun comedy.
Untitled Cryptozoology Project
Not much is known about this project. Jack Black is involved with it. I’m assuming this is going to be about bigfoot, yetis, the Loch Ness monster and all kinds of interesting creatures. Again, this is perfect for animation.

Woody Woodpecker
Another retro cartoon/comic revival. Woody Woodpecker could turn out to be a fun romp if done right. It’ll probably be computer animated. Two King of the Hill writers will handle the script.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rant: Disney Blu-ray and Direct-To-Video Sequels

Warning: If you enjoy any of the Disney direct-to-video sequels or support them, read no further...

The Disney direct-to-video sequels were one of the few reasons why Disney animation has fallen in popularity over the years. It all started in 1994, with the release of The Return of Jafar. It was successful, so another film followed. Things didn't really take off until The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride broke records for a direct-to-video film in 1998. Since then, we saw more and more of these films. They were a huge hit with kids, as they were safe for kids, somewhat telling consumers that Disney was for kids first and foremost. That would make Walt Disney furious. These films were cheap and notoriously subpar, they were sanitized and kid-friendly, and they ultimately hurt Disney’s reputation as a quality animation studio. Things wouldn't change until Bob Iger became the CEO of The Walt Disney Company.

John Lasseter, who disliked the direct-to-video sequels, wanted the company to stop production on direct-to-video sequels, as it was getting out of control. His plan did work for the most part, as we have been getting the CGI Tinker Bell direct-to-video series and a Cars spin-off called Planes is coming in spring 2013. The most important thing is that they aren’t making direct sequels to the classic films anymore: No Snow White 2, no Pinocchio 2, no Dumbo 2... The Tinker Bell movies, from what I know, have nothing to do with Peter Pan’s story or characters. It’s just a shameless cash cow for Disney.

The reason I'm bringing up these direct-to-video sequels is because they are being re-released on Blu-ray. Not only that, but some Disney animated classics are being releasing as a double feature pack with their direct-to-video sequels, instead of being released separately. Disney first did this with The Fox and the Hound last summer, packaging it with The Fox and the Hound II in the same set.

This summer, Disney is releasing Pocahontas on Blu-ray for the first time and it’s going to be packaged with the sequel, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World. Why? Why can’t The Fox and the Hound and Pocahontas be released on their own? Why do they have to be packaged with the mediocre direct-to-video sequels? The direct-to-video sequels are an unfortunate part of Disney history, why are they coming back all of a sudden? On top of that, why are the classics being put in the same set as the direct-to-video sequel? It's like putting good food next to garbage. (Sorry for that disgusting comparison)

Disney didn’t do this with Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Lady and the Tramp. Since those are always popular sellers, they probably didn’t think it was necessary. However, The Fox and the Hound was a never one of Disney’s big sellers on home video. Still, that doesn’t mean that it has to be packaged with the cheap DTV sequel. Do they think really think that including the cheap cash-grab sequel is going to help it sell? That’s sort of insulting in a way. The film doesn’t sell so well to begin with, so it’s degraded to being sold with the universally panned direct-to-video sequel that was only made to make money. I wouldn’t be upset if we had an option to buy the first film alone, without having to buy the sequel, but we can't.

You can buy Bambi II separately as a stand-alone release, same with Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas. The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride and The Lion King 1 1/2 are coming to Blu-ray as stand-alone releases. Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure is getting a release as well. Again, why can’t they do this with The Fox and the Hound? Why can’t they do this with the upcoming Pocahontas Blu-ray? It’s like Disney is saying, “Here’s one of our not-so-hot titles, but you have to buy it with the sequel, even if you don’t like it.”

Now you may bring up the Fantasia / Fantasia 2000 double pack and the upcoming The Rescuers / The Rescuers Down Under double pack. Fantasia 2000 and The Rescuers Down Under are Walt Disney Animation Studios productions (back when they were called Walt Disney Feature Animation), while The Fox and the Hound II and Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World are cheap, direct-to-video schlock produced by DisneyToon Studios that were products of corporate greed and not creativity. There’s an obvious difference in quality. Also, Fantasia 2000 is worthy of being released in a double pack with Fantasia. The Rescuers Down Under is also worthy of being packaged with its predecessor, while also being a notable animated film on its own. (First Disney film done without cels, among other technical achievements) What’s notable about the two direct-to-video sequels? Nothing.

Call me crazy, but I refused to buy the Blu-ray release of The Fox and the Hound and The Fox and the Hound II when it came out last summer. Why should I have to pay for a direct-to-video sequel that was one of many things that killed Disney’s reputation as one of animation’s dominant leaders? These things need to go away. Walt Disney didn’t opt for cheap schlock, and he didn't believe in making sequels. The ones he produced weren't successful, and he didn't really care for them after that. (Son of Flubber, Savage Sam) The Fox and the Hound II was only made to cash in on the original’s return to DVD in 2006. (The 25th Anniversay Edition) Pocahontas II was only made because the first one was a box office success (all of the Renaissance films got direct-to-video sequels, with the exception of Hercules, which got a spin-off cobbled together from the TV series) and they wanted to keep the gravy train going, in the wrong direction.

I think Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has a new plan. Diamond Editions (or hot-selling Disney films) will be released on their own, while their DTV sequel (if a sequel to that film was made) will be sold separately or with a special double-set, but you can buy the first film on its own if you want. With their not-so-hot-selling titles, they’ll be packaged with the direct-to-video sequel. I want to ask you, do you really want to buy The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Blu-ray that comes with the awful direct-to-video sequel? How about Mulan and Mulan II? Or even worse, Tarzan and Tarzan II? The Emperor's New Groove and Kronk's New Groove? Do you want to buy one of these notable films, with the irrelevant, subpar sequel mentioned on the front cover? You wouldn't buy a double pack of Grease and Grease 2, would you? How about Speed and Speed 2? Or what about Saturday Night Fever and Staying Alive? Jaws and its three sequels? The original films are good on their own, packaging them with the much inferior sequels is just insulting and downright wrong. Disney is obviously catering to kids with this move, something they should NOT be doing. If they want to please kids, release the cheap sequel separately. Then they could please those who dislike the sequels by releasing the original on its own. Why can't they do that?

To be honest, I think they better stop while they’re at it. The direct-to-video sequels have only achieved one thing: Doing well in sales. (Well, some of them) For the most part, they’ve angered fans, they’ve stained Disney animation and they hurt hand-drawn animation as a whole. I understand there are probably a lot of kids out there who love them, but really? (I'm going to be honest, I owned a few on VHS when I was little, but how did I know they were subpar? I was only a kid!) Re-releasing them on their own is one thing (they should let these films fade into obscurity), but putting them on the same disc or set as the original while not giving us a choice to get the original on its own? I just find it insulting and unfair to us fans who want those embarrassments to fade away.

You might say, "But kids need something to watch too!" How about this, show them a Disney classic and not the subpar cash-grab sequel. Why should they have to watch garbage that's aimed at kids only when they could watch a great family film? I may sound strict, but people need to realize that Disney was never "just for kids" and that they need to make films that appeal to their true target audience: Everyone. Making garbage that is just for kids hurts Disney and animation in general. It already has. The damage is done. They don't need to come back, and the folks at Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment should not force consumers to buy them if they want the original classic but don't want the sequel.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Upcoming Animated Films - My Thoughts (Part 15)

More Sony Pictures Animation projects...
Make My Own Monster
Another Gotham Group co-production. Not much is known about this one.
Muncle Trogg
This project is based on Janet Foxley’s children’s book of the same name. It’s about a “small” giant living in a community of giants that pick on him for his size. A community of giants? Sounds like it could work. Apparently there’s a “solar-powered dragon” in this story, also interesting.
Pooch Cafe
Based on Paul Gilligan’s comic strip. Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet) will write the script.

Another retro cartoon/comic/show revival, but this one could work. The original short films (which are of course based on the Thimble Theater comic, pictured above) are pure brilliance, but the same can’t be said about the cartoon series versions of Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs. It should be hand-drawn though, a computer animated Popeye would just look awkward. (A CGI Popeye was already made for some forgotten direct-to-video movie a few years ago)

Rollercoaster Tycoon
I used to love playing Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 when I was young. I can only imagine what a film adaptation would be like. Guess what? It’s another live action/CGI hybrid. I guess we’re going to get a couple rollercoaster ride scenes in 3D.
Secret Histories
Another Gotham Group co-production, and there’s not much info on this project.
Untitled David Sussman Project
An untitled hybrid that’s being produced by Kevin Lima and written by David Sussman. There are no details on the plot or anything else.
With Aardman and The Gotham Group as collaborators, Sony Pictures Animation is trying to broaden their scope. Aardman can supply their usual brilliance, but under Sony’s name. Their own original projects have potential, and the ones under the Gotham Group could also work. Sony usually doesn’t use big budgets, unlike Pixar and DreamWorks. Perhaps in the future, they can go all out and do something that will require a big budget. But then again, you can still make an animated classic on a budget.

Next up is Illumination Entertainment, and that will be the end of this series of posts. Whenever a new animated film is announced or anything having to do with an upcoming release, I'll basically make a whole post dedicated to this news, or a weekly animation news round-up sort of thing. Which ever works.

Upcoming Animated Films - My Thoughts (Part 14)

Sony Pictures Animation, like DreamWorks, has quite a few films in development that don’t have any exact release dates. I include The Familiars on this list because it’s scheduled for 2014, but with no month or day.

Since Sony is now partners with Aardman Animations, I’ll cover any upcoming Aardman films in this list.
The Familiars
This is Doug Sweetland’s directorial debut. He recently left Pixar, but while he was there, he directed the brilliant short film Presto. Fergal Reilly is the co-director of the project and Sam Raimi is the producer of all people. It’s based on the books of the same name, by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson. The plot involves three young wizards and their animals companions trying to escape from an evil kingdom. Sounds good already. This certainly sounds more ambitious than something like The Smurfs, obviously, but it seems like Sweetland is aiming high for his directorial debut.
Chickenhare is based on three graphic novels by Chris Grine. It’s about a half chicken/half hare, hence the title. Seems perfect for an animated film. Not much has been revealed about this project, so who knows what it’ll be like.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Since the first one did so well, the sequel was inevitable. The sequel will not be based on the sequel to the original book, Pickles to Pittsburgh. This could be another franchise for Sony if they have enough good ideas to keep it fresh.
Finding Nemo screenwriter David Reynolds (little Davie Reynolds!) is scripting this co-production with The Gotham Group, which used to be a firm that was a talent agency for animated films in the early 1990s. Not much is known about this project.
Harold and the Purple Crayon
This project is based on a series of children’s novels by Crockett Johnson, and the novels have adapted before into animated short films. It’s also been adapted into an HBO TV series a couple years ago. It’s about a kid with a crayon that creates his own world, it could work. The film is co-production with Overlook Entertainment and Maurice Sendak is producing it along with Will Smith.
How to Live Forever
Another co-production with The Gotham Group. Not much is known about this one, though the title makes it sound interesting.
How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack
The title alone already has me hooked. Robert Zemeckis is producing this film, and it’s another co-production with the Gotham Group. Apparently this one is going to be a little more adult-oriented. It’ll be a live action/CGI hybrid. It’s based on a book by Chuck Sambuchino. Hey, at least Zemeckis is doing something like this and not a motion capture remake of Yellow Submarine.
Instant Karma
This film is about a New Orleans safecracker who is reincarnated as a fly. Learning from his mistakes, he becomes different animals before he can be a human again and win back his love. This idea is great, and it certainly is a bit risky. Apparently the director, Paul Hernandez, has been trying to get this project off the ground for a while. It will be a live-action/CGI hybrid.

Upcoming Animated Films - My Thoughts (Part 13)

Blue Sky Studios has a few projects in the works, slated to be released after 2013. (When Leaf Men comes out)

Based on the popular creature creator computer game, this film could go either way. All kinds of different creature designs seem perfect for the animated medium, so there is a good amount of potential in this project that seems more ambitious than Blue Sky’s previous efforts. Chris Wedge will direct this film, another plus.
The Story of Ferdinand
This is a classic story, and Blue Sky could pull it off. Walt Disney once did with a short film, so I can only imagine how a feature film would work. Carlos Saldanha is going to direct the film, as he co-directed Ice Age and Robots and directed every other Blue Sky production.
This project is based on Patrick McDonnell’s comic strip of the same name. This could be a fun film, and it’ll work unlike some other recent comic strip adaptations. (Garfield, Marmaduke)
I can’t say much about those three projects. Not much has been revealed, all we know is that Blue Sky is planning on turning these ideas into animated features. Could they work? Probably. Blue Sky is a very consistent studio, aside from the two Ice Age sequels, which received mixed reviews.
The sequels exist to fund original projects. Let’s say Ice Age: Continental Drift tops $900 million at the worldwide box office. Maybe Leaf Men’s budget will be big, around $150 million, because Blue Sky usually stays below $100 million when it comes to production budgets. Maybe they’re waiting to take a huge risk. Maybe Spore could be that risk, or something else.

I’d say give Blue Sky some time. They were one of the very few non-Pixar/Disney/DreamWorks studios to survive the CGI glut of 2006 since Ice Age and Robots satisfied audiences and critics. (Robots to a lesser extent) Their films always do well, and maybe if they start taking some real risks, their films will start making Pixar numbers (i.e, more than $200 million) domestically and worldwide. Rio might’ve underperformed in theaters in the states, but it’s doing extremely well on Blu-ray and DVD and it was a smash hit all around the world. This is good for Blue Sky, and maybe they'll try something new with their next original project.