Monday, April 30, 2012

"The Pirates!" Doesn't Go Over Like Gangbusters

Columbia/Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Animations' The Pirates! Band of Misfits opened at #2 this weekend, which is good for an Aardman or stop motion animated film, but... It opened with just $11 million, making it the smallest opening for an Aardman film (even below Arthur Christmas) and it's now among the smallest opening weekend totals for a wide release animated film. It's just another indicator that Aardman's films don't really explode on opening weekend, along with stop motion films in general.

What held this back from doing well on opening weekend? Arthur Christmas was a much more accessible film, but that too did not score a good-sized opening weekend probably due to when it was released and whatnot. The Pirates! didn't have much competition from other family films, and it basically has opened in the quiet month before the summer blockbuster typhoon. Could it be that audiences just don't care for stop-motion? Well that doesn't seem right, given how well Chicken Run did not to mention the huge following that The Nightmare Before Christmas has. Coraline had a very small opening weekend but strong legs helped it pass $75 million stateside. It can't be that it's stop-motion.

I blame the marketing, again. Now to be fair with Columbia Pictures, this was probably a pretty hard sell here in the United States. Are the books well known here? Or is it just something that's more popular in the UK and elsewhere? Again, regardless of whether it was based on books or not, this probably came off as a Pirates of the Caribbean spoof for kids to American audiences. The trailers and commercials didn't mention the books, and just made it look like another silly kiddie romp. Now look at the UK trailers, much funnier. The first trailer alone makes you want to see it. The title change probably didn't help either. In the UK, the film is called The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! since that's the name of one of the books it's based on. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is such a misleading title, and the trailers conveniently downplayed Charles Darwin who is a major character in the film. What, were they afraid of offending those who are against Darwin's theories? The film doesn't even make much mention of evolution or whatever, but since it's such a huge issue here, the marketing pretty much obscured Darwin and the whole idea that it's about science in nineteenth century England. Band of Misfits makes it sound like some kind of kids' film... Because you know, animation is totally for kids, right? What a shame.

In fact, Sony did try to make it more accessible to American audiences and kids. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is not the same film as The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! Some of the more crude humor was toned down (not counting the leprosy joke, that was cut by Aardman themselves), and a few characters were recast, even though a majority of the characters have British accents. What... The... Hell? It's not as bad as what happened to something like The Magic Roundabout (a very British animated film based on a British children's show, that was completely re-dubbed and re-written for American audiences and released as Doogal), but come on! These studios need to stop pandering to kids. Aardman's original film was clearly a much more adult-oriented film that could still appeal to kids with its wacky hi-jinks and fun character designs, but they had to alter it for American audiences. I'm an American and I am offended, because this is a condescending practice that is ruining the animation industry while stifling creativity and also treating American audiences like they are dumb. Why couldn't Sony just give us what Aardman originally set out to do and market it as the wildly fun and quirky animated film that it is? Why does it have to be for kids? Why? Why? Why?!? The original version probably would've been more successful! Had they marketed it as a more adult-oriented film, maybe not too many people (and no offense to anyone's religious beliefs) would freak out and say "It's science-loving Darwinists trying to corrupt our children! Oh noes!" Fortunately, the cuts don't really affect the story in any way and the overall quality of the film, but still, it didn't need to be altered for the sake of a certain audience!

Not all is doom and gloom, though. The film has a chance to score great word of mouth, which Aardman films always get. However, with a 4x multiplier and a sub-$50 million gross, that won't look impressive alongside other animated films. Something subpar like The Lorax had no trouble making more than that on opening weekend. Losing 3D screens next weekend won't be a problem, since family films do better in 2D anyways. It'll need to pull some very strong legs in order to pass $50 million, because $100 million is probably out of reach by this point. A real shame, because this is another very good animated film that needs to do well, cuts or no cuts.

I was hoping that this year would be some sort of stop motion renaissance and be what 2009 wasn't. Well, with this film underperforming, we now have to see how ParaNorman and Frankenweenie will do. Stop motion films have a chance to perform well alongside the heavy-hitters, but poor marketing and the whole "animation is for kids" belief is what's holding them back. We need nice alternatives to the CGI films and family friendly films. These films, along with several independent animated films, are the alternatives. They'll never do a thing though, because many people still assume that "animation is for kids". Well guess what? It's time for them to wake up.

Anyways, did you see The Pirates! Band of Misfits? Or if you live in Europe, did you see Aardman's original unaltered film? Do you think stop motion animated films are just not marketable? Or do you think that non-CGI/non-family friendly films are marketed terribly and thus don't score? If you saw the original UK version of the film, are you upset that it had to be altered for American audiences? Sound off!

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