Note: I'm no expert and this entire rant is opinion-based. If you're looking for exactness, don't read any further.
Disney's marketing department has been receiving considerable amounts of criticism for their failure to promote Andrew Stanton's adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' epic science fiction novels, John Carter. What do I say? They deserve it, every last bit of it. While I don't approve of the folks who slammed the film, Andrew Stanton and the Mouse House in general, the marketing department really tripped up here. This, and along with other blunders, is what makes Disney's marketing department a target of criticism from folks such as myself, fans and the press. This colossal failure is also what hurts Disney in the long run along with their animation studio and other projects.
What they should be ashamed of is how they marketed this film. Articles are everywhere, criticizing the marketing campaign. While some people were a little too mean-spirited towards the film and the Mouse House, Disney's marketing department does deserve the criticism it's getting. I firmly believed (along with many others) that the title change was what crippled Stanton's epic adaptation of Burroughs' influential classic from the start, along with the disappointing trailers and equally disappointing TV spots. In short, Disney's marketing department killed this film, and some of the people working for Disney are putting the blame on Andrew Stanton. (No, really!) Disney's marketing department crippled other films that could've been hits. This might sound insane, but something like Bolt could've easily taken in $200 million at the domestic box office, or $150 million at the least. No, that film only grossed $114 million domestically, a weak total when you stack it up next to other 2008 animated hits such as Blue Sky's Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! ($154 million), DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda ($215 million), Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa ($180 million), and Pixar's WALL-E. ($223 million) Instead, the marketing was lazy. The trailer was poorly put together, and the marketing pushed Miley Cyrus' name, whose character Penny isn't one of the lead characters. In fact, she's not even in it as much.
Bolt opened with $26 million at the domestic box office, which was an incredibly low opening weekend for a wide release animated film from a high profile studio. That was only a bit more than what Meet the Robinsons pulled in on its opening weekend back in 2007. Then something happened. It grew legs. Audiences clearly liked this film, but the low total said otherwise to Disney. Let's say the film was marketed properly, it would've made at least $35 million on its opening weekend. Let's just say it took in $40 million, then had the same word of mouth it did, it would've made over $170 million domestically. Maybe even more. Thanksgiving is a great time to release animated family films, but Disney blew it.
So Tangled does extremely well, but the hand-drawn film doesn't, and now Disney's future in animation seems to be CGI-topia! If Frog didn't underperform, there would be a push for more hand-drawn projects. Not anymore, especially with Winnie the Pooh being the one of the least attended Disney animated films of all time. Apparently Disney is reverting back to their 2003 mindset: "It failed because it was hand-drawn!" No, Winnie the Pooh failed because there was hardly any effort put into the marketing and it was released against heavy-hitters in a box office bloodbath of a month. Now look, The Snow Queen is Frozen and it's going to be computer animated! Well, hopefully it's a good film or one that at least deviates from the style they used for Bolt and Tangled. If it's going to be a remake of Tangled, then I won't be happy.
It's not the quality of the films, it's the marketing. Imagine if Disney's marketing department tripped up marketing another studio's film? Let's say they messed up marketing something like The Hunger Games, they would've thrown away a great opportunity. Imagine if John Carter was handled by someone like Warner Bros. or Paramount, perhaps it wouldn't have been the colossal box office disappointment that it is.
That said, Disney's marketing department is probably aware of the fact that the name "Disney" alone turns people off, especially in America. We live in a country where animation and all things Disney are called "kiddie stuff". We live in a country where classic animated films and icons are perceived as lame and kiddie. We live in a country where teen audiences won't be seen attending anything with the Disney name on it that's family friendly. It's not just in America, either, animation gets the same flack everywhere else, but in America, it is rampant. In order to get something like one of their recent animated films or something like John Carter to appeal to audiences, they need to have chops. Make these films look epic. Don't waste the trailers on failed jokes or just action. You got to find a way to lure audiences in, especially if you're putting some of your films up against heavy hitters. That's Disney's other big problem. Combining lackluster marketing with putting the films against obvious hits. (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.)
I can't say the same about the way they market their other films. John Carter? Three underwhelming trailers, an awful Super Bowl TV spot and TV spots that focused on action, action, action with no oomph. The recent animated films? A few trailers, not much marketing, unconvincing TV spots, and that's pretty much it. Most of these marketing materials are skewering kids anyway, while these films are designed for everyone to enjoy. Disney will keep getting the "Disney is for kids only" flack if they keep marketing their animated films this way. If their films did better, maybe animation wouldn't have such a hard time catching on in this country. If they can convince people that G and PG-rated animated films from another studio are worth seeing no matter how old they are, they can also do so for their own animated films.