Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Rebooting and Rehashing

It seems like Disney is planning on re-imagining a lot of stories that they have already adapted for their animated classics in the past... As big budget live action tentpoles...

Alice in Wonderland happened to be the first in this new trend, which happened to come out during what many people called the perfect storm. Everyone got a real taste of 3D with Avatar, a film they kept going back to see for the sheer experience. This film being in 3D was already a guarantee for success, then you add in excellent marketing (I mean, excellent marketing) and decent word of mouth. I mean, this film looked great. It was Tim Burton making Alice in Wonderland, I mean come on... Who didn't want to see that? Even if the film didn't look good, the novelty was there: A big budget Alice in Wonderland. The marketing really did its job! The film grossed an enormous $334 million domestically and $1 billion all across the world. Did anyone see that coming? Did Disney even see that coming?

Three years later, Disney scored a good-sized success with a similar film. Oz The Great and Powerful has taken in $234 million here so far and $491 million worldwide, but before that film opened, we saw other classic stories and fairy tales getting big adaptations that were geared more towards teenagers than family audiences: Snow White and the Huntsman and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. In addition to that, we also got television shows such as Once Upon a Time.

Disney has more coming. Maleficent opens next summer on July 2nd, followed by a Kenneth Branagh-directed Cinderella film in March 2015. A Beauty and the Beast live action film titled The Beast is currently in development as we speak, which should be out by 2017 or 2018. Alice and Oz are getting sequels, but no dates have been picked yet.

So today, Disney announced that a live action film based on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book is in the works.

It's a pretty odd choice considering that Disney already did a live action Jungle Book adaptation. Titled Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, the rather well-received film opened in 1994 and didn't really make much of a mark at the domestic box office.

Anyways, screenwriter Justin Marks will pen this adaptation... The Justin Marks who wrote Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, but he also wrote some short films so Disney must've brought him on board for a reason. Right now, I'm just not feeling it. Then again, I'm frustrated with this new direction Disney has been taking for their non-Marvel/Lucasfilm live action slate.

I mean, I can understand Cinderella and The Beast, but now they're going to adapt more stories that were already the basis for their animated classics. What's next? A live action The Little Mermaid? A live action The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Alright I'll stop there, because I'm probably giving them ideas. Anyways, while the slate includes some original stuff (Brad Bird's Tomorrowland and the enigmatic Terra Incognita) and properties that Disney has never touched before (such as Matched and Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), there's also...

- Peter and the Starcatchers (based on a prequel novel series to Peter Pan)
- Pete's Dragon
- Flight of the Navigator
- The Rocketeer

Why is Disney rebooting/remaking/re-imagining stories they've tackled before? Do we really need a remake of Pete's Dragon? Or Flight of the Navigator? Did we really even need to live action Cinderella and Beast films that are coming out?

Meanwhile, Disney suffers a loss with The Lone Ranger and The Wrap puts this boneheaded article up...

First of all, John Carter and The Lone Ranger weren't "original". The former is based on a series of novels by the legendary Edgar Rice Burroughs and the other is based on a multi-media series that dates back to the 1930s.

Second of all, why should Disney stick to the tried and true? Why should they only rely on Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm? Why should they "forget" trying something different? By that, I mean something they have never adapted or tried out before. Case in point, John Carter and The Lone Ranger. This year's Oz did very well, and the article actually acknowledges that. Walt always said, "You can't top pigs with pigs".

Third... John Carter was backed by terrible marketing and a terrible title all due to a Chairman who just didn't care and many other things. How many times do we have to go over this?! On the flip side of that coin, The Lone Ranger's trailers didn't give you an idea of what the film was even about. The trailers, to me, showed something convoluted that just happened to have a lot of wild west action. Also, aren't people getting sick of quasi-Jack Sparrow characters played by Johnny Depp? Especially in films from the same people who made those films? Everyone was saying it... It's Pirates in the West!

And of course, the article pretty much says that Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm (notice how they conveniently leave out Walt Disney Animation Studios) are all what Disney needs. They really don't, because their live action division gave them a hit this year. That's right, a hit. Outside of Pirates, you also had hits like the first Narnia, the National Treasure films and smaller-scale films that turned a profit. Sure, Disney might've had losses with a couple live action films (aside from Carter and Ranger, Prince of Persia underwhelmed and The Sorcerer's Apprentice was a dud) as of late, but that's no reason to give up hope.

What if their 2014 live action crop does well? What if everything from Maleficent to Tomorrowland to Into The Woods all do well and make a profit?

You can't just say Disney should stop with fresh new things for live action tentpoles. Carter and Ranger were killed by marketing, ditto Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer's Apprentice (and both of those Bruckheimer films were duds). Had Disney opted for a campaign for The Lone Ranger that said more about the story and the characters, perhaps it would've done solid business over the last week instead of missing the $50 million mark for the five-day opening.

Then you also got to think of quality and what you're giving an audience that consists of all ages. Films with lazy storytelling that happen to have spectacle and action aren't going to cut it, it only works for things like Transformers... But not films like Battleship. Audiences won't eat up every big budget special effects spectacle you throw at them. Family audiences are also paying for films with the Disney name on them in addition to many moviegoing adults. Having not seen the film yet, I've heard that it's a bore with a convoluted, messy story that's surprisingly very dark. With today's ultra-high ticket prices, Disney needs to give the crowds what they need. Something that doesn't miss the mark. Apparently The Lone Ranger was not just that. Neither was Prince of Persia or The Sorcerer's Apprentice. John Carter's length and convoluted storyline (I think the film is good, though) might've been too much for audiences as well. Also note that I don't think that Disney should pander to audiences, at all. I am very much against that, but they're a big corporation and they have to hit it right with each film. Something like The Lone Ranger and John Carter (the way they are) would probably be more suitable under something else.

Which leads me to ask this - and I had discussed this topic with a few others weeks ago - should Disney save PG-13 tentpole films for their Touchstone banner?

From what I've heard, The Lone Ranger is pretty damn violent for a PG-13 film. I also hear that it takes a Dudley Do-Right character (I'm not familiar with anything that has to do with The Lone Ranger) and turns him into a rather dark one, one that's not a hero who does the right thing. I'm not a "think of the children!" type of person, but I assume that many parents took their young 'uns to see this film over the weekend and might've been offended by the violence and/or gritty tone. When something from Disney sports violence that's said to be borderline R-rating level, that's not good. That can severely hurt the film's performance, but having the Disney name attached to this PG-13 tentpole might've done no favors.

The fact is, many people have an idea of what Disney entertainment should be. The Lone Ranger doesn't seem to fit the bill, which brings up the question: What if The Lone Ranger was a Touchstone film? The Touchstone name may not be easily recognizable though, since everyone (even those who live under a proverbial rock) knows what Disney is. Then again, without the Disney name, perhaps the film could've attracted more teenagers and adults because some of them might sneer at the idea of Disney making PG-13 live action films... Unless they're Pirates sequels, then that's totally okay, but anything else? "Why is Disney trying to be badass?! Laaaaaaame!"

In fact, it's the PG-13 films that are usually not doing well for them these days. Prince of Persia, John Carter and this film were all PG-13. Oz wasn't, neither were the National Treasure films, the first Narnia film (Prince Caspian's PG rating was always questioned), TRON: Legacy or anything else besides the Pirates films. The Pirates films are just rare exceptions, but nothing else that comes from the Mouse House seems to be when it comes to that rating.

But back to The Lone Ranger. Suppose it was a Touchstone release and Disney didn't spend $215 million on it. Let's just say that the film we got the other day cost $140 million to make and opened with the Touchstone logo, backed with marketing that still said "From the team that brought you Pirates of the Caribbean". I think it would've done better, as it didn't cost as much and the film would've performed a bit better. $50 million so far this kind of film isn't too bad, actually... It just happens to be a $215 million tentpole from mega-empire Disney! Seriously, this film could've been made for $140 million. I've seen $50-100 million films that look just as good!

Had it a been a bit smaller-scale (same great effects, but no towering budget) and released by Touchstone, Disney could have made a profit since it's already bound to make at least $100 million domestically and over $300 million worldwide. That, to me, would've really covered losses. It would've been perfect timing too, since Westerns have made a comeback at the box office. Just look at True Grit, Rango and Django Unchained. This could've rode on the coattails of those successes.

This could've worked for John Carter as well: $150 million budget, original John Carter of Mars title, better marketing and the Touchstone banner. Could've been less of a disaster or better yet, a profitable title. Bad marketing and all, John Carter still grossed $280 million worldwide. That's not horrible, you know. It could've made even less given the toxic buzz...

No, Disney shouldn't just give up on fresh new things for their live action tentpoles. Instead, they should seek solutions: Don't spend a crapload of money on the films (The Lone Ranger did not need to cost $215 million, or $250 million!) and release them through another outlet, which could ensure a small success. Other tentpoles from other studios based on books are going to do well (for the most part) because of familiarity. Disney happened to lose money with two films based on properties that are a little out of reach. What casual moviegoer who is under the age of 30 will be familiar with anything that has to do with Barsoom? The Lone Ranger? That's something their grandparents might've told them about years ago. I applaud Disney for at least trying with John Carter and The Lone Ranger, but the studio went about both the wrong way, from the ballooning budgets to the poor marketing.

Also, John Carter and The Lone Ranger shouldn't be used an excuse to state "Disney should give this original film thing up". Let's take a look at next year's slate of live action films that aren't Marvel, nor are they reboots of things they already did (i.e. Maleficent). We got...

Need for Speed - I get it, this is Touchstone, but there's one question: How much will be spent on this film? Hopefully not too, too much. I expect a budget of under $150 million, or maybe they'll go small-scale.

Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - This small film reminds me of The Odd Life of Timothy Green, which was actually a film that was based on an original story rather than a children's book or whatever. That film cost $25 million to make, not bad... With very little marketing, it opened with $10 million. Now, its critical reception was very divided. Some thought it was mediocre, others really loved it. The film scored the rare 5x multiplier... Not many family films these days get that during the spring and summer. Family audiences must've loved it that much. The film took in $51 million overall and doubled the budget.

This film, on the other hand, is based on a book. I suspect that Disney didn't market Timothy Green that much because it was a leftover from the Rich Ross era (though it was greenlit when Dick Cook was still Chairman) and they just wanted to get it out of the way, knowing it would still do okay at the box office... And that it did! Anyways, Disney will probably put the same effort into marketing this... Or more. In any case, it'll do fine.

Tomorrowland - A Brad Bird film that's not based on a well-known and/or existing story? An original film? You don't say! Anyways, Disney needs to play their cards right here. Big time! This is opening against crazy competition and it's original. When I think of this film's box office chances, I think of Inception: Not based on anything, different, interesting and directed by a well-known force. Warner Bros. was incredibly smart to put "From the director of The Dark Knight" in the Inception trailers, and it ensured a big opening. Word of mouth was incredibly strong, carrying the film past $290 million domestically. I remember a time when $300 million predictions for this film were shot down for being too optimistic.

Anyways, Disney better market this right. The previews must make you say "I want to see that!" Trailers must mention Brad Bird's achievements if it's a PG-rated film. If it's PG-13, they might have to omit any references to Bird's Pixar films since Disney avoided mentioning Finding Nemo and WALL-E in the John Carter trailers, because, you know... A lot of people still look down on animation. Or, it could work because I notice a lot of people really love Brad Bird. To the point where they wanted him to direct Episode VII! I don't ever hear that same love directed at Pete Docter or Andrew Stanton or any other animation directors, really. Sadly, a lot of animation directors seem to be relatively unknown. Bird is a borderline household name like Spielberg and Lucas.

If the film flops, it won't be because it's original or risky. It'll be because Disney did something wrong: Either the marketing was bad or the budget was ridiculously high, or maybe the film was just bad. Maybe it'll be the filmmakers fault, but I highly doubt it since Brad Bird shouldn't ever really be doubted.

Into The Woods - I think this one has holiday hit written all over. To explain, it's the kind of film that opens small, gets a boatload of buzz and climbs it way up the charts at the box office. Again, Disney needs to do things right. By that, I mean not spend too much on it and also market it correctly! Again, it could be a big big hit if they do things right.

See where I'm going with this? This applies to all other future tentpoles that aren't based on anything they did before. Disney ultimately has to do it right: No super-high budgets, marketing that makes the films look like they're worth seeing (i.e. films that'll easily make $50 million over the weekend), and better handling of the films. Oh, and good quality films because word of mouth speaks volumes.

Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Marvel and Lucasfilm shouldn't be the only things keeping the company afloat. Rehashes of things they've done before (that scene from Ratatouille immediately comes to mind) shouldn't be the only things keeping Disney's live action studio afloat. Walt Disney ventured into live action filmmaking for a reason. Disney needs to get their act together and do their live action film division justice!


  1. Ditto on Tomorrowland! Brad Bird should be enough...but I really hope they market the hell out of it, because a Brad Bird directed film should, and needs to do well.

    I hope Disney doesn't stick to a formula when it comes to live action, and don't think they should drop that division altogether. Maleficent, though...oh brother.

  2. I see The Lone Ranger as a love it, or hate it movie, you should see it to have your own opinion about it, I, for one thought it was good. Though there were some violent parts in the first half, the second half was definitely Disney-ish (at least for me).

    Also, why do companies have to blame the movies, instead of admitting that they screwed up the marketing?