Monday, December 23, 2013

More Lessons To Be Taught

… and more instances of me sounding like a broken mp3. Anyways...

Walking with Dinosaurs opened in theaters this past weekend.


When the trailers for this film first came out, I was not too keen on the animation itself but I did like what I was seeing. The international trailer promised a silent adventure story, though the American trailer added some cheesy narration. But still, it seemed like this film - based on the highly acclaimed BBC miniseries of the same name - would be something special. A big epic adventure about dinosaurs with no dialogue, no script. Something for everyone really, adults could enjoy the adventure and spectacle (well again, the animation was questionable in the trailers - not sure if it looks better in the film itself) while kids can enjoy the visuals and dinos.

As the film was on its way to theaters, something happened…

Some higher-up bozo decided that the film must have dialogue in it, and not just dialogue… Terrible dialogue that's on the level of something you'd see in a cartoon aimed at little kids. Because… Animation is for little kids first, right? Right?

Gee, doesn't that horror story sound familiar?

Yes indeed, this is the same thing that happened with Disney's Dinosaur. It was Disney Animation's first predominantly computer animated film (technically, a lot of sequences were live action with CG dinos), and the company set up a computer animation unit to make it happen: The ill-fated Secret Lab. That's a good $300 million+ they invested into this big project! It had "ambitious" written all over it, and it was planned to be a silent film.

But Disney at the time was ran by executives who didn't see animation as an art form, but rather a kids' medium meant to sell merchandise. Their ignorance essentially murdered what the filmmakers had in mind, Michael Eisner demanded that there would be talking in the film because he felt a silent dino film would be unmarketable.

Okay, the dinosaurs can talk. Fair enough. The Land Before Time was first conceived as a silent film until it was decided that there would be talking in it. But whereas Bluth and co. came up with okay dialogue and acting for the film's prehistoric protagonists, Disney killed Dinosaur with awful, embarrassing "hip" dialogue and slang. The film is bar none one of Disney Animation's worst and insulting films, minus the completely silent opening sequence. The opening shows how awesome the film could've been.

The film was lucky, however. It was released in 2000, when CGI was getting eaten up like candy by audiences. It was Disney, it was about dinosaurs, it was aggressively marketed, it made $137 million at the domestic box office and over $300 million worldwide.

Walking with Dinosaurs probably would've done okay in 2000, when audiences were able to look past terrible juvenile dialogue and just enjoy films for the spectacle. Today, however, they aren't so forgiving. What was the studio rewarded with?

A terrible $7 million opening. This is one of the worst openings for an animated feature. It's deserved, sadly… The animators don't deserve it, they worked hard on this. The idiot executives who had voice-overs added deserve the punishment. At least in Dinosaur, the talking decision was made before production really took off, so the dinosaurs at least act and the lines match their mouth movements. Here, the voice-overs flimsily sync up with the dinos' mouth movements.

When your scripts aims at the under 10 crowd, you get a flop like this.

When will people learn that the most successful animated films do well because of adult audiences? When will people learn that if you just target a movie to little kids, it'll fail? It's important, people. You need adults in the audience, too. Frozen is not crossing $250 million just because of kids, it's because their parents wanted to see it and so did adults who don't have children. Scott Mendelson of Forbes praised Frozen's kid-centric marketing, saying "kids dragging their parents to the cinema" is what made the film successful. WRONG.

Kids may want to see what's playing at the local cinema, but the parents are the ones making the ticket buying decisions. They work, drive and have money to get movie tickets. Kids don't. A parent can say what his/her kid will see in the theaters or not. If little Johnny says "Mommy, I wanna see Smurfs 2!", maybe mom will say, "No sweetie. We'll wait till the DVD comes out." A lot parents don't like subjecting themselves to something that'll bore them to sleep or make them cringe. They wait till the DVD or whenever it hits On Demand, so they can put it on in the other room and not have to watch it.

My aunt always tells me the humorous story of when she was doing childcare in the 1980s, and she took whoever she was taking care of at the time to see The Care Bears Movie. She always jokingly tells me how awful that experience was…

Parents took their kids to see Frozen because it did not look like torture. Parents probably liked what they saw in the trailers, and so did many non-parents. It is not 1983 anymore, many teenagers and adults are beginning to go see animated films by themselves. Because guess what? Being "cool" is a joke, people will see what they want to see! Plus, animation is also no longer the bubonic plague of the film and pop culture world. Has been since the Second Golden Age.

Look at something like Alpha and Omega. It was for kids only, really. It only grossed $25 million at the box office in 2010, a huge contrast from How To Train Your DragonShrek Forever AfterToy Story 3 and Tangled, which all grossed over $200 million domestically. You mean to tell me that Frozen did well mostly because of kids? You mean to tell me that kids are an animated family film's target audience?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. (Proceeds to lightly boop your head with a newspaper.)

When will everyone learn? Probably never, unless a revolutionary change takes place sometime in the future…

Sorry Fox, but kids, parents and childless adults are going to get their animated fix this holiday season with a far superior film, Frozen. To the people who pushed for unnecessary dialogue in this film, I hope you're happy…

Let this be a lesson to all of you…

Treat animation like it's just for kids, you lose.
Pander heavily to kids, you lose.
Shut out adults, you lose.
Take the young audience for granted, you lose.
Assume that just because kids will like it, it'll do well, you lose.



  1. I couldn't agree with you more. Walking with Dinosaurs did not seem very interesting to me, AT ALL! So yes, the stupid higher-ups who decided to add dialogue that would make it exclusively at kids got what was coming to them. By the way, did you see Saving Mr. Banks? If so, what did you think of it?

  2. Some trailers make me want to see WWD, others make me want to ignore it.