It has unfortunately happened again... DreamWorks has lost money on their latest animated feature.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which cost a pretty big $145 million to make, has only grossed a meager $260 million at the worldwide box office. There's one market left for it to open in, and that's Japan (it'll open there November 1st!), but it's doubtful that it'll help. DreamWorks' Rise of the Guardians cost the same amount of money, and that was also deemed a money-loser despite grossing $306 million worldwide.
Jeffrey Katzenberg said, "The box office shortfall of Mr. Peabody & Sherman is evidence of the current challenges we face within our feature film segment, and restoring the strength in our core business is my No. 1 priority today. Our next film is How to Train Your Dragon 2 on June 13 ... and I am confident that its performance will put us back on track to once again reach the levels of box office success that we've achieved historically."
The press, bloggers and commenters will rush to do the autopsy... Did the movie underperform because kids today don't know who Mr. Peabody and Sherman even are? Did it do badly because there's an animation glut and people already got their fill with Frozen and The Lego Movie?
Here's my take...
Mr. Peabody & Sherman didn't do badly because of the source material. You can take an older property and make a hit movie out of it, just look at the success of Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs, among many other properties.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman didn't do badly because of an animation "glut". There is no such thing as an animation glut, people go to see what they want to see...
That's just it. Many audiences just didn't want to see Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Going by those trailers, it looked like another dull kiddie flick. A lot of reviews said it wasn't a dull kiddie flick, but theater-goers in the months prior to its release don't know that. From the trailers and TV spots, it looked like a skip. Again, poor marketing was what hurt this animated feature...
But it wasn't the only thing that hurt it.
When the movie opened at #2 with a decent $32 million, instead of waiting to see how it would do on its second and third weekends, some doom-and-gloom analyst from Denmark was given prominence by the press right after the estimates came in. He says the movie will lose tons of money, it's a big flop, so and so and so. The press runs with it, Mr. Peabody & Sherman is the new flop! They got ready to deliver the eulogy.
I think when the press does this, they essentially skunk the movie they're talking about. They put an awful smell on it, and people consequently back away from it. That smell can't be washed off either. They did this to films like John Carter of Mars, in many cases they declare the movie dead before it even opens!
|So I've decided that you just flopped, pal...|
Mr. Peabody & Sherman wasn't really declared a bomb for DreamWorks until after it opened, but still, it was extremely premature to label this a bomb! Animated movies have what most blockbusters don't have; good legs. Everyone can go see an animated family flick, and the aim for a wide audience really helps. Even not-so-well-received animated films have good multipliers that most blockbusters couldn't even dream of getting... Peabody should end up with a 3.4x multiplier, which isn't bad for an animated release when children are in school.
But sadly, the marketing for this particular film didn't get adults interested. Contrary to popular belief, adults make the biggest animated films big, not just kids. The adults make the ticket-buying decisions after all, and if the animated movie in question looks good to them, they go and take the kids. In many cases, they'll see it by themselves or with their date or friends or whatever. (Pixar films, for instance.) It isn't 1984 anymore, more and more adults recognize animation as a form of entertainment that they can go and see without hesitation. If an animated film looks like a good-quality film, adults will go - adults with children and adults without children. Simple.
Even Mr. Katzenberg partially blamed the marketing, according to Deadline.
The previews for Mr. Peabody & Sherman didn't really intrigue the adults. A good number of families went, but if you want to make back that $145 million and extra marketing costs, you're going to need more people filling up the seats. Fox's marketing decisions are truly baffling to me. After doing a decent job with The Croods - which opened with a fine $43 million - and trying their hardest to sell the hard-to-sell Turbo, they put together a generic campaign for this film and have spoiled a major reveal in the trailers for How To Train Your Dragon 2, and top of that, I bet the executives made DreamWorks re-title Happy Smekday! to the utterly bland and vague-sounding Home...
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is going to do well for one good reason, it's a sequel to a beloved film. It's also going to do well because the marketing is doing a decent job making it look good to audiences, and the release date is a good one. Over $250 million is guaranteed, analysts think it'll hit $300 million, which it most likely will.
Home is a gamble, much like any of their non-sequel films. The teaser/short film seemed to get a pretty negative response, and unless Fox marketing makes this film look like something worth seeing in the cinemas, it's going to struggle. That horrible title won't help, either. "What are you seeing?" "Home!" "What's that?" Yeah, that title doesn't imply that it's about aliens, does it?
DreamWorks was said to be planning to scale down their budgets a while back. While they should do that (while still making the films look damn good), Fox should also rethink the way they are marketing their films. Paramount made their last string of DreamWorks films look so bland, Fox is doing the same while making other questionable decisions. While DreamWorks is looking to save themselves with TV, theme parks and other things, their non-sequel films should still be doing well.