Monday, April 28, 2014

Little by Little

Big Hero 6 was a very secretive production for a long while...

Like Frozen before it, we knew and saw very little from this upcoming Walt Disney Animation Studios action epic based on the Marvel comic of the same name in the last six months or so. Some plot details and a piece of concept art came from D23, but we knew nothing about the cast until recently.

Not too long ago, it was confirmed that T.J. Miller (Tuffnut in How To Train Your Dragon) would provide the voice of Fred, the member of the team who can transform into a Kaiju. This was fitting because Miller played the camera man Hud in Matt Reeves' found-footage monster flick Cloverfield, a film that I'm a big fan of. It's also great that we have a character like this in the film, because giant monsters are trying to make their cinematic comeback. Pacific Rim may not have been a huge hit, but it was a miracle that $190 million was given to Guillermo del Toro to make it happen. Now we've got Godzilla coming next month, which - unlike Pacific Rim - is backed by strong marketing and is actually poised to open huge. This will just make matters even better.

Now, we're hearing that Jamie Chung (Mulan in Once Upon a Time) and Maya Rudolph (SNL regular and voice actor who was also in Bridesmaids) will be in the film. Chung is pretty much playing GoGo Tomago - a hothead who can turn herself into an explosive ball of energy - and Rudolph will most likely play Honey Lemon, a character whose purse gives her superpowers.

So three down, three more to go... boy inventor Hiro, his robot surrogate brother (who can also morph into a dragon-like machine) Baymax and swordsman chef Wasabi-No-Ginger.

Now... Normally I would get on Disney marketing for not getting the word out early on, but surprisingly, I'm not going to this time... Here's why...

Prior to the release of the teaser trailer last June, Frozen was really kept under-wraps. We knew a few things, such as the plot, the cast and some other things. Only one piece of concept artwork was shown to the public, and the best we could get was leaked footage of Chris Buck speaking about the film and unfinished animation of some scenes that was reportedly aired on the Disney Channel in Greece. Also, those fake posters that were assembled from early models of Anna and Elsa, an image of Arendelle and the film's official logo.

We got the teaser in June as expected, followed by a full trailer in September... But then Disney marketing went an extra mile and put together a fabulous trailer that focused on the film's story, songs and characters rather than jokes and funny bits. To me, that trailer pretty much helped make the film successful on opening weekend. Without that trailer, I think the film would've done Tangled numbers at best.

Now there's also the fact that Frozen went through some last minute, and I mean last minute, changes. I read that the story was significantly changed mere months before the release date, which would explain why earlier synopses of the film said that Anna and Kristoff would face "Everest-like extremes" while also "conquering the elements" and taking on an "army of menacing snowmen"... Gee, where did that all go? With all that, Disney could've had a fantasy epic on their hands, one with a truly massive scope! Elsa was originally supposed to be an outright villain who curses Anna in the film's first act, writer Jennifer Lee and the crew wisely made Elsa more complex than that, making her sympathetic and troubled. Reportedly, the production on this one was almost hellish...

All these late-in-the-game changes could explain why we didn't see much marketing for it prior to the June teaser. That all being said, they still could've released that cute little spot with Olaf and Sven in like March to get the word out and have it be attached to films like The Croods all the way up until Monsters University. Is Big Hero 6 going through this as well? Well, like Frozen, a new director was added very late in the game to co-pilot the ship with director Don Hall. Chris Williams, who directed Bolt with Byron Howard, was added to the project on New Year's Eve. Jennifer Lee was named the other director of Frozen in November 2012.

But all of this production stuff aside, Frozen is a smash. $400 million domestically (the third animated film ever to cross that in its initial run), highest grossing animated film worldwide, the album hit #1, everyone's singing 'Let It Go' and merchandise continues to sell faster than hotcakes that came fresh off the griddle!

So maybe Disney assumes that they can start marketing Big Hero 6 whenever they please, as long as it will be a huge hit in the end...

I'm not upset that they'll wait till June to unroll the teaser before whatever (be it late May's Maleficent or How To Train Your Dragon 2), I just hope that the trailers and spots and everything makes the movie look good. That's all I want, for the marketing to make this film look like an event worth seeing in the cinemas during the holidays! As I've learned over the years, it's not the medium and it's surprisingly not the content either that makes the film a moneymaker...

It all depends on how good the movie "looks", opening weekends are crucial in this day and age. If you miss the bar they want you to clear, you're deemed dead on arrival and a foul odor is put on your film that's hard to wash away. Just look at what happened with DreamWorks' Mr. Peabody & Sherman, it opened with a modest amount and yet the press, some "analyst" and Wall Street circled it like sharks. FLOP! The movie had barely even opened!

The other problem is, if the movie opens too low, good legs won't really matter to the bean counters. The Princess and the Frog opened at $24 million thanks to the lackluster marketing and other factors, and while the film pulled a very strong 4.4x multiplier (against competition like Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and Chipmunks 2), that doesn't mean a big gross will come. It grossed a rather unimpressive $104 million domestically at the very end of its run. Tangled had a similar run, except that film that the fortune of opening with twice as much and then got a big boost from Thanksgiving weekend. Frog wasn't even released nationwide on Thanksgiving weekend, though it should've been.

In short... Frog opened low, made a low amount. Tangled opened with good numbers, made a good amount in the end.

So yes, opening weekends sadly decide the fate of most movies today unless they pull some ridiculous legs. (i.e. a movie opening with $10 million and then making $150 million.) The press is also ready to stomp on a film and cry "Floppity flop!" when a movie opens low, which convinces the public that the movie might not be worth seeing.

Now you may be asking, "What about the long-term success?" Sadly, Disney doesn't seem to consider a movie's longevity anymore. (i.e. DVD/Blu-ray sales, how it will hold up, etc.) It needs to make huge numbers at the box office, or else! Why were they so quick to scuttle hand-drawn after Frog? Frog was a modest success that some animation studios would give an arm to have, but Disney saw how much Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph made. Risky tentpole blockbusters? Well they're mostly avoiding them now because of John Carter of Mars and The Lone Ranger. Any chance of another Muppets movie has been thrown out the window, and so on... Forget that Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm are making them huge bucks, everything has got to make huge bucks! It's not about chances anymore, it's not about small successes anymore... Unless it's a really low-budget film, but otherwise, no.

Of course, content and the quality of the film itself does matter and should matter most... But it matters after the movie has been released. First, you got to make that content look appealing. No one's going to want to buy bread that looks moldy when it really isn't moldy, you know?

Even the worst film can look appealing to moviegoers: Just look at Transformers and crap like that! I'm sure Transformers: Age of Extinction will be another crapfest with Michael Baysplosions all over the place, painfully stupid humor and poor storytelling - but that teaser makes it look like it'll be pretty cool! Man of Steel had excellent, I mean excellent, trailers and marketing... I thought the movie was garbage and so did many others!

Anyways, this is not supposed to be a marketing rant... I just want Big Hero 6 to be, ya know, BIG. I want the trailers to make it look great, and emphasize that this is a Walt Disney Animation Studios film that's a big event that audiences should indeed flock to go see. Make that story look compelling, make those characters look like characters you root for! They could even give Interstellar, which is opening the same day, a run for its money! Hey, it could - Disney Animation is pretty damn powerful!

As long as Disney markets this thing correctly, I think we shouldn't worry about the lack of marketing for the time being. If anything, we should be concerned about how the executives will react when this film finishes up its run at the box office. It most likely won't top Frozen's gargantuan $1.1 billion gross, but anything above $500 million is still damn good for an animated feature. I just hope that Disney executives don't treat it like a post-Lion King film (read fellow animation writer Munir's piece on this) just because it doesn't replicate the freak success of the film that came before it. I have a feeling that they might, which isn't fair...

1 comment:

  1. Wholeheartedly agree on the marketing strategies and overestimation of film successes.
    Also, where did u get all those film info? Coz I never recalled heating Honey Lemon as Hiros love interest! And I heard that the powers r significantly changed so the characters use machines instead of actual magic.