Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fresh and New Again?

Recently, Disney picked up the rights to a couple of things. The first of which is Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 sci-fi novel A Wrinkle in Time. The other is a book series called Floors, a sort of "Willy Wonka in a hotel" series of children's books by Patrick Carman.

I've been fed up with the way Disney's live-action studio has been being run these days. First, fresh projects like Prince of PersiaJohn Carter of Mars and The Lone Ranger (regardless of quality) were victims of either poor marketing campaigns, bad blunders, and/or nasty studio politics. Since those films all went over poorly, especially the latter two, Disney live-action is now required to really play it safe.

What non-Marvel, big-budet live-action films of theirs released between 2010 (the year Prince of Persia came out) and now were very successful? Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Maleficent. Two of which are retellings of stories Disney already tackled as animated features, coming off as remakes of said Disney classics. Oz is excused, considering that Disney adapted the novels once for a semi-sequel to the 1939 masterpiece, called Return to Oz. That was in 1985, though. It was an experiment of sorts, and certainly a bold one, but just a one-time thing. Oz The Great and Powerful is pretty much their semi-prequel to the original.

Alice in Wonderland was most likely a passion project for Tim Burton, rather than Disney cynically scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas for a new movie. Burton's film may not be good (I thought it was forgettable), but I get the sense that Lewis Carroll's stories were always up Burton's alley, why wouldn't they be? Problem is… That film made $1 billion back when it was released! Out of nowhere, too. But that's because it was released at the right time, the stars lined up for it: 3D craze following Avatar, the lack of a big tentpole/event film at the time, and also the excellent marketing. It looked fantastic, you simply had to go and see it!

Maleficent didn't exactly repeat that success, but it was very big nonetheless. It has grossed over $700 million worldwide, despite receiving more or less the same critical reception Alice faced. Yet before and after this movie's release, we've heard announcements left and right. Live-action Disney remakes seemed to be coming out the wazoo: Cinderella 2015, The Jungle Book 2015, Beauty and the Beast, a Cruella de Vil origin story, Pete's Dragon, now Dumbo! (You can only imagine how bummed I was the day it was announced.)

Meanwhile, Disney is doing nothing with other original projects, and properties they have acquired recently: The Stuff of Legend, Artemis Fowl, Matched, TRON, The Haunted Mansion, Terra Incognita, and so on…

What's the only original, fresh project on Disney's live-action slate right now that happens to have a concrete release date? Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, set to open May 22, 2015. It'll mostly likely be excellent, but fingers crossed. Fingers crossed. This thing needs to be a hit in order to reverse what's going on at the moment with this studio…

I liked Tomorrowland's first teaser a great deal, but I can already sense danger. Many are complaining that the teaser shows way too little, and that they aren't hooked on the concept yet or the movie in general. That's not very good, the teaser should at least spark interest right off the bat. However, we can't panic just yet: There's still the official trailer, and let's hope Disney puts together a fine trailer that does what it should do, and that's… Getting audiences interested, getting audiences to think, "I'm paying $11.50+ to see that in theaters when it comes out." The marketing for John Carter of Mars and The Lone Ranger did not do this, and aggressively so.

We don't need countless live-action retellings of stories Disney has already adapted. If Disney cancels the live-action versions of Beauty and the BeastDumbo, et al, I won't flinch. I'll probably smile. Leave the classics alone and do what Walt would do: Try something new! Hey, it worked for Pirates of the Caribbean and The Chronicles of Narnia (the first time around), so why the hell not?

Anyways, the A Wrinkle in Time film is being written by Frozen helmer and scribe Jennifer Lee. Rumors and rumblings imply that it was supposed to a Disney animated film first, but now it's a live-action film. The news indicates to me that the film is indeed moving forward, which I find rather shocking given the fact that the higher ups don't seem to want anymore original, risky projects or anything that Disney hasn't tackled before. Lee had also said when Frozen came out that she had wanted to direct a science fiction film, so I wouldn't surprised if she ends up helming the film.

With Lee on board, they would most likely move forward with it because of Frozen. If they don't push forward, it'll show that the company is inept when it comes to the live-action studio. It's time to turn the ship away from the whirlpool. An Alice in Wonderland-esque remake of a Disney classic once in a blue moon is fine, but don't take that to the extreme and completely avoid risk-taking in the process. Who needs a live-action Dumbo that'll most likely insult the original when we have the classic? Something like that needs to go, we need A Wrinkle in Time. More films like it, yes.

Now as for this Floors project… Well, it only piques my interest because it's something Disney hasn't adapted or tackled before. Isn't that sad? It could be a crumby book series for all I know, and I'm still slightly interested because it isn't something like Maleficent. At least the premise sounds a bit different, and it should appeal to all demographics. Since there are, like A Wrinkle in Time, sequel books, it would be the perfect jumpstart to a franchise since Disney is all about franchises these days. Can't make a standalone film that does modestly well, it's gotta start a big multimedia franchise! Money pouring in from every corner!

Anyways, A Wrinkle in Time and Floors being announced give me a bit of hope for Disney Live-Action. Unfortunately, we're going to have wade through some stuff we don't want in order to get there, but maybe the fact that they've brought up these properties (Disney has had Wrinkle for a while, too) suggests that Disney is confident in Tomorrowland

This may be a crazy-optimistic theory, but consider…

Early Bird Marketing: Tomorrowland is set to open three weeks after Avengers: Age of Ultron, but marketing has kicked off first. Avengers 2's trailer is still unreleased (we presume it'll be released next month), so Bird's film already has a head-start.

Brad Bird: Brad Bird is directing. I'm beginning to think that Disney wouldn't want to squander a Brad Bird film, especially since it's a sci-fi film and could spawn a sequel or two. Or maybe even a franchise! Now, yes… Disney royally screwed up with Pixarian Andrew Stanton's John Carter of Mars, but the more I research, the more I see that John Carter of Mars was intentionally botched. Studios politics, again, can be a pretty ugly thing. What doesn't survive in a bad studio/company situation? Films. John Lasseter reportedly wanted to break Pixar from Disney after the John Carter fiasco, angered with the way his colleague's film was handled. Do Disney suits kick themselves to this day for throwing away such a golden opportunity? Maybe. Tomorrowland might be given the same marketing love that the other Disney summer events of 2015 - Avengers 2, Inside Out, Ant-Man - will get. Only time will tell, but the Comic-Con kick-off and teaser can be seen as a good sign.

Now for some negatives, because with Disney, it's safe to cover them beforehand…

The Release Date: May 22nd is a fine time for any movie, but this date sandwiches the film between Age of Ultron (5/1/2015) and Inside Out (6/19/2015), and as my Disney comrade PJ Campbell told me, Disney could be "hiding" it between those two movies. Essentially dumping it, so that it'll come and go, and they'll move onto the next destined-to-be-big film. Disney will market the hell out of the Marvel and the Pixar film, while no one will notice the other film…

I don't know, really. This is another live-action gamble here, and it's unpredictable to boot.

Prince of Persia's marketing kicked off when newcomers came to the studio and marketing department, replacing the veterans. That was then-Chairman Rich Ross' brilliant idea, and look what happened. Prince of Persia didn't look particularly good, so it opened with a disappointing $30 million. Of course the press was ready to call it a flop-a-roo, since it cost $200 million to make. But, but, but… Against all odds, it pulled a 3x multiplier. That's rare for a big budget blockbuster, so audiences must've been okay with it after it opening… But a $90 million domestic take wasn't enough, nor was a $336 million worldwide gross. It's got to make 2.5x the budget in Disney's case, so logically PoP had to make $500 million to break even. Crazy, right? How do you expect it to make that much when your ad campaign makes it look bland and emphasizes its release date more?

John Carter of Mars? Idiotic title change, behind-the-scenes troubles that lead the budget to spiral out of control, and not to mention poor marketing that failed to make the movie look like it was worth seeing. It was intentionally destroyed by Ross and his brigade, and a "mole" leaked probably-untrue BS stories about Stanton being a jerk on the set that caught on. Head of marketing MT Carney jumped ship before the film came out, and Ross reportedly ticked off Lasseter, Spielberg, Bruckheimer, et al during his 2 1/2-year tenure.

The Lone Ranger was released over a year after Ross had gotten the boot. My best guess is that since the press wrote the obituaries for the film back in 2011, Disney suits saw it as a flop in the making, a yucky leftover from the last regime. They got bad JCoM vibes from it. Thus they put no real effort into the marketing. Iron Man 3 and Monsters University clearly got all the marketing love that spring/summer. It was also put against Despicable Me 2… Again, dumped. Disney was essentially washing their hands of what they saw as dirt, the not-so-painful way.

But with Tomorrowland, Disney has no excuse. This is a Brad Bird-directed original science fiction film with a promising story, a great cast, and probably so much more. Also, the name is connected to a section of Disneyland… How does one screw something like this up? This has big hit written all over it. If Guardians of the Galaxy - the comic wasn't even all that well-known - proved anything, audiences want something different for a change. Yeah yeah it was Marvel, but still. It had the best legs for a Marvel MCU movie since Iron Man. And it's one of the leggier comic book films released in the last 6 years.

Don't mess it up, Mouse House. And also… Move forward with A Wrinkle in Time and Floors, that kind of stuff excites me more than endless Burton-Alice and Maleficent clones.

On a side note, why doesn't Disney just give the John Carter of Mars rights to another studio so that Stanton can go over there and make the sequels he wants to make? He clearly isn't letting it go, given those tweets with the sequel titles. It'd be like Narnia, the second one flopped so Disney gave it to Fox, and a third one was made. The third one doubled its production budget, which #2 didn't do. #3 had a reasonable budget as an advantage. A fourth one was being talked about last autumn.


  1. Well, Dumbo I want to see. Remember the 1996 remake of 101 Dalmatians produced by John Hughes? If Disney does their remake of Dumbo similar to that '96 film, then I won't have a problem with it.

  2. Also, I have no use for George Clooney, he's such a pompous jerk. However, Brad Bird's work is awesome, and I want to check Tomorrowland out. I'm sure it'll be awesome, not to mention it's connected to a the Disney theme parks somewhat. Anything's better than a Maleficent-type Dark and Edgier live action origin story of a Disney villain. That just goes to show that the live-action Disney studio is now nothing but Disney Channel in theatrical form, churning out crap just to make a profit.

  3. Into the Woods is an original project, right? Sure, the majority of Disney blockbusters currently are faoru tale remakes, but blockbusters aren't the only films. There's Alexander the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Into the Woods, Tomorrowland, Million Dollar Arms, and several others.

  4. #1. 'Into The Woods' is based on a stage musical.

    #2. I'm okay with the diversity in the small-scale stuff (Alexander/Million Dollar/etc.), but I simply wish there was more when it came to the big-budget stuff. 'Tomorrowland' being the only film on the studio's big blockbuster game plan that isn't some retread of a story they told as an animated film just doesn't satisfy me. I want more Pirates/Narnia/JCoM-esque risks, less of this stuff. If there was an even balance between the two, I'd be fine.