Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Monster Misfire: Paramount Declares 'Monster Trucks' A Massive Flop?
The Paramount Animation group is still having a rough time taking off...
Their second feature, a weird high-octane boy-and-his-pet story called Monster Trucks, was supposed to come out two years ago. Conceived some time around the group's founding in 2012, the Chris Wedge-directed live-action/vfx flick was mostly filmed in spring of 2014, back when the picture was aiming for a Memorial Day weekend release in 2015. Now, we weren't aware of what went on behind-the-scenes because Paramount Animation made it clear from the get-go that they were going to be secretive. Highly secretive. Like, J. J. Abrams-level secretive.
This movie was pushed back... And pushed back... And pushed back... How and why? Opening in January, the answer seemed to come in the form of an anonymous person who worked on the movie years back. Apparently the initial design of the creature that the main character befriends terrified the living daylights out of a test audience of kids, which resulted in delays and reshoots, and a complete redesign of the monster. (The person in question said it looked like Judge Doom, a squid, and a [he used an ableist slur here] E.T. combined.)
A recent anonymous comment that the trades mentioned indicates a possible other reason why it was delayed... Apparently it began life as a tentpole-like picture for a "broad" audience, before being watered down into a more kid-friendly affair. So does this mean Monster Trucks was almost a PG-13 Transformers-esque blockbuster-to-be? The trailer definitely gives off a Nickelodeon Movies kind of vibe, and apparently they were attached for quite some time too.
Anyways... Paramount, if we are to believe the trades' speculation, has already made up their mind. They are preparing to take a massive $115 million+ writedown because of this feature. Now Paramount said "the expected performance of an unreleased film", sources said they were referring to the truck movie. Monster Trucks or not, that's quite something... The studio declaring a movie to be a bomb many months before its release, like out loud. Usually the lack of confidence is subtly shown, via bad marketing or a dodgy release date. Nope, Paramount is upfront announcing "Yeah, this thing's gonna crash."
Monster Trucks cost $125 million to make, a ridiculously high budget for something that's quite risky. Why the shift from tentpole to family-friendly picture? Was the alleged scary monster design deliberate because at the time they weren't aiming for an audience that would include little kids?
It seems like Paramount, or should we say the V of Doom themselves - Viacom, is having a hard time getting a feature animation slate going. The Paramount Animation group, which to my understanding is more a "outside studios make the movies, we distribute" sort-of thing (think Warner Animation Group), was launched in 2012. This was done because DreamWorks was leaving the mountain after the fall 2012 release of Rise of the Guardians (which Paramount's marketing department seriously botched), so Paramount/Viacom needed something new, and fast. Happy with how the offbeat Rango did back in early 2011, in mid-2012, Paramount Animation was announced.
Right from the get-go, there were issues. They appointed the notorious David Stainton, one of the very men who poisoned Walt Disney Feature Animation during the latter Eisner years, to the top brass and then he left shortly afterwards. Then they announced a slate, and various projects here and there. They started getting top talent like Pixar's Teddy Newton and WDAS' Lino DiSalvo... The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water, debuted in February 2015 to good critical reception and impressive box office results. All was fine, right?
But they were quiet on Monster Trucks, and soon we heard that they were picking up things like... Sherlock Gnomes. Then they were going to give the acclaimed The Little Prince a US release in March of this year, even though - as far back as mid-2014, *mid-2014* - they implied that they were going to be the ones to give that feature a US release. They stalled and stalled on it, only to pull it at the very last minute. Netflix scooped it up and did it much more favors than Paramount ever did, but what a loss.
What exactly is their plan? Monster Trucks is now officially deemed a flop, and after that it's Sherlock Gnomes in early 2018. A third SpongeBob is set for early 2019, alongside a cryptic original called Amusement Park, which has a cast. Apparently that one is going to be all-animated, and not a live-action/vfx thing. With Viacom CEO Thomas Dooley on his way out in a matter of days, maybe things will change, maybe not.
But hopefully Paramount, one day, gets something going with animation. After the success of Rango and the worldwide take off of The Adventures of Tintin, naive me anticipated their future, hoping that they would be the ones. The offbeat guys who would be delivering the animated features to the mainstream that no one else was. Instead, we're stuck with a group that's being screwed over, and doesn't have a sturdy slate.
What say you?