Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Many of us were surprised when Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit opened poorly and went on to only $56 million in North America. After all, Chicken Run had done well, Wallace & Gromit had a definite (if small) following over here, it got fantastic reviews, and most of us in animation eagerly anticipated the film. It also did well overseas ($128 million in theater grosses), and it's now the Oscar front-runner. Yet, as we all know, it didn't click with American viewers. My first reaction when it opened weakly was that DreamWorks marketing had scuttled it with an underwhelming ad campaign. I didn't see many ads on TV, and the ones I did see emphasized the penguin short more than W&G. The film and filmmakers/voices didn't have that omnipresence that we've seen with other major animation releases. Where was the marketing? Later, I considered that maybe the marketers knew something I didn't -- that however wonderful this film is, it wasn't going to connect with the broad cross-section of American filmgoers. Did the marketers see signs of this in test screenings and surveys and conclude that a massively expensive ad campaign wouldn't be cost effective? Well, I got a little glimpse that that might have been the case this weekend. During my Sunday brunch ritual at Cindy's in Eagle Rock (i.e., read the entire Sunday Times while noshing on the French Toast Sandwich), I couldn't help eavesdropping on a large, loud group beside me. There were obviously big movie fans, and were eagerly giving reviews of their latest Netflix viewings. The youngest (about 13) sang the praises of Shark Tale. She'd obviously seen it a bunch of times. Like I said, she was the youngest. Then two twenty-somethings had this exchange: "Oh, yeah, and I saw Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It was stupid." "Is that the animated one, with clay or something?" "Yeah, and it's sooo stupid! So stupid. Don't see it." "Why?" "It's just stupid. I can't even tell you, it's so stupid." "But why is it stupid?" "Okay, first, the dog doesn't even talk. Then, when the other characters talk, they've got those stupid English accents and you can't even understand what they're talking about. And . . .uh . . . it's just stupid! Don't waste your time. Don't see it." Believe it or not, that's pretty close to verbatim. Now, they weren't Rhodes scholars. They even stiffed their waiter on the tip when their bill was slightly bigger than expected. But still, they clearly loved movies, and W&G got a strong thumbs down. Much as I hate to say it, I'm not sure this gang was all that atypical. I'm not sure what all that means for the very British Flushed Away, but I don't think it's good.
Posted by Kevin Koch at 10:14 AM