Monday, February 15, 2010

Merchandise Driven

I was lunching with the Wise Old Studio Exec today. When we fell into a discussion of current animated features (also a few live action features), he smiled and said: "It's all about the merchandising, Hulett. That's what they're selling."

And it's obviously true:

The toy industry is increasingly reliant upon Hollywood for characters and stories that kids will want to reenact in their homes. Toys tied to Hollywood's publicity machine is one of few bright spots in a retail industry that has been stagnant

... [John] Lasseter has long chafed at the reluctance of toy manufacturers and retailers to get behind original movies. In his induction speech to the Toy Hall of Fame on Saturday night, he recalled how North American toy buyers placed a scant 60,000 orders for Buzz Lightyear toys when "Toy Story" was released in 1995. Canadian manufacturer Thinkway Toys subsequently has sold 35 million of the figures ...

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was still working as a story person, merchandising was important, but it wasn't the tail that wagged the dog.

Now it's the engine that makes movies happen, particularly at Disney. When the veterans tell you flat out, "We're making Pooh because marketing wants to sell a lot of WtP DVDs and plush toys," you get the picture.

It's about moving merchandise.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Madison Avenue, crowd control.

This is non sustainable behavior, its gonna destroy us.

Anonymous said...

Is this why "Newt" got put on the back burner? Not marketable enough, along the same lines of Ratatouille?

robster16 said...

All the more reasons why the title change for Rapunzel is so weird. They could market all this to girls and sell truckloads of merchandise with Rapunzel dolls, hair related products, Rapunzel's tower playset, her horse, etc. There's not a whole lot of boy related poducts there. I don't see any boys playing barbershop or playing with their Flynn dolls, and Rapunzel's horse Maximus looks way too much targeted at girls to be interesting for boys.

Stick to the original title and go with that full force! It's just odd and weird!

Anonymous said...

(Sarcastically)
You mean, the advancement of the ART isn't the large motivation behind making all these animated motion pictures??????

(Seriously)
It's been like this for over a quarter of a century............at LEAST!
No one really liked to admit it...and they still don't.

Anonymous said...

There always has to be a patron for the arts. Hasbro or the Pope, it's always about who pays the bills to sell the message. The key is in how long you can pretend to be Catholic to keep paying the rent.

Anonymous said...

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

It's time we stopped feeding the hand that bites us.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
robster16 said...

Okay, this is precious. Disney France has confirmed the new french title for "Rapunzel"/"Tangled" today. The new title will be... wait for it..

"Princesse Raiponce" = "Princess Rapunzel"

Princess and the Frog has been a huge success in france so they are most likely capitalising on the success it had there.

Now tell me Disney marketing peoplem this is not confusing how? One part of the world reffering to the movie as "Tangled" and another as "PRINCESS Rapunzel"...

This is getting weirder by the day!

Anonymous said...

It's called communication people. And there certainly isn't enough of it going around between companies and employees/management within said companies.

Anonymous said...

There is ONE thing you can COUNT on......and that is CHANGE!
Pixar cannot stay on top forever......that's a given. It's just a matter of WHEN.

Anonymous said...

"Is this why "Newt" got put on the back burner? Not marketable enough, along the same lines of Ratatouille?"

I suspect there may have been a lot of sudden boardroom fears about shaping a story around two romantically arguing amphibians who escape into the wild and don't want to admit they're a couple.
Something about that may have made the higher-ups nervous, can't put my finger on it...

"is there any doubt that the reason there's an unnecessary sequel to Cars is merchandising?"

Doubt? Well, um...(raises hand):
I'd sorta thought Iger had this neurotic obsession about proving the first Cars was better than all those box-office columnists unfairly beating up on it at the time.
I mean, with the whole Disneyland thing and all; he did seem to have this thing about it.

Similarly, the execs would like to think that New Pooh is "all about" marketing, but there has to be some root in the New Guys being embarrassed about the Old Guys running the franchise into the ground, and wanting to get back to some symbolic "Walt-era roots" of Sebastian Cabot narration.
Don't think that's what actually going to happen, but sure seemed like the vibes coming off from the announcement.

Floyd Norman said...

Why the eager anticipation for Pixar to fail? Is it because a bunch of frustrated animation artists never hit the big time? Is that why they sit and gleefully wait for Pixar to fall on its ass?

Sometimes People are pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Where are you reading that people WANT Pixar to not be on top? If Im reading comments correctly, people are just (correctly) saying that they wont be on top forever...

Maybe you're just assuming?

By the way, I'm not 100% convinced that working at Pixar is the only "big time."

My 2 Cents said...

The whole idea that merchandising drives animation is WAY overstated. If a film isn't popular at the box office, all the investment in merchandise and secondary markets is money down the toilet. How are your "Brother Bear" "Home on the Range" "Treasure Planet" or "Atlantis" products doing on Ebay? Film first-always.

Anonymous said...

Why the eager anticipation for Pixar to fail? Is it because a bunch of frustrated animation artists never hit the big time?

No, it's because they think that overnight miracle flops and public disapproval is the only thing that'll scare Lasseter into sitting down at the table with them again and not being so mean to them.
Just as soon as it happens, y'know, someday.

(A comment on another article compared the haters to "reverse Cubs fans" dreaming and hoping of their home team losing the Series just once...LOL, sorry, still a Sox fan, but that image's now stuck in my head after reading it.) :)

Anonymous said...

There is no evidence that Lasseter has been "mean" to anyone. If there is, show it. OVernight miracle flops and public disapproval should only make one want to work harder. Are you a "palin?" (a quitter?) Sounds like it to me. And thankfully, it's not come to that, and will not.

I"m sorry you're an untalented unemployable hack, but do something about it rather than trying to spread doom and gloom and bringing the world down to your pathetic, miserable level.

Floyd Norman said...

I guess some things never change, do they? Back in the fifties I remember artists complaining about Walt Disney and success going to his head. Well, success or failure, Walt didn’t get scared, and those who weren’t happy at Disney moved on.

Look, I’m not saying the studio up north is perfect, and it’s certainly not animation heaven on earth. However, they do good work and they’ve been amazingly successful. No, it won’t last forever, and when their streak ends that won’t necessarily mean things will be any better for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Same here: Wasn't taking the haters' side, was trying to parody how ridiculous their spin-doctor backbiting sounds out of context--Considering that they're trying to spin union pressure out of wishful thinking for something that...doesn't really seem to be on the immediate horizon
(And if that doesn't work, what time-honored strategy next?--Accuse JL of being an "anti-Semite" because he doesn't like Katzenberg?) :)

Floyd, didn't you use to write for that Jim Hill fan blog a while back?
Think I remember Hill spending two years trying to spin every single Pixar achievement as a flop by himself, in the hopes the company would fire Lasseter and give back all the money they'd paid to get him.
That sounded ridiculous too. But think we have an idea where all of Hill's "insiders" came from.

Anonymous said...

The on-topic part of a post above moved here:

... is there any doubt that the reason there's an unnecessary sequel to Cars is merchandising? I have a feeling that sequel will underperform and will be the first step towards Pixar losing its mojo. Too bad...

Anonymous said...

" in the hopes the company would fire Lasseter and give back all the money they'd paid to get him."

hill is a terrible "writer," and a fanboy hack. But I seriously doubt this was a reason for him to dog on Pixar. He was trying to drive traffic to his site, and what better way to do so than stir up fake controversy. Like fox noise.

Anonymous said...

There is no evidence that Lasseter has been "mean" to anyone.

Gosh, I wish I could tell you. Maybe someday Ill write a memoir...

Lets just say everyone (and I mean everyone) is pretty much dispensable who gets in his way.

Its no coincidence that directors are dropped left and right. Even legendary artists like Chris Sanders and Glen Keane.

Thats all Im going to say. You can infer the rest...

Anonymous said...

"Lets just say everyone (and I mean everyone) is pretty much dispensable who gets in his way."

Yeah? And who pays the bills? It's show BUSINESS.

And just because someone is a good "animator" or a fair "designer" does not make someone a good director. Remember--Dean Dublois is responsible for making sense out of both the moderate success "Lilo & Stitch" and the upcoming "HTTYD." If he'd been around, American Dog might have made sense, instead of being the incredible mess it was.

Anonymous said...

"Its no coincidence that directors are dropped left and right. Even legendary artists like Chris Sanders and Glen Keane."

Does this mean that Gary Rydstrom is no longer directing for Pixar, now that Newt has been shelved? Or will JL give him another film to work on?

I'd like to know what really killed Newt. Poor direction? Poor story? Burbank high anxiety over consumer market weakness a la Rat? If DCP couldn't promote rodents as cute and cuddly, how could they possibly succeed with salamanders?

Floyd Norman said...

For those of you who have never worked in live-action, our “animation villains” are like choir boys compared to our colleagues in the other medium. These guys eat their young.

Directors and writers will always get the boot if the boss is not pleased. This is still a business, after all.

Finally, there were reasons “Newt” bit the big one, but that will not be discussed here.

Anonymous said...

Chances are good if Lasseter had been in charge during the making of Toy Story he would've fired John Lasseter from his director position after the mess that was made of the story and the severe re-writing that had to be done. I guess Lasseter was lucky he wasn't in charge and Jeffrey was...

Anonymous said...

but, Deblois worked with Chris on "American Dog"(?)

Derrick said...

I prefer a "fresh mess", than a predictable film. JL lost this magnificent duo.

HTTYD will be a HIT...

Later, Sanders' writing partner Dean DeBlois, co-writer and director of Lilo and Stitch, was brought onboard to assist with American Dog. Apparently that wasn't enough.


http://o-meon.com/pages/business_of_show/bos_2006/bos_12-21-06.htm

Anonymous said...

I prefer a "fresh mess", than a predictable film. JL lost this magnificent duo.

A mess is a mess, whether it's fresh or not--DeBlois did his best to get an A-B story out of the last reels of "Lilo & Stitch", but with Sanders on it, it was still an example of "Being too close the material":
Great characters, but why did the story seem to be about everything BUT the people whose names were in the title? Who was the hero was something to accomplish?--The big sister trying to get a job? If so, why should we be sympathetic to a weird tantrum-throwing brat? Who was the main antagonist?--We had about four or five vague possibilities. Just who -was- this destructive little psycho anyway?...AND her lil' blue pal?
Sanders was too personally in love "Weird and misunderstood!"--But Lovably Weird gets nothing but puzzled shrugs if there's no emotional context to hook onto, assuming audiences have never seen these characters before.

Which is the one thing JL used to sweep the "weirdness" out of "Meet the Robinsons". And why American Dog didn't exactly get Sanders a promotion no matter who tried to fix it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, please. Stop thinking so much. L&S was a fun, enjoyable film. You sound like every over-analytical authority taking the piss out of anything that doesn't follow pure reason and formula. Get a clue - there is no formula. Stop looking.

Put the Campbell books down and live your life. Then go see a film for the enjoyment.

Anonymous said...

"I prefer a "fresh mess", than a predictable film. JL lost this magnificent duo."

I bet you'd prefer a self indulgent bomb over a moderately successful family film, too.

The Walt DIsney Company isn't into making "art." They're into making entertainment/money. It's a public company, and responsibility to them is key.

Visual artist said...

L&S was a moderate hit, but has real staying power. Stitch is the only evergreen character Disney has produced in the last decade. Stitch is uber-popular and still sells bundles. Heck, you can still meet him in the parks, but not Mr. Incredible, or Remy or Wilbur and Lewis or Bolt. His merchandise sales are still evergreen. He has his own ride in Florida, and his own parade in Japan, where he's a certifiable phenomenon.

Sorry if L&S doesn't fit into your Movie Magic Scripting Story-o-Matic. It's popular and beloved, to this day. Perhaps it is only you who don't "get" the film, as the public seems to have latched on to it. I disagree with your assessment of the story structure and the likeability of the characters. On the contrary, I feel like they're the most relatable and recognizably "human" characters to come out of animation in decades.

And Lassetter didn't sweep the weirdness out of MTR. The film is just as weird as it always was. What John did was ask the story team to clarify the conflict, which they did by making the sidekick the villain and vice-versa, and by clarifying the choice Lewis makes by bringing him to see his mom rather than watch his mom on the memory scanner.

A brilliant choice, actually.

I'll stay out of the Chris Sanders thing, but only will note that I think Chris and Dean are brilliant, and i hope Dragon makes a bazillion dollars.

Anonymous said...

"I bet you'd prefer a self indulgent bomb over a moderately successful family film, too."

Wanna off-hand bet how much Dragon's going to make when compared with Bolt?

Anonymous said...

(Well, I don't know, are we going to get another teen Twilight movie released one week before THAT one, too?)

Anonymous said...

>>>(Well, I don't know, are we going to get another teen Twilight movie released one week before THAT one, too?)<<<

Disney is paying billions for Pixar management, and they do not know when to put their flicks in the market.... cheap excuse, try again.

Anonymous said...

"Wanna off-hand bet how much Dragon's going to make when compared with Bolt?"

Who cares? I think Dean DuBlois is a brilliant director! Too bad he wasn't on American Dog sooner. It might have been better than Bolt. It couldn't have been worse than the final version of American Dog.

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