Sunday, October 14, 2012

Did Disney's Frankenweenie Bomb?

                                                          (Photo by: Chris Wakefield)

The story of the development of Tim Burton's Frankenweenie is a long and complicated one. There is certainly no question that Tim Burton, who is a go to director for Disney when they need a blockbuster film, has had a long standing love affair with the Frankenweenie project. From the time Burton shot the original live action short in 1984, to this year when the animated feature version of the film was released, this has been Burton's pet project and passion. The original 20 minute short was produced by Disney with a budget estimated to be somewhere near $1 million. When the short was released it was met with lots of criticism of industry insiders and subsequently Burton was fired from Disney for wasting the studios resources on a film that was too scary for the Disney brand.

Some 28 years those seem to be the very same problems that are plaguing Disney and Burton. When Fraenkenweenie opened up on October 5th in theaters it was met with confusion, hesitation, and less than stellar box office numbers. This was no more obvious than when I went to my local movie theater to see the film. I purchased my ticket and over priced soda, made my way into the theater, walked up the ramp way, and as I turned the corner to choose my seat, I was greeted by a 100% empty theater. And that is no exaggeration. There wasn’t a single person inside the entire theater. Not even the typically lost old couple who spend their entire Sunday bouncing from movie to movie with no regard for the movies content. No, not even that seemingly reliable stand by was there.

                                                                  (Copyright: Disney)

As I sat in the theater alone for the next 90 minutes I wondered to myself, “What went wrong?” Disney had done the usual great job at pushing this movie to the moon. With a massive promotional campaign that reached from the theme parks all the way to the Disney parks. Having learned their mistakes from the John Carter promotional debacle, and determined to keep Tim Burton happy, Disney doubled down on their ad campaigns for Frankenweenie 2012. The fact that Disney was never excited to make the film in the first place is whole different story. Stop motion animation films are expensive and while it may be shot with digital film, its dated motif still can not compete with the major special effects pictures of today. And to be completely honest, the ad campaign was a pretty decent campaign. Seemed like everywhere you turned the last month or so you could not help but seeing a Frankenweenie commercial or Frankenweenie poster. So with all of this going on, why the hell am I sitting in an empty movie theater watching a big budget film by myself?

Sadly, the answers are in the movie itself. It became quite clear to me about halfway into the movie. Lets tackle the issue of this film being in black and white. While I can not exactly put my finger on it, it appears that today movie going audience was not attracted to this throw back black and white motif, and since all of the Frankenweenie trailers, promotional materials, etc were in black and white, this was an almost instant turn off for most people before they even set foot inside of the theater. While we as adults my find the black and white touch charming or quaint, kids find it boring and confusing. And while Disney was a little hesitant during the development phase of making the film in black and white, Burton all but insisted that the film be shot in this style. You can see how a kid seeing the black and white Frankenweenie trailer on tv loses intrigue. Especially if they have already seen the trailer of the new Sony pictures animated blockbuster hit Hotel Transylvania.

                                                                       (Copyright: Disney)

Some reports said that another thing that kind of had families less than thrilled about this film was the content of Frankenweenie. Many said that the story of a little boy who loses his pet dog would be too much for kids to handle. Reports said that at screenings of the film, kids were crying and mothers were wincing. I however, am a little hesitant to agree with these reports and rumors. Since Disney released Bambi kids have been introduced to the thought of characters on the screen having their loved ones dying. Not to mention films like The Lion King, Up, and Corpse Bride children are very familiar with the idea of death, and to some extent they are familiar with seeing it on the big screen. Those who say that they would not take their kids to go see Frankenweenie because the dog dies are probably the kind of parents who don’t let their kids ride the Haunted Mansion because its too scary, or let their kids play outside after 2pm because its too dark outside. My thought is, no better time or manner to teach your kid about the possibility of one of their loved ones dying then in a fun, and entertaining way. But I am not a parent so I might be naive. So go ahead, don’t prepare your kid for death, just let it hit them all of a sudden. Good luck managing that train wreck!

So why was I watching Frankenweenie all alone? It’s a compilation of all of those things. Add that to the fact that the story felt forced, and insincere, and you get a movie that people go see once and don’t praise it to their friends. Is it an ok movie? Yes, but it is only just ok. And that is not good enough for a director the caliber of Tim Burton. Its not particularly funny, and you can tell that most of the movie is just filler. I am honestly kind of shocked because since this film is Burton’s pet project, no pun intended, you would think that this film would have more heart and soul to it. To me it feels devoid of heart and soul. It feels like Burton and Disney saw an opportunity to sell a lot of plush and dvd’s to collectors so they threw this film together without an attempt to pull at the viewers heart strings. That being said, next year when Frankenweenie is released on DVD and Blu Ray, it will sell well, and we are already hearing stories of the Sparky plush flying off of shelves in Disney parks. I just wish the film makers would have made more of an attempt to connect with the audience, besides the 5 minute segment when Victor is crushed by the loss of his pet and only friend.      

                                                                      (Copyright: Disney)

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  1. Don't people watch black-and-white movies still? Wasn't the Artist a certified success? And I don't mean to stretch the issue, but recent films, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are colorless and bland, heavy in greens and greys.

  2. I disagree with the point of stop motion. Wes Anderson did a great job with The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and that film did rather well at the box office. I agree that kids are bored with black and white, and when given a choice between Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie just based on the trailers, kids would be more drawn to Hotel than Frank.

  3. @Kenneth The Artist was a huge critical success and only started to make real big money after it was getting Oscar buzz. On its intial opening weekend it only made about $200,000. Plus, the Artist was a movie obviously for adults, Frankenweenie was made and marketed towards kids. And the bottom line is kids do not want to watch a film in black and white. HP and LotR were meant for a slightly older audience the the 2-10 year old demo of Frankenweenie.

    @anon You are correct. stop motion is a great art form and works well in film, but, as we saw with the not to stellar number of Paranorman, the combination of stop motion and dark content, did not equal box office gold this year. I think Paranorman was an excellent film and a little bit ahead of its time. Frankenweenie just felt forced, and deviod of any real, deep emotion; besides the 5 minutes or so of Victor grieving over his lost dog. It just was not enough emotion to sustain a 90 minute film.


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