Legacy Content

Jim on Film: A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow
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by Jim Miles (archives)
January 3, 2007
Jim looks at upcoming Disney feature Meet the Robinsons and the young tenure of John Lasseter.

A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow

Meet the Robinsons
I read with great interest a recent article by Jim Hill in which he discusses the studio concern over the marketing of Pixar’s next film Ratatouille because Cars’ box office performance as the second highest-grossing film of 2006 wasn’t very good, apparently (affectionately called the Lion King Effect by fans of Walt Disney Feature Animation). This struck me as particularly interesting considering that the Ratatouille trailers I’ve seen in theaters and on the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest DVD makes the film look like the best thing the illustrious Pixar has done yet. Not only do the rat characters look soft and loveable, but the trailer is hilarious. It quickly establishes the personalities of several main characters and the dilemma at hand. When I first saw the trailer, I was excited to see it.

The marketing of a film is extremely important, for obvious reasons. I always felt like Hercules and The Emperor’s New Groove, two very funny and charming films, were fighting ad campaigns that didn’t do justice to the final films, while the advertisements for Home on the Range were far funnier than the film itself. Trailers and television spots don’t always accurately reflect the movies they advertise, which can be a good thing for movies saddled with bad ads, or it can be a bad thing when opening-weekend audience expectations aren’t matched by the final product. After all, opening weekend word-of-mouth can sink a film or lift it into blockbuster status.

How odd that people are so concerned over the marketing for Ratatouille when they should be concerned with Meet the Robinsons. I haven’t a clue if this is supposed to be a great film or just a worthy successor to Chicken Little, but what a drippy promotional drive. I may have been utterly disappointed by Home on the Range and Chicken Little, but at least the trailers generated interest. These ads for Meet the Robinsons make Walt Disney Feature Animation look like its down for the count.

The first trailer that ran in theaters and is now haunting many of Disney’s big Christmastime DVD releases is flat-out boring. First of all, the film has uninteresting character designs going for it, with every character looking like a Fischer Price toy, and its Play-Doh color scheme does little to distinguish Meet the Robinsons from the myriad of CGI films that have been pushed before the public this year. Visually, Meet the Robinsons looks like it could be Everyone’s Hero 2. The cardboard displays that popped up in multiplexes in time for the big Christmas film rush when theaters are bursting at the seams with people are equally dull. They are simply a cast of non-distinct, ugly CGI characters gathered with the hint of monster characters on the edges. Where is the visual appeal, the pathos, the conflict? Atlantis: The Lost Empire had a similar advertisement display, but at least those displays showed characters with drive and determination, courage and visual appeal. The characters on the Meet the Robinsons posters lack any interest.

The original trailer, which is now on all the DVD releases, also lacks interest in humor and storytelling. The comedic timing is either off in the film or off in the trailer, such as in the “help me find my teeth line,? which comes off as unsuccessfully trying to be funny rather than actually making the audience the laugh (which may not speak accurately of the film). The only funny bit—the woman with the caffeine patches—is marred by the awareness that the joke would have had much better timing in traditional animation when the caricatured response of the woman would have been much more lively and extreme. While the average audience member wouldn’t be able to tell why the joke isn’t funnier, they will not laugh as much as they otherwise would. They won’t know the cause, but they will feel the effect.

The actual plot of the film is so lightly hinted at that it leaves no mark on the audience, and the whole thing appears to be more geared toward children rather than family audiences. While there will be many teenagers and adults lining up to see Ratatouille, this early marketing campaign for Meet the Robinsons will get the elementary school crowd and their parents in need of a nap. Because the main character is a school-age boy, there will not be instant appeal for an older crowd, but great storytelling with heart and creative art direction (like in Lilo and Stitch) can overcome that. With this ad campaign, Meet the Robinsons won’t.

Again, this is not a criticism of Meet the Robinsons. I haven’t seen the film, have no inside information on it, and do nothing but hope that it deserves a huge box office tally, but the current ad campaign for the film doesn’t seem to be doing much to help it along.

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