Friday, November 17, 2006

Why isn't Flushed Away doing better at the Box Office?

If you're anything like me, you probably were not very interested in seeing Aardman/Dreamworks' new film, Flushed Away. I was told by a friend how amazing it was and decided to see for myself. I was extremely impressed by the film, which is 99% Aardman and 1% Dreamworks. The animation, the character design, the timing and comedy and writing - it's all top notch. I might even go as far as saying that it is the best animated film this year. (Even better than Cars, in my opinion.)

So why is Flushed Away doing so badly in theaters right now? So far it has only made about $40 million, a huge loss for Dreamworks in comparison to hits like Shrek and Madagascar. Well here begins my explanation of the problems with Flushed Away. First, watch the trailer below:

1. The trailer for Flushed Away is for a different film. What you see above is Roddy (the main rat guy) with two hamster servants - characters that were eventually cut at a very late time in production. They were a bad idea to begin with and to feature them throughout a whole trailer was an even worse idea. They also decided to show the ONE pop-culture joke in the film (the Finding Nemo one) - there are much stronger jokes in the movie than that.

2. They chose to show the most boring parts of the film in the trailer. The short amount of time Roddy spends in his human house is by far the least interesting, and features the most annoying secondary character, Sid. On a side note, they also showed the least visually interesting parts of the film. Inside the sewer-city is rich and detailed and beautifully designed - the indoor-house stuff barely looks like it's textured at all.

3. What is this film about? Not once did we see the evil toad character or get ANY sort of idea what the real story is about. All we see is a snotty mouse being flushed down a toilet. They didn't even show the french ninja frogs!

4. They made a movie about talking animals. As we all know, this was the year for movies about sarcastic little animals and their battles with humans encroaching on their land, etc. Over the Hedge (another Dreamworks film), The Wild, Ice Age 2, Barnyard, Ant Bully, Open Season (and I suppose we could include Madagascar and Chicken Little in there too). WE GET IT. ANIMALS ARE CUTE AND FUNNY. Let's try something original for a change. Flushed Away is thankfully different from all those other films - it is not sarcastic or crude; it is slapstick at its best with the same sort of humor you find in the Wallace and Gromit films, but a little more appealing to Americans I think.

5. Overall nasty marketing. Whoever turned this goldmine into a dud should be fired. The trailer I posted above is an early one, which shows you the trouble they had with the script. (I heard there were over 100 versions of it at one point - perhaps that's why it cost $149 million? Either that or it was made on golden computers.) I say "nasty" marketing because many of the recent ads I've seen feel like dirty political ads. They have comments on them that say things like "Funnier than CARS!" or "Better than ICE AGE!" Seriously, people. Do you need to put down other films to make yours appealing? Those films aren't even in theaters now! It's not like they are competing with each other. Just show why your film is good instead of claiming its "better than other things".

So why should you go see Flushed Away? Because it's hilarious and a good time for everyone. I was probably cracking up more than the kids in the movie theater...but that's nothing new.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wise Words from Brad Bird

Just caught this in a NY Times article about "How to Be Funny."

How to Draw Funny Pictures By Brad Bird, creator of “The Incredibles”

Because animation is a relatively complicated process, and because it is not spontaneous, it is often mischaracterized as purely mechanical. In reality, and at its best, the art of character animation exists somewhere between silent comedy and dance. Its success depends on finding a physical expression that is recognizable yet beyond what occurs in real life.

Fred Astaire had unusually large hands and learned how to use them in a way that made his dance more dynamic; he’d fold his hands for most of a routine, then flash them out for accents at key points. Their sudden increase in size made those moves pop in a way that other dancers couldn’t match. Animators use tricks like this all the time in ways that the audience never sees but always feels. Bugs Bunny, imitating the conductor Leopold Stokowski in concert, will violently raise his arms in onetwelfth of a second (two frames of film). Every part of his body will be rock-still — save for Bugs’s quivering hand.

It is impossible for a living being to do this, but not for Bugs. He is truly Stokowski, more Stokowski than Stokowski was himself, because Bugs is the impression of Stokowski: his power, his arrogance, his supreme control over his musicians, perfectly boiled down to its essence. We laugh because it is completely unreal and utterly truthful in the same moment.

As I read on, I noticed this all-too-true tidbit from writer Patton Oswalt:

"Lately I’ve been doing punch-up on computer-animated films, but the trick with doing punch-up on these movies is that unlike the live-action script, which hasn’t been filmed yet, the computer-animated film is usually 80 percent complete by the time we see it. And when I say 80 percent complete, I mean, “We’ve spent $120 million on this, so we really can’t change anything.”

“Uh, well then,” you’ll ask, through a mouthful of takeout Chinese, “what exactly do you want us to do?”

“What we need is for you guys to come up with funny off-screen voices yelling funny things over the unfunny action.”

I didn’t know you could make comedies that way! This is comforting news. Can I take old super-8 footage of a kid’s birthday party, where none of the other kids showed up? And he’s sitting at the kitchen table, and he’s got his little birthday hat on, and a lonely little cake, and he’s crying, and just when you’re about to kill yourself from the pathos, someone offscreen yells:

“I just fell on my fanny in some butterscotch!”

Wow, you’ll think, suddenly cheerful. Someone I can’t see, or will ever see, just fell into some butterscotch and is now talking about it out loud the way no one does or has, ever!

Did I mention there’s lunch? "