Saturday, December 3, 2011

Going broke chasing boys: Why Disney ditched princesses and spent $300 million on John Carter, and what it means for the Mouse House's core demo.

If you've seen the trailer for the upcoming John Carter, you know that not only does it not look like it cost $300 million, but it so painfully feels like a Mad Libs male-driven fantasy blockbuster that it borders on parody.  It's no secret that Disney thinks it has a boy problem. One of the reasons it bought Marvel two years ago was to build up a slate of boy-friendly franchises.  And the last two years have seen an almost embarrassing attempt to fashion boy-friendly franchises (Prince of Persia, Tron: Legacy, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, I Am Number Four, Fright Night,  and Real Steel), only half of which were even as successful as their alleged flop The Princess and the Frog (which obviously grossed 'just' $267 million on a $105 million budget because it starred a character with a vagina).  We can only ponder the reasons why Disney decided to outright state that they were never going to make another fairy-tale princess cartoon again, even after Tangled became their most successful non-Pixar toon since The Lion King, but I'm pretty sure Disney won't be making such statements about boy-centric fantasy franchises anytime soon.

Now we have John Carter, which allegedly cost $300 million (if not more). It's being released in March, where only one film (to be fair, Disney's Alice In Wonderland) has ever even grossed $300 million.  Hell, in all of January-through April, there have been just five $200 million grossers (The Passion of the Christ, Alice In Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon, 300, and Fast Five).  So you have yet another film that basically has to shatter all records regarding its release date in order to merely break even.  But that's okay, thinks Disney, because John Carter is a manly science fiction spectacle so it is surely worth risking the bank.  Disney is so desperate to not only chase the young male demos that is willing to risk alienating the young female demos that has netted it billions of dollars over the many decades.  What they fail to realize is that the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (especially the first three films) was rooted in telling a story that crossed gender lines.  All-told, the original trilogy actually revolved around Keira Knightley's character, and her journey from daughter of privilege to outlaw pirate.  I Am Number Four is a perfect example of this clear misunderstanding.  Disney and Dreamworks decided to cash in on Twilight by making a variation told from the point of view of the super-powered teen boy, a story which turned the 'Bella' character into just another stock love interest to be sidelined for the third act.

If you look at Disney's future slate, with the arguable exception of Pixar's Brave (the first Pixar film to feature a girl, a warrior princess no less), they have almost no female-driven movies between now and 2014.  Oh wait, I'm sorry... they ARE releasing Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid in 3D over the next two years.  My mistake.  I may complain about the frenzy of upcoming live-action fairy tale adaptations, but at least those are big-budget movies centering around a female protagonist.  It would seem that Disney, as a corporation, genuinely places less value on the female audience than the male audience.  Money is money, and sweaty bills from girls should be just as green as bills from boys.  Yet Disney apparently so disdains its core audience (young girls) that it not only has stopped chasing them (in the knowledge that they will buy princess merchandise anyway) but has risked untold millions on the most generic possible new franchise, with no star power and little to distinguish itself from a hundred other such films, purely because 'it's a boy movie'.  In a way, Disney has become just like the Democratic Party, risking alienation of their base because they know that the young girls (and their parents) won't really ever jump ship.

Scott Mendelson


corysims said...

Between this and the Journey 2 character posters takedown, Scott's on fire today.....

Bigzilla said...

Once John Carter fails horrifically (which, based on the Star Wars prequel feel of that trailer, seems inevitable), they'll be forced to reconsider their $250-300 million boy movie plans.


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