Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: March 26, 2005 at 11:52 PM
Family-oriented CGI films, domestic box office
Toy Story....................$ 191.8
A Bug's Life...........$ 162.8
Toy Story 2........................$ 245.8
Monsters, Inc......................$ 255.8
Ice Age....................$ 176.4
Finding Nemo..............................$ 339.7
Shrek 2.............................................$ 436.7
The Incredibles....................$ 261.0
Shark Tale............$ 161.4
Except for Antz up there, a pretty impressive list, no? So why is Fox's Robots barely going to beat that film? (If it even does. Taking inflation into account, Antz made $121M in 2004 dollars.) Reviews certainly were decent enough. Sure, there's that March release date, but Fox's Ice Age took in more than Shark Tale (which didn't exactly have a plum spot in early October), and it was also released in March. Of course there's always the Robin Williams factor: the man hasn't opened a film in a decade! (Seriously! Mrs Doubtfire was in 1993! And also? BARF!) Why they focused on him in the ads is beyond my comprehension and that certainly had something to do with the film's underperforming in theaters.
But I think the main reason Robots isn't hitting projections is because it isn't Pixar and it isn't DreamWorks. Okay, that's a duh, but go deeper. When those studios release movies, where do you see them? Trailers, commercials, the usual places. But you also see them at grocery stores, clothing stores, toy stores, even the Post Office. (Okay, Shrek was ALL OVER the USPS when the sequel came out... Robots has a postmark! A postmark that doesn't even MENTION THE MOVIE'S NAME! I guess they were going subliminal there.)
So clearly there was a problem with the marketing blitz. But I think there is also a problem with the company. Mention Pixar and people think of Woody and Buzz and Nemo and Dory and Boo and all their great characters. Mention DreamWorks and people think Spielberg, Shrek and Donkey. Mention Fox and people think of asskissing political blowhards, the Simpsons and questionable reality shows. Ice Age was a pretty big hit, but can anyone name a character in the movie? And, no, "the woolly mammoth played by Ray Romano" doesn't count. Which is really kind of sad since I just looked it up and noticed there are really only five named characters in the movie, not counting Scrat, the weird squirrel thing that is the only character to survive outside the film. Ice Age 2 might change that next year, but isn't it about time Fox got its characters a little more recognition RIGHT NOW?
Of course marketing will increase for the Ice Age sequel, but the characters need to become more beloved NOW. What is one way DreamWorks and Pixar have improved that? THEME PARKS! (That is what this site is about, right?) Fox needs to license the characters out so they can be greeting people at theme parks around the country. Increased popularity leads to attractions, which keep the characters alive between sequels.
But which parks? Clearly Disney and Universal are out of the question as the former would require direct competition with Disney and Pixar characters, and the latter would require competition with Nickelodeon and DreamWorks creations as well as a century of Universal faces. Fox could go with quantity, and sign up with Six Flags, but their kiddie lands are already focused on the Warner Bros cartoon characters, which would be too much competition. Same goes for Paramount and their Nickelodeon-based kiddie areas and Cedar Fair and their Snoopy connection.
Which leaves us with one major brand: Busch! And what a perfect brand for Fox! Busch is the underdog in the Disney/Universal war and Fox is the underdog in the Pixar/DreamWorks battle. Busch has NO decent characters (except for the Sesame Streeters, which haven't spread to all the parks for some odd reason), so even the mildly popular Fox characters would be an improvement.
Having the Fox characters could also tie the properties together a little better. Not many people even know that the SeaWorld parks and the Busch Gardens parks are part of the same chain. Using someone like Scrat as commercial "spokes... thing" would improve matters. Buzz Lightyear definitely helped get people into the wretched California Adventure.
Okay, so there's a bit of a problem here. While prehistoric creatures would work in the animal parks, how would robots fit in? If I were behind this, I would just keep the Ice Agers at the SeaWorlds right now, and put the Robots at the Busch parks. In fact, current attractions could EASILY be changed to accommodate the new characters. Wild Arctic at SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld Orlando could easily be hosted by the Ice Age crew. And Fox, I'm sure, could be encouraged to create a new film for the simulator. Texas Splashdown, the themeless flume at SeaWorld San Antonio, could certainly get an Ice Age theme job. (That park sure needs something!)
Over at the Busch Gardens parks, fitting in the characters would be a little tougher. Williamsburg has a thorough Euro theme, and Tampa Bay has the African thing going on. Of course, both have the seriously lame Land of the Dragons kiddie areas, which could both get a Robots overlay without too much cost or hassle. At the very least, they could have Fox create a new film to replace the horrendous Haunted Lighthouse.
But then we get into difficulties. What does Fox have coming down the pike? Would those movies fit into these parks? There's where Fox could get even more help from the Busch theme parks. MOVIE IDEAS! Seriously, how about a Shamu movie? That name is certainly more recognizable than what Fox has given us via CGI. What about a manatee film? Keep it as far away from Nemo territory as possible, add in the conservation message, and this could be the new Free Willy. What about dolphins? Or Clyde and Seamore, the resident sea lions? Or the penguins? Pick ANY of the animals we haven't seen in films before and it could work!
Fox could also use land ideas for their films. BGW alone has France, Italy, Germany, England, Ireland and Scotland. BGTB has all of Africa. SWO has a Key West area that could be a fun "location." How about a Journey to Atlantis movie, which could then bring about a new theme to that hokey ride?
Fox needs more character awareness, plain and simple. Licensing their characters to Busch would mean more than 17 million people annually would come into contact with the Fox characters, which is probably twice the number of people who have seen Robots in theaters. This would increase sales of Fox products also, and would help Busch immensely with their characters deficiency. It's a win/win situation for both companies SO WHY HASN'T IT HAPPENED???
There's my two pennies... gimme yours!