First, You've Got To Have A Good Product
If you can’t indulge in a little magical thinking in Hollywood, you might as well declare it dead, right? Case in point: “The Oogieloves in The BIG Balloon Adventure” seems to be setting a record this weekend. Exactly what that record is, however, appears to be a matter of diametrical dispute.
The headline in the Wall Street Journal this morning, on the other hand, tell us “‘Oogieloves’ Movie Flirts With A New Box-Office Low.” In fact, it “made a staggeringly weak box-office debut Wednesday, averaging $47 a screen in its first day in theaters and taking in a total of just $102,564 from 2,160 screens,” writes Michelle Kung. And this is “despite a promotional push that cost roughly $40 million, including ads on billboards and in newspapers and movie theaters nationwide.”
“Hyperbolic Press Release” is apparently one of the lines within that marketing budget. If you parse it closely, there’s lots of wiggle room for distorting reality. That record, for instance? “With approximately 2,200 screens and counting, ‘The Oogieloves’ … will be one of the widest-released G-Rated Independent Family films of all times” [our italics]. Got to wonder what they mean by “all times,” right? Movie times? Cave Man and Feudal times?
“Compared to ‘Oogieloves, 'Delgo’ now looks like ‘Avatar,’” reports boxoffice.com,” and if you don’t get the ‘Delgo’ reference, that’s the point. Released in 2008, the animated movie brought in $127,750 from 2,160 locations on its opening day. ‘Delgo’ has been a punchline for nearly four years [in certain circles we don’t run in], but now it can fade into obscurity again,” the story concludes.
We will defer to the press release to explain the concept of “Oogieloves”: the movie features Goobie, Toofie and Zoozie -– with guest appearances by Toni Braxton, Cloris Leachman, Christopher Lloyd, Chazz Palminteri, Cary Elwes and Jaime Pressly –- as they set out to find five magical golden balloons in time for their good friend Schluufy's surprise birthday party. The “unique, interactive experience … allows children to be children, encouraging them to sing and dance with their new onscreen friends, helping ‘move’ the adventure along through their activity.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the little shavers are much as you do. But that sounds about as appealing as watching someone else's kid in the First Grade Violin Recital, no?
It turns out that the marketing “genius” or “visionary” of the “Oogieloves,” Kenn Viselman, is no neophyte in the realm of gratingly off-key -- at least to ears older than about 8 -- productions. No, we’re not talking about “Barney.” That’s so ’80s. We’re talking about bringing “Teletubbies” to the Western hemisphere. And filling attics (like ours) with “Thomas the Tank Engine” merchandise.
When Viselman joined “Thomas” to market merchandise in 1990, he initially went “through the motions,” he tells the AP’s John Carucci. But then he a received a letter from a mom asking for a keepsake for her 6-year-old boy, who was autistic and adored the program. He sent a T-shirt prototype sitting around the office. The mom opens the package and pulls out the shirt.
“The kid looks at the mother, stops shaking and says, 'Choo Choo.' It's the first word that he's ever spoken -- he grabs the shirt, puts it on, wears it for six days, she has to bathe him in it. In that moment I understand the power that children's television has," Viselman tells Carucci.
The power to move merchandise is just as strong on the big screen, of course -– if [there’s those italics again] you have a viable franchise. The Oogieloves are “giggling, brightly colored puppetlike characters played by human actors in costumes,” writes the Journal’s Kung, and they “were to become the cornerstone of a franchise including two more films, merchandising, a stage show and television programming.”
But, as Oliver Gettell recounts in a review of reviews, “The Oogieloves” appears to be critically un-acclaimed across the board. And it may be that an over-merchandising mindset has something to do with it.
“Marketing plan packaged as ‘Oogieloves’ fails as entertainment,” reads the hed over the Los Angeles Times’ Mark Olsen’s review in the Billings Gazette. Loren King of the Boston Globe writes that the film “seems so intent on getting toddlers to love it -- and no doubt the merchandise that’s sure to follow -- that such details as an engaging story line and originality seem to have gotten lost in Lovelyloveville.”