'Lorax': Battered And Badgered But Boffo Box Office

Hollywood is making headlines this week and even if the news is not all positive, the editors are at least spelling the names right. And if that drives ticket sales and sells banner ads, everybody goes home happy (even if some killjoys posit that "there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is an outdated notion.

As I recall, the online teaser for A.O. Scott’s review of “The Lorax” in the New York Times last week featured this “you’ve-told-me-all-I-need-to-read” sentence plucked from the bottom of the third paragraph: “The movie is a noisy, useless piece of junk, reverse-engineered into something resembling popular art in accordance with the reigning imperatives of marketing and brand extension.”

And so I instantly relegated “The Lorax” to the dustbin of “maybe I’ll catch it when it’s free on Amazon Prime.” But lo and behold, here’s Joshua L. Weinstein of Reuters writing a piece in the Chicago Tribune this morning carrying the hed: “How Universal Built 'The Lorax' Into a Box-Office Blockbuster.”



Turns out this reverse-engineered piece of junk did $70 million in box office on opening weekend despite the fact that critics in general were “lukewarm” to the movie, as Jeremy Lott reports in the Washington Times. And on top of that, it’s being attacked by ideological critics on all sides, which may “carry long-term risks” for the Dr. Seuss franchise,” he feels.

“Some complain of its slick commercialism and commoditization,” Lott writes, “others of its clumsy green messaging.” And since you know your left from your right, we won’t belabor the point beyond Lott’s citation of Mother Jones blogger Kate Sheppard writing that environmentalists are “having a (rather justified) heart attack about the fact that 'The Lorax' is now being used to cross-promote a new SUV.” That would be the “new Seussified CX-5.”

Sheppard cites that example as just one indication that “it seems like whoever was in charge of promoting the film either didn't get the message, or didn't care.” But brand-marketing sources talking to Reuters’ Weinstein say the film’s promoters got it just right, and the numbers seem to back that sentiment. "Their cause advocacy was perfect," a rival studio publicity executive tells him.

Plus, says an unnamed marketing consultant, the campaign featuring bright orange and yellow billboards, “looks bright and sunny and warm, which is always good when it's cold outside. And people felt noble because you hear the movie is about something. It has a message, but they didn't make it a message movie. They kept it entertaining.”

Disney is hoping for similar boffo box office results for its much-maligned “John Carter,” which opens this weekend carrying $250 million in production costs, plus a $100 marketing budget, around its rather grizzled neck.

“The project has undergone false starts since the 1980s, when Disney first secured the movie rights from the [Edgar Rice] Burroughs estate,” write Dawn C. Chmielewski and Rebecca Keegan in the Los Angeles Times." And it now seems that a tracking company has revised its domestic opening weekend ticket sales estimates from $30 million to $25 million.

“Typically, projections rise as marketing campaigns reach a crescendo before a movie opens,” observe Chmielewski and Keegan. “Tracking numbers indicate that, as awareness of ‘John Carter’ has risen, desire to see it has remained flat.”

“Negativity surrounded last May's title change from ‘John Carter of Mars’ to simply ‘John Carter,’ which followed the flop of Robert Zemeckis' ‘Mars Needs Moms,’ points out Marc Graser in Variety. “Critics argued that the new name says little about the film, but the studio worried that the Mars element would turn off female auds, while the title of Burroughs' book, ‘A Princess of Mars,’ would have kept men away. 

MSNBC’s “Cosmic Blog” writer Alan Boyle asks director Andrew Stanton how he’s “feeling,” what with all the “mixed reports.” “Some people say it’s going to be a huge bomb. Other people say they can hardly wait to see it.”

“You just have to ignore it all, Stanton replies. “… I can't control people's predictions. I can’t control people's responses afterward, as far as box office and all that kind of stuff. But what I've always been able to control is to make it the best experience I can for you when you sit down in the theater.”

The best headlines, like titles, entice even the reluctant. Even as I clicked through on this tantalizing one on the Los Angeles Times’ business landing page this morning –- “Video of Brad Grey's wife Cassandra goes viral in Hollywood” -- I was saying to myself, “what are you doing, you fool, you only have X number of breaths left on this mortal plane.”

“The hottest new film in Hollywood isn't ‘The Lorax’ or ‘John Carter,’ writes Ben Fritz in the Los Angeles Times’ “Company Town” blog. “It's a promotional video made by the Italian version of Vogue magazine featuring Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey's wife, Cassandra.”

Carrying the title "The Princess of Bel Air," it features Grey “at her home, walking her dogs, and in a car on the way to her Melrose Avenue fashion studio, discussing life and her thoughts on style,” which includes the observation that “a lot” of Vogue's Book of Etiquette “is relevant today.”

Turns out she was aiming for a “self caricature of myself,” she emails Fritz. “…But it seems the jokes on me.”

Or, as “John Carter’s” Stanton would have it, there’s clearly a limit to what you can control once it’s out of the box.

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