"It Didn't Have Enough Toys"

Bad news for animation fans here in the States: Cartoon Network has canceled Genndy Tartakovsky’s Sym-Bionic Titan, not for low ratings, but because of merchandising:

“Genddy’s moved on to Sony Pictures Animation. Titan got competitive ratings with other action shows, but what shut it down was it didn’t have enough toys connected to it. If you don’t have the, the studios don’t want to renew for another season.”

This echoes a point I had made over a week ago, just around the time the Japan earthquake hit.  People are under the assumption that Hollywood is in the movie business.  It's not.  The corporate conglomerates who own the Hollywood studios aren't in the movie business, they're in the toy business.  And this is never more true than when you're dealing with animation.

Remember that Pixar's stock price took a hit because of UP, not because it was a box office disappointment or a failure with the critics, but because 8-14 year old boys weren't about to swarm the toy stores of America in search of Carl Frederickson dolls.

George Lucas is always the guy who gets blamed for Why Today's Movies All Stink, because Star Wars muscled out the complex, personal movies of the 1970s and ushered in a wave of popcorn escapism.  That's not really the case.  What really changed the business of making movies, the new paradigm shift, wasn't Star Wars itself, but the mountain of Star Wars toys and merchandise.  That's where Lucas made his billions.  And once Hollywood was gobbled up by conglomerates, the game was over.

This is why you get the same fake, formulaic junk out of movies and television today.  This is why you see the same five movies being made over and over.  This is why animation in this country, for the most part, stinks.  Pixar, as always, has been the exception to the rule, but have you noticed that even they have now succumed to the game?  Three sequels in rapid order?  Cars merchandising pulls in $2 billion a year for Disney.

How much money from merchandising does Studio Ghibli make in America.  Zero.  You can't put an Ohmu stampede on a Happy Meal box.


Blasko said...

Yes, Pixar has been a great disappointment of late. Their films are now formulaic and gutless. Even though I enjoyed Wall-E, I was troubled by the disconnect between an ecological theme and the mountain of merchandise that Disney pumped out of Asian factories to support the film. Gross.

But, despite the system, a good film will sneak in now and then. I thoroughly enjoyed 9, Mary and Max, Persepolis and The Illusionist. Good stuff, unfortunately, rarely becomes mainstream.

John Smith said...

I wanted to comment on your previous entry, since it was spot on, but I didn't get around to it.

I agree with you 100%. I've always been disgusted by merchandising. They have nothing better to do but to cheapen their film by selling junk to kids who don't know better.

I especially point my finger at Pixar, who I love. They make far more off merchandising, than they do the film. That essentially turns their wonderful films into nothing but 2 hour commercials.

It's vulgar.

Katie said...

I have to call bullshit on the idea that Ghibli doesn't make any money from merchandising in America. Most comic book stores that also sell manga usually carry Ghibli plushies, phone charms and key chains. What about those fake manga where speech bubbles are pasted onto frames from the movies? You can even find those at Barnes and Noble. Just because Ghibli doesn't have a very BIG market in America doesn't mean they haven't tried to find one.

Krill said...

Let's not forget that My Neighbor Totoro is basically merchandising heaven. So is Ponyo, and I'd think that Italian DVD case that was being praised earlier qualifies.

That's not to say that there is not a huge difference between Hollywood and Studio Ghibli. There still is, but I don't think it's fair to depict Pixar as now crumbling to the corrupting power of corporate Hollywood and then painting Ghibli as if it has never done anything similar.

Also, I really appreciate your post. Genndy Tartakovsky has been a shining light in the 2-d animation industry over here in the states. The fact after Jack he got stuck in a limbo and his first return has been undermined by something so petty is incredibly disheartening.

I have always wished Pixar would open a 2D animation subsidiary. Genndy would be perfect for it, and I think he could do amazing things in the medium of film.

John Smith said...

The plushes are imported from Japan and marked up, or they're knock offs. Ghibli doesn't get any official regional revenue from such.

Viz has the rights to publish most of Ghibli's printed material such as the Art of Series, film comics, etc. The sell through rate is small and niche.

The home video sales are what get the most revenue over here.

Ghibli is to Japan as Pixar is to America in terms of knowledge and popularity.

greentea said...

Merchandising aside, I'm not surprised Symbionic Titan's being cancelled. I liked some of it, but for a Tartakovsky creation, I hoped for more than robot battles and high school stuff.

And Pixar making sequels... this is a bad thing? Their last one was pretty well-received if I recall. And there is 'Brave' being developed.

spaceboy412 said...

people blame Lucas for the idea of merchandising but really it started with Planet of the Apes.
Also one toon which has merchandise and actually is quite good is the new My little Pony Friendship is Magic.
Symbiotic Titan suffered from being a little too derivative and behind the times, i'm sure if it came out 10 yrs ago it would've been massive.
Strange though that there are so many shows on CN that don't have toys that still get renewed, seems like something else was the real issue.

William said...

I think what the animation studios of America need is to set loose a few hundred clones of Bill Watterson free. That should whip things up in shape in no time.

Krill said...

Titan is a deliberate homage to giant robots and John Hughes films. Criticizing it for being derivative or behind the times kind of misses the point, IMO. Of course, that kind of homage isn't everyone's thing so I understand that a lot of people might not enjoy it.

SpikeGT12 said...

I've already expressed my intense rage over Sym-Bionic Titan getting the axe because of the lack of merchandising, so I'm not gonna fill up this site with my f-bombs and all. It's a freaking amazing show(the best CN has ever put out originally, in my infallible opinion ;)) and even though we've still got a couple of weeks left before the end of it all, I'm missing it already. :''(

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