Musings on Ponyo US Release

It was revealed a week or so ago that Ponyo will be released in American theatres on August 14. That's a real relief for those of us who are fans, but precious little information has been revealed as of yet, beyond the US voice cast and the names of the producers.

It's heartening to see both Miyazaki and John Lasseter listed as Executive Producers. For Lasseter, the Ghibli theatrical releases are special events, and we've seen him go to bat before. If nothing else, this promises that the US language soundtrack will remain pleasurable and faithful to the original script.

And now this is the part where we dissect the tea leaves in hopes of determining Disney's plans. Miyazaki's movies, after all, haven't exactly been given the red carpet treatment in their theatrical runs. "Buried Alive" might be a more cynical way of saying it. But I think it's going to be different this time. And that release date is the key.

We all know that the summer movie season which starts off in May is the focal point for the Hollywood studios. Every week, the next batch of potential blockbusters and noisy roller coaster rides are foisted upon the nation's teenagers, insane gobs of money exchange hands, the studios make a killing, and those of us with educations bemoan if anyone is still making actual movies. You know, the kind with acting and stories instead of explosions, fart jokes, and thinly disguised toy commercials.

But that's neither here nor there. The important thing is that all the major films will be crowding around the summer months. For Disney, Up will be the main event, and I'm looking forward to Pixar making me smile once again. No doubt they will continue to shame the hell out of the competition, although, at this point in the game, they can do that in their sleep. How hard is it to beat up on the Dreamworks assembly line? No, Up will prove to be the animation highlight of the summer, and good luck to Pixar at that.

August is typically seen as the end of the frenetic summer season. It is the month for studios to dump the movies that just weren't any good, but still have to be released anyway, in the hopes they'll make a couple bucks. This is very similar to the practice of not previewing a picture for the critics - a clear sign that the studio's hitting you with a real stinker.

Now, the more cynical would look at this, see Ponyo in its August release date, and conclude that Disney is dismissing Miyazaki's latest once again. But I don't believe that is the case. I think August is a very open month. A really good movie can gain a lot of attention here, maybe even become a hit. I don't believe for a second that Ponyo would stand a chance if it were released in May, June, or July. There just isn't enough name recognition to sell the movie, and Disney wouldn't be willing to spend the tens of millions of dollars necessary to shout loud enough to be heard. Besides, they have their own horses in the race.

No, I think this is a very smart move to place Ponyo in August. I expected an earlier release, March or April, but these are typically slower months, and the public relations would have already been in full swing by now. Even if the movie were slated for another tiny run in the bigger cities, we'd have heard plenty of commotion in the press.

August gives us a good time to still catch the kids before heading back to school. They'll still have money to spend, that is, if anybody at all has money to spend. Heh heh. And if you're going to see any summer movies, you will already have taken the rides once or twice.

In August, what competition will Ponyo face? Not very much, I'd expect. So that leaves us a good opportunity, should Disney decide to heavily promote the movie, for Ponyo to become a hit.

The final question, and it's really the only big question of the matter, is how many screens? Will Ponyo get buried alive the way Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl were? Or will Disney aim at the broader, mainstream market? Looking back, I can understand Disney's reluctance to sell Miyazaki's previous films. They were certainly darker, heavier, deeper, and more complex than what Americans expect from their animated features. Parents are really just conditioned to herd their small children into the theatres for the latest animation movie. They'll settle for some simplistic pop-culture riffs that reward them for being couch potatoes, and the kiddies will be dazzled with all the shiny colors and oppressively smiley faces.

And then the Jonas Brothers will shower foam on the audience.....UGH!! I can't get that out of my head!! How the hell did Disney get away with selling that, anyway? Is Mickey Mouse right? Are little girls and Christians just retarded? I sure hope not. We managed to put Barack Obama into the White House. Maybe Americans are finally getting smart. We can only hope. Cause I don't know about you, but I really can't take any more of this exploitative dreck.

Anyway....ahem, my point is that this movie, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (shortened to just "Ponyo" in the US), is far more "family-friendly" than Miyazaki's epics. This was a film aimed at small children, and even though Miyazaki's children's movies (like Totoro) are smarter than most Hollywood movies for grown-ups, it should be perfect for everyone. This may be just the movie that Disney was hoping for when they signed their distribution deal with Studio Ghibli a decade ago. For them, Miyazaki has finally delivered the goods.

I think all of this favors nicely for Ponyo. I have no idea if it will be put on 2,000 screens, but I do expect more than a few hundred. But I've been disappointed before by the Disney machine enough times in the past. I remain, for the moment, optimistic and hopeful. Ponyo deserves to be a success, and it will become one if Disney allows it. "War is Over," yadda yadda yadda.


Geoff N said...

As a comparison to Ponyo's release, Howl's was released in June and ran till the end of September. (it made 4M) Spirited Away was released in September and ran all the way till the end of May. (it made 10M) It received a relatively big boost in revenue in the last week of March (1.7M) and first week of April (1.03M) because of it winning the Oscar the weekend before and getting released into 700 theaters as a result. Howl did not receive this boost since it was released pre-Oscars. (although it lost to Wallace and Gromit)

I have high hopes for Ponyo and think it will definitely out-gross Howl's. I think it will do better then the 202 screen Howl's had and the 151 initial screens that SA got. Even if it got 1000 that would be great, but I think an initial amount of 500 would be a more realistic possibility. The August release should help because of a lack of competition. G.I. Joe is getting released August 7th, the week before Ponyo, but I don't see the audiences conflicting there. However, on the week of Ponyo's release, some film called "Bandslam" is being released which features two alumnus of the Disney channel, one of which who was in "High School Musical." That could potentially take away viewers from Ponyo.

Also, IF Disney wants this movie to succeed, then they should have a trailer of it show before Hannah Montana: The Movie and Up. I have a feeling that it will be shown before Up. ( I hope, come on Lasseter!) But to show a trailer of Ponyo before those 2 Movies could really help raise the awareness of this film in the child/pre-teen/parents who take kids to movies demographic. A trailer of Ponyo before Hannah Montana would be only the good thing to ever come from that franchise.

Here's to hoping!

p.s. good to see you blogging again!

Doug said...

Welcome back Daniel-we've been waiting for you. I'm very hopeful that I can finally see a Ghibli film on the big screen. I've asked my kids about it and they've told me that they want to wait for the dvd. Why? Because they feel assaulted by the theatres; loud and very obnoxious to their tiny ears. Anyhow, maybe just me and the missus will go (if it lands near Central NY)!

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Hmm, very interesting points, Doug. I'm curious to learn if and when a backlash against the multiplex culture will emerge from the younger kids. The theaters become louder and noisier, and the movies become flashier and more distracting, and all in the name of attracting the kids. I couldn't help but smile if the kids proved smart enough to see through that, and stayed away.

I come back to something Roger Ebert once proclaimed: if you want to see smarter movies, then you need to have smarter audiences. The key is to promote the good movies, the quiet and smart movies, instead of the noisy blockbusters.

Ponyo is just the perfect thing for families. Those expecting yet another loud assault of lazy tv-trivia, quick cuts, and fart jokes will be very pleasantly surprised. Studio Ghibli is an antidote to our cinema dispair.

My advice? See Ponyo at the theater. And save the next Shrek for DVD. Reward the smart, wise, intelligent filmmakers with your wallets, and Hollywood will respond. The suits are in the business of making money, no more, no less. Smarter audiences will result in smarter movies.

Thanks for visiting, as always.

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