Hailed as the "next masterpiece" from Hayao Miyazaki in its advertising, Japanese blockbuster Ponyo floundered with an estimated $3.5 million, failing to gain domestic traction just like the previous Miyazaki features despite his largest release yet (927 sites).
That hurts. I had far higher expectations for this movie, as did everybody else. So what the heck happened? And who's going to take the fall for this? I'm looking for someone to blame.
One obvious culprit is that Disney Autotune hack-up of the Ponyo song. There has been a genuine backlash against it; indeed, this issue alone is responsible for the surge in traffic to the Ghibli Blog. The reasoning was simple: this is what's required to bring in the Disney Channel kids and the Miley Cyrus/Jonas Brothers fans. Those kids never showed. And in the process, Disney managed to seriously offend the true hardcore fans, the Miyazaki and anime community. How much damage did this ultimately do?
I promise you that John Lasseter never wanted to turn the Ponyo song - a perfect children's sing-along that stays in your head forever - into an Autotuned MC Hammer. This was Disney's pound of flesh. They promised to properly sell Ponyo and deliver its masses of loyal customers/fans. In return, they would cynically use the picture as a promotional vehicle for their product line of manufactured plastic pop stars. And we would grit our teeth and bear it; after all, if this is what it takes to make the movie a hit, so be it. I can sit through the closing credits.
Now the weekend results are in and I'm feeling like a sucker who got sold a lemon. Disney performed plastic surgery on Miyazaki's work...for what?! What the hell did we get out of this?! How would Disney like it if I took Pinnochio, chopped out, "When You Wish Upon a Star," and replaced it Slayer? C'mon, Jiminy Cricket singing, "God Hates Us All?" The teenagers will eat that up! Oh, and by the way, Slayer has a new album out that needs promotion. You'll understand.
This isn't about money or herding in the mindless cattle. This cuts deeper. This is about disrespect. You do not take another artist's life's work and butcher it for your own cynical, commercial ends. Corporatism, bad taste, and stupidity are a deadly mix.
Hunter S. Thompson was right. This business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.