Interpreting Speed Racer's Box Office Failure
As much as I loved Speed Racer, I have to admit, it was one hell of a giant flop. The film has currently earned only $30 million at the box office with a reported budget of around $120 million - terrible numbers overall. I was pointed towards an article written by Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal (via Cartoon Brew) recently that analyzes and interprets the failure of the film. Morgenstern explains that "chaos isn't a surefire selling tool, not even when the target audience is sensation-hungry kids," and that the real problem was that the film was way too chaotic and stylized even for kids to really enjoy. I'm not entirely sure I agree with him, but then again, I'm no longer a kid, and I did enjoy Speed Racer.
Morgenstern goes on to say in his article that in his screening, he actually imagined more grand success, saying, "I found myself thinking darker thoughts about the prospect of it being a hit, or, worse still, proving to be the Next Big Thing." But alas, that doesn't seem like a possibility anymore given the film has quickly faded away. Morgenstern continues on discussing the hyperactive state of children today. "But today's kids are under bombardment from all sides. If it isn't some daft descendant of the old 'Speed Racer' series on Saturday morning TV, it's commercials, music videos, video games, text messages, instant messages and, most recently, the rat-a-tat-tat of thoughtlets expressed in microblogs." And the issue, he says, is that "kids need inoculation against media-generated chaos."
I think he makes a very good point regarding why kids weren't exactly sucked into Speed Racer considering there is enough chaos in their lives anyway, but that doesn't necessarily stand up when you think of the other hit children's films recently. More milder and slow-paced films like Ratatouille, Enchanted, Shrek the Third, Charlotte's Web, and Horton Hears a Who were big box office hits, but maybe I'm just missing the point. It's hard to truly interpret the response of a child when you're no longer one, but I think pushing past the level of chaos currently experienced won't necessarily mean they won't like what they're being shown. Instead, I think the marketing failed to attract the kids in a way certain scenes in the film eventually did.
I'm typically in support of Warner Brothers, generally because they're one of two studios (Paramount being the other) that more often than not has their shit together. Just look at 300 or The Dark Knight. Although those are films aimed at my own demographic, they're two huge money-makers that I feel they're promoting perfectly. However, I really felt like they just dropped the ball on Speed Racer. I'm not entirely sure why, but I'd have to say it seemed like it was just too confusing of of a film to sell. On one hand, you have the energy and visuals to sell it to the Matrix crowd, but on the other, you've got to also sell it to the kids. It's tough to juggle a task like that and this time I think they dropped their balls.
Actually, if I really had to interpret it further, I would say it was the Wachowskis originally who ran into a problem balancing the family aspect and the adult aspect. There are a few very messy scenes that don't hold up well, specifically when Royalton and Speed are arguing about the contract, and Spridle and Chim Chim go on a joyride through the factory. To me, it seemed that the Wachowskis wanted to actually tell the story and thought that what Royalton was saying was essential to adult viewers, but sprinkled in Spridle just to hold over the kids. Unfortunately that scene didn't work and there were a few others I can name like that. If those were taken out they, could've also trimmed the runtime quite a bit and kept the attention of kids the entire way through.
Unfortunately, I think the best way to say it is that Speed Racer isn't meant for everyone. But they wanted to try and make it for everyone. And that's where they ran into problems. When there is so much to juggle and so many audiences to please, it sometimes becomes just too challenging of a task. And this time I don't think the Wachowskis did a good job of pleasing every audience that Warner Brothers wanted to sell it to. Although I loved it, ideally in the end, kids didn't. And that contributed to its eventual failure. The lesson to learn? Spend more time in the editing room.