Rant: How Did Bolt Flop, But Madagascar 2 Flourish?
by Alex Billington
December 1, 2008
Something is very wrong with American moviegoers. I was both shocked and saddened to see the box office results for Disney's Bolt on its opening weekend. It earned barely $26 million, which is pretty bad for the opening of a Disney animated movie. What frustrated me the most, however, was that DreamWorks' Madagascar 2 took in $63.1 million on its opening weekend. How could American audiences spend nearly $37 million more on an inferior film, one the promotes poor values and lacks the very passion that makes both Disney and Pixar's movies so wonderful. To actually justify my anger towards Madagascar 2, I spent my own hard-earned money to see it last week in order to judge both movies fairly. After 90 minutes without a laugh, I walked out utterly depressed by the state of today's careless audiences.
As it stands at the moment, Bolt's domestic total is $66.8 million while Madagascar 2's domestic total is $159.5 million. Technically speaking, Madagascar has a 14 day head start on Bolt, and Bolt may eventually earn the same amount in the end, but I'm still shocked that so many moviegoers spent their money a DreamWorks animated movie over an authentically entertaining Disney animated movie. I tried seeing Madagascar to gain a bit of a perspective (that I didn't have before) and attempt to understand what makes the movie so appealing, but gained nothing. All I did gain was more hatred towards DreamWorks and a blinding headache. Were audiences really so easily persuaded by Will.i.am's "I Like 2 Move It" song?
DreamWorks Animation operates with the sole purpose of making money - they make nothing but big gimmicks. There is no honest storytelling and there is no genuine entertainment found within their movies, they're nothing but contrived stories built around money-making ideas. This time it was that annoying "I Like 2 Move It" song that every kid in this country can sing by heart. DreamWorks knows that they've sold all 90 minutes of their movie with a 3 minute song - so why care about anything else? By the time someone buys a ticket, they've already watched that song in its entirety in the trailer and on TV. All they're doing is spending more money to watch a phony story built around something that they've already seen for free numerous times beforehand. Why were so many moviegoers convinced otherwise?
Disney used to make similar mistakes with their movies, given their background is in theme parks and gimmicky money-making attractions are how they strive. If it weren't for John Lasseter, however, Disney would still be stuck in that same rut. But now that they've transplanted the heart and soul of Pixar into the studio that Walt Disney built, they've started making movies with heart and out of pure passion for telling great stories. Jeffrey Katzenberg and DreamWorks Animation are doing just the opposite. They're trying to make a quick buck and that's exactly what they did. They have no reason to complain - they've already made $160 million off of Madagascar 2. In all reality I don't care how much money Bolt makes in the end, but because money is the only way to measure anything in Hollywood, I have to use it.
Madagascar 2 is a ridiculously clichéd animated movie that wasn't made to tell a good story but rather because the first one did so well. If parents wants kids to be taught things like animal cruelty, the idea of sacrificing, that hijacking and stealing can be beneficial, or any number of other absurd values that it glorifies, than they can choose Madagascar 2. But if they want their kids to be taught about love and compassion, honesty and loyalty, all while enjoying a good laugh, then Bolt is the way to go. However, moviegoers didn't care to think twice about these options. Instead, more of them chose to see Madagascar 2 than Bolt. I could analyze the marketing tactics of Disney and Paramount all day long, or criticize Disney's decision to put Bolt up against Twilight on its opening weekend, but that's not what this is about.
Who I'm not criticizing are the studios and their marketing departments, but rather the American moviegoers for their carelessness and lack of concern over quality. Every single day we hear about more sequels and remakes being made in Hollywood, but when original ideas come along, they're shamelessly ignored. Bolt is an original idea, developed by the creative minds at Disney (like co-director and co-writer Chris Williams). In comparison to Madagascar 2, which couldn't be more unoriginal, Bolt was an idea developed from the start as a story worth telling. This is where Disney, and Pixar especially, really stand out in comparison to studios like DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky (of the Ice Age movies). I'm sure those who saw Bolt could feel the passion that the entire creative team put into it.
What hope do we have for Hollywood when movies like Twilight and Madagascar 2 can succeed, and original movies like Bolt and Australia fail. American audiences shouldn't be allowed to complain about sequels and remakes and adaptations when that's what the majority of them prefer anyway. If Bolt does end up making more money than Madagascar 2, it doesn't mean I'll be satisfied. Ask yourself which of the two you would've chosen to see and why. If your reasons don't include good storytelling or originality, then Disney may need to overhaul their marketing in the future - and the American moviegoer may also need to overhaul their interests. As Roger Ebert said in his criticism of society: "It is about the death of an intelligent and curious, readership, interested in significant things and able to think critically."