MOVIE MARKETING MADNESS: “SHARK TALE”

Animation has had a spotty record of late, with only the Pixar offerings bringing both a fair amount of artistic integrity as well as success at the box-office. Their latest, Finding Nemo, did nothing but continue that trend with a heart-warming story of a father’s love proving a solid draw for both adults and children.

So Dreamworks now shows up to the CGI-animated underwater story an hour and a half into the party and, to make matters worse, they forgot to bring the beer. Dreamworks’ philosophy seems to be to make movies that are “edgy” and “hip” but which come off as “lame” and “not worth our time”. Shrek was funny for about 15 minutes after it stopped playing in theaters and Shrek 2 seemed to have rehashed the jokes from the first one without even putting any extra gravy on to mask the leftover taste. Since “Shark Tale” doesn’t appear on the surface to be much different, my expectations aren’t great that this will be a breakout hit.

The Trailer

When it comes to their animated films Dreamworks is very big on referencing other movies. Disney does it to some extent too (bonus points to everyone who picked up on the source of the name of the head shark in “Finding Nemo”), but between “Shrek” and the two minutes in the trailer for “Shark Tale”, using jokes and allusions to previous movies is obviously part of some in-house guidance memo.

The trailers do not work for me on really any level. The casting and voice work were probably done two or three years ago when Will Smith was still considered a hot property. He has a large role in the trailer, but they make such a point of playing up the supporting characters that it appears they’re trying to minimize the size of his part. Instead, the subplot involving Jack Black being the son of Robert DeNiro godfather-type character gets a good percentage of the trailers. This leads to a very disjointed feel to the spots, with no flow.

The Poster

Jack Black’s shark holding Will Smith’s fish. There’s so little to work with here that I almost feel like I can’t even comment. There are a few pun-type gags in the background (a store called Gup in the same style as signs for the Gap, which my buddies and I used to call “The Ravine” during our misspent youth) point to the studios penchant for lame gags. The dual marquees that show the names of the cast members is so jarring in their brightness and style compared to the look of the background that it kills my suspension of disbelief right there and then.

The Website

One thing Dreamworks can’t be accused of is skimping on their websites. Much like the website for “Shrek 2″ there’s a lot of content here, some of which is geared toward adults and some designed for kids.

The first option in the chain of links is the “Gallery” which contains about a dozen still shots of the movie. There are no captions, there are no character descriptions, no nothing. Apparently we’re supposed to know all of this ahead of time. “Video” should actually be named “Trailers” since that’s all that’s contained in there, the two trailer spots. “Downloads” has the now-ubiquitous AIM icons, wallpapers and screensavers. The wallpapers are all character-themed as is the norm with these large-ensemble movies.

My favorite section of the site is “About” since it has the most information on various aspects of the production. About the Cast is about, well, the cast. Pretty detailed bios on the major players are presented. My favorite is when it gets to Martin Scorcese’s info just for the fun mental image of Scorsese taking time off from prepping Gangs of New York to provide the voice of a puffer-fish. Has to make you wonder what kind of secrets Robert DeNiro knows. Moving on, there are also long pieces on The Production and The Filmmakers which go into almost pornographic detail while offering almost no actual knowledge, a skill perfected by marketing professionals.

The “Soundtrack” link actually takes you to a completely separate site for the “Shark Tale” soundtrack, featuring artists which are all the rage among those aged 13 to 14-and-a-half and who won’t be remembered by anyone in…say…four months. The site is very nicely designed, though, giving you the option to listen to each song as well as email information on the site to your friends. “Characters and Story” plays a brief video clip (mostly pulled from the trailers) on the character you select. Nice idea, but why use trailer clips and not a different cut from another part of the movie?

Finally, the marketers make a direct appeal to kids with the “Games and Partners” section. The Games include the Whale Wash, a Flash-based game where you clean off a whale, Oscar’s Aqua Art is a lame painting game and Ernie and Bernie’s Mix Master lets you, as far as I can tell, play music, just changing the levels of the drums, guitar or bass. Um..yeah. Ok. Great. Where’s the line for the movie again?

Overall

There’s a little bit here for everyone to be insulted by. The games are obviously going to be below the intelligence level of the hip-teenage crowd the movie is meant to attract or their parents who will take them. The soundtrack and most of the website is geared at pre-teens and teens with disposable income and the movie seems geared at older folks who will actually get the joke when the shark goes flying through the “Jaws” poster.

The main danger faced here is that “Shark Tale” is following the enormous success of “Finding Nemo”. They are obviously trying to differentiate themselves as a straight-forward comedy instead of a family adventure but they forgot one little thing: to include jokes. The campaign fails to present this as an attractive offering to most groups and does not bode well for the success of the movie.

As moviemaking costs increase, the pressure to successfully market those movies becomes greater. In an attempt to show how marketers are trying to put the most hinders in the theater seats, Chris Thilk breaks down why some movie campaigns work and some don’t. The posters for “The Rocketeer” and “Unforgiven” remain two of his all-time favorites. For Chris’ ongoing movie journal and other various musings, visit his Random Thoughts blog.




Posted on September 29, 2004 in Features by
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