LA TIMES on Andrew Stanton – and life after “John Carter”

Whatever you thought of John Carter (Me? I liked it, a lot!), its director Andrew Stanton is one of the good guys. Full disclosure, I met Andrew when I moved to LA way back in 1986, when he was one of the artist/writers behind Ralph Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. A few years ago, Andrew allowed me and small crew special access to shoot some of the interviews for the Mighty Mouse DVD bonus documentary at Pixar. He told me then that his next film was a live-action/animation adaptation of Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars – and his excitement for the project was intense.

Today, The L.A. Times ran a front page story (must be a slow news day) on how John Carter’s failure has affected him. The article gives some insight in how this project was produced – Disney pretty much gave Stanton a green light and no other supervision, notes or interference. It’s failure was a humbling experience for him and any hope for a Carter sequel has been squashed. Stanton is now back at Pixar directing a follow-up to Finding Nemo.


  • http://www.spiteyourface.com tony mines

    How come none of MY great personal failures wind up with me ‘slumming it’ at the helm of a Pixar sequel?

  • Toonio

    This proves that your boss makes the difference in your career development. Look at Winston Churchill, he made some screw ups before becoming prime minister but when they needed him, he delivered.

    • Madman Mike

      True. And right after the war they voted him out of office. That’s gratitude for ya.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com tony mines

    srsly tho, while I have no great love for the film and could reel off a list of criticisms, it’s essentially an aesthetic if emotionally disengaging action romp, and I don’t see that anything to do with the content can have much to do with it’s ‘Ishtar scale’ failure. As I find myself reminding people every day lately, you pay on the way in – so any correlation between content and opening weekend box office can only be illusory.

    No, the film is the victim of several financial models, a whole set of common fiscal assumptions coming apart at the seems like some filmic Lehmans. They never really handed the cartoon guy the reigns, like all these press stories make out, because a film is not the reigns. It’s not even the horse, not in the current model. The horse is the marketing, you buy tickets to see the conclusion of the marketing, and it’s the crazy number crunching gambler sociopath marketeers who were given the reigns the whole time. The film is just there to fulfill a contractual obligation so that everyone doesn’t demand their money back on the way out. They’ve taught us all to be grateful for the product, to take it in the ass if it doesn’t meet with our expectations, maybe even apologise for not enjoying ourselves by going and bitching about it on the internet until it seems sort of okay, and the communal enjoyment we failed to receive is placated by an agreed upon fury. And in so doing, they have removed the essential fiscal need in their view for the product to be entertaining, and increasingly, it isn’t.

    And of course that’s crazy and it’s all starting to crack, and those closest to it seem consistently the most surprised or the most dissonant.

    Andrew Stanton was never at the reigns in this scenario. He’s the homeowner who just lost his home, because someone sold him a deal he couldn’t pay off.

    • Madman Mike

      Quite possibly the best comment I’ve ever read on the internet in my many years of reading internet comment literature. I simply can’t add anything further to your analysis, Tony, only to say: well put, sir, well put.

    • Mel

      Brilliant assessment. But you mean “reins” rather than “reigns.”

      • mee

        I liked the comment as is, more so because my mind stopped and played with reign – rein. When you’re the horse, whoever’s got the reins reigns, except one way it feels more like you’re part of a team and the other way just sucks. And tony mines says Stanton wasn’t even the level of the horse.

        “Tell all the truth but tell it slant…”

        Either way, good comment.

        • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tony Mines

          It was like 4am. I stand by my type-o.

    • http://www.davidfreedman.co.uk David Freedman

      Well said Tony. Interesting that Prometheus, a film that was quite possibly the worst film of all time – and I’ll challenge anyone who said it was well written – a film worthy of every heckle and groan it recieved from the baying crowds – has not come under the same sort of bashing that John Carter has. Neither film could be termed brilliant, but indeedy the marketing of JC was well… odd. As if the guys selling the film forgot to watch it first.

  • wever

    So the rumors of a Nemo sequel are true.

  • Bud

    Let the rehab begin. John Carter was truly terrible, and no amount of fanboy love can change that. The marketing was terrible, and stanton didn’t help things with his massive, abrasive ego. This puff piece won’t help.

    • Gobo

      Thank you for your opinion.

      Other people, like myself, really enjoyed John Carter, and don’t think it was ‘truly terrible’ in any way. I thought it had serious flaws (most glaring: John Carter really wasn’t that likable of a guy) but was a lot of fun and gorgeous to watch.

      • Richard

        No, the fact that it was so derivative and forgettable firmly makes this movie a “failure”, like “The Shadow”, or “Green Hornet”, or the prequels.

        Add to that the astronomical cost of this POS and you’ll begin to understand the hatred for it.

        • Gray64

          Why should the astronomical costs involved inspire hatred? The audience only shelled out the price of their tickets. I assume everyone who worked on the film got paid. The only people who lost more than the price of a ticket were investors and Disney itself. Frankly, given the way a lot of people feel about corporations, ANY corporations, I’m surprised John Carter isn’t lionized for making Disney lose money…

          • Richard

            Because the money could have been used to make a handful of other more deserving projects. Because waste of any kind in this economy is off-putting. True, people worked on this movie, but they could have and should have been employed on something other than Stanton’s vanity project.

      • Bud

        I’m glad for you. But the film didn’t make it’s money back, Disney wrote it off, it got horrible reviews, and well…it BOMBED. People like the chipmunk movies, but that doesn’t make them good. But at least those made money.

        It was an emotionless, boring movie. Confusing from frame one to the last. Most of the world didn’t care.

        stanton’s been put under thumbs for now, but like the balrog, he will rise again.

        • Gobo

          It got some horrible reviews, yes. It also got some glowing reviews. Reception was, as they say, “mixed”.

          Did it bomb? Oh yes, absolutely. But it didn’t bomb because some people like yourself really, really hated the movie. It bombed for a dozen other reasons (inflated budget it couldn’t make back, abysmal marketing campaign, the most generic-sounding movie title imaginable, poor trailers, bad buzz, an unpopular property overseas, etc).

          Possibly the movie’s biggest problem is that it’s inherently derivative-looking, since its source material spawned most of the sci-fi sword-and-sorcery stuff we’ve already seen. So no matter how hard it tried, it still, ironically, looked derivative.

          • Bud

            It got horrible reviews, and a few that apologized for sort of like it. No “glowing” reviews. Again, I could really care less–but it bombed because it didn’t connect with an audience. NO ONE CARED.

          • regeya

            Yes, it seems highly derivative because some many movies before this one were inspired by the Barsoom series, but this movie? It bears a passing resemblance to the source material.

            I liked it, but it wasn’t brilliant stuff. Having said that, I’ve seen less brilliant stuff do spectacularly well. A lot of it is in the marketing.

  • Aymanut

    I thought the Finding Nemo sequel rumors were false???

    • Richard

      Well I heard that Ellen DeGeneres is negotiating with Disney execs about reprising her role as Dory.

    • James

      You’re thinking of Toy Story 3. Finding Nemo 2 was confirmed for at least a month.

      • anonymous

        stanton denied a Nemo sequel on twitter when romours were swirling and now they are admitting they are doing it?

        • http://youtube.com/user/Mesterius1 Mesterius

          Stanton never denied that he was doing a sequel to Finding Nemo. That is just how a lot of people on the internet interpreted his twitter post.

          • anonymous

            “Don’t believe everything you read “sounds like a denial to me.

          • http://youtube.com/user/Mesterius1 Mesterius

            anonymous: Stanton’s “Don’t believe everything you read” might also have been targeted towards all the critics claiming that Stanton is doing this sequel just because he needs a safe film after the John Carter flop — and not because he has a justified reason from a creative standpoint. Stanton also addresses this in the interview linked to above; he says that John Carter’s failure is the reason that he’s doing the “Finding Nemo” sequel NOW, but it’s not the reason that he’s doing it. (To which degree Stanton speaks the truth in this statement is of course open to speculation.)

            Anyway, in light of those statements, that is how I currently interpret the “Don’t believe everything you read” comment from Stanton. And this doesn’t even have to be what he really meant. His twitter post never, with one word, mentioned anything about a sequel to Finding Nemo. I can understand people interpreting it that way, but I wish they wouldn’t treat that interpretation as a fact, because it isn’t.

  • AnnMarie

    A friend of mine pointed out that John Carter actually did pull in quite a decent sum of money, over $280 million word wide. The unfortunate thing is that they spent about $250 million making the movie. That’s comparable to the amount of money that was spent making Avatar.

    As much as I hate to think like this, people outside of the industry care about big names and titles. So when you can say things like, “From the director of Titanic, and Terminator and Aliens…” you can be a lot more sure of the return on such a huge investment, than you can in a film from someone the general public will barely know, and if they do they’ll have type-casted him as a cartoon maker. (I know Brad Bird did it, but he was working with a well established brand and a big name actor, and they still spent less money.)

    I actually didn’t think John Carter was that bad. The story wasn’t anything special to me (I’ve never read the novels), but heck! I’ve seen worse. I honestly think that they spent too much money making it, and did a SERIOUSLY bad job marketing it, and those two factors combined doomed it.

    • http://youtube.com/user/Mesterius1 Mesterius

      “So when you can say things like, “From the director of Titanic, and Terminator and Aliens…” you can be a lot more sure of the return on such a huge investment, than you can in a film from someone the general public will barely know, and if they do they’ll have type-casted him as a cartoon maker.”

      I would think that a tag line like “From the director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E” would also carry a lot of weight among the general public…

      • AnnMarie

        As I said, in the last half of that quote they’ll be thinking of him as a director of kids’ cartoons, not live action drama. Unfortunately our medium still tends to ring as ‘for kids’ in the mind of the general North American public.

        Both Finding Nemo and Wall-E have a completely different tone to John Carter. If they’d advertised it like that then people would probably have gone to the theatre expecting one thing and gotten another, and probably have been disappointed by that.

        “I would think that a tag line like “From the director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E” would also carry a lot of weight among the general public… ”

        I think it would have carried more weight if he had been directing another family oriented animated feature, but not so much for a film like John Carter.

    • Bud

      To bad it still didn’t turn a profit.

      • AnnMarie

        Does anyone read past the first sentence before responding to a comment?

        • Bud

          Yes. Get your economics straight: A Hollywood film needs to make 3 times it’s cost back JUST TO BREAK EVEN.

          john carter didn’t. It flopped. Big time. Biggest flop in film history.

          • John

            Heaven’s Gate.

          • AnnMarie

            I don’t recall saying anywhere that the film didn’t flop. I said it pulled in a lot of money, and that the reason it DID flop was because they spent more than they should have making it. CHRIST!

          • Bud

            No, ann-marie, but you DID say it “made” a “decent amount of money.” That is factually incorrect. In order to “make” money at all, it would have had to grossed–conservatively== over $900 million dollars at the box office. JUST to break even. Film cost $280 million, plus no less than another $100 million to market. With interest on the loans to pay for all of that (maybe the one good thing about the bush economic disaster)….well, you should be able to see.

  • Taco Wiz

    I can’t believe this. Disney gave someone full creative control over a project, and it bombed.

    This does not bode well for creator-driven entertainment.

    • Gobo

      From the sound of things, “full creative control” didn’t extend to the marketing or even the naming of JOHN CARTER. Both did a terrible job of selling the film. Even the most heartfelt passion project can be done in by a crappy sales job.

      • Mike

        Proof positive: The Iron Giant

  • TStevens

    Stanton may have had his reputation and ego damaged but he is still in the hierarchy of Pixar and will continue to have a day job. He might be one of the few people in Hollywood who could survive a critical and financial flop of this magnitude. The thing you have to remember is that Hollywood rewards people for good work. Even if a film doesn’t hit at the box office, the creators generally aren’t blamed for that. Brad Bird did just fine after the Iron Giant even though the studio blew the marketing in its initial release. If this kind of creative failure had been headed by anyone else, they would be working on B movies for the rest of their lives.

    Ironically, I can remember hearing people referring to Finding Nemo as Fishtar before the story came together.

    • Bud

      Then you have a short memory. Michael Eisner did. And preview reports of Finding Nemo AND Wall-e were very weak. Is it fair to judge before it’s finished? No. But that’s the usual game.

      • http://mousetracksonline.com/blog.php Giovanni Jones

        To be fair, Finding Nemo is no Bazooka Joe.

    • http://moviecappa.blogspot.com Mike Caracappa

      Well, Finding Nemo 2 is a safe bet for Andrew Stanton, and after JC’s failure he’s got his friends at Pixar to protect him. He probably needs to lay low with something familiar (Nemo) before he’s allowed to tackle a riskier project again.

      And btw, I wouldn’t exactly compare JC’s failure to Iron Giant. No offense to JC, but lets be honest, IG is a better movie. Both films had bad marketing, but the difference being that while IG tanked, it was only a $60mill failure as opposed to $250mill. I think the lower budget worked in Brads favor at least for Pixar to convince Disney to risk letting him tackle an original project. IG wound up launching Brad’s career. JC could have damaged Stanton’s. The common factor being both directors would be struggling without Pixars support.

  • Paul M

    I knew John Carter would bomb after seeing the first trailer.

    It looked exactly like every cheapo desert sword and sorcery fantasy movie made since the 80′s – Gor, Yor, Krull, Steel Dawn, Beastmaster, Sheena, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Outlaw of Gor, Deathstalker, Red Sonja, Circle of Iron, Barbarian Queen and Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back, to name a few. Better effects, sure, but the costumes and scenery looked the same.

    Having a completely uncharismatic male lead and villain probably didn’t help, either.

  • Oliver

    I haven’t clicked on the interview yet. I hope Stanton manages to get to the end without bad-mouthing ‘The Lion King’.

    • Mac

      I like him better now!

  • Diego

    The problem with John Carter was the awful and obvious script. The crappy dialogue and the bad acting didn’t help.

    It really needed more revisions and corrections.

    But in an aesthetic sense it was great. I liked the design.

    • Joseph

      This pretty much sums it up. It was just a stinker lol.

    • Hank

      The design was awful–not very thoughtful, random, and ugly. I never knew who was who or what was what. Especially in the truly lame, amateurish fight s cenes–which looked as though they were choreographed and shot by a high school student.

  • http://MrFun Floyd Norman

    Hey, it’s only a movie.

    Better yet. The studio is still in business and everybody got paid. I call that a win win.

    • http://dailygrail.com/ Red Pill Junkie

      >”Better yet. The studio is still in business and everybody got paid. I call that a win win.”

      Considering every Fantasy/Sci-Fi flick nowadays aims to become a franchise, and the chances of seeing a JC sequel are slimmer than finding actual intelligent life on Mars, I’d call it a a win-lose.

  • http://www.scottshawsoddballcomics.com Scott Shaw!

    Disney predetermined that JOHN CARTER would underperform long before its release. Otherwise, Big Lots stores would be bursting with remaindered JOHN CARTER toys and products. And goddammit, I wanted a plush or action figure of faithful Woola.

    • John

      I have to agree.

      Where is all that stuff? The answer speaks volumes.

  • Gray64

    It IS possible to make a bad and/or unsuccessful film and survive, you know. Given Stanton’s track record and experience, they’d be idiots for tossing him on his ear for just one project that lost money.

  • Nicholas S.

    I thought Disney was supposed to be such a great marketing company! How come they couldn’t figure out how to market this entertaining and exciting space epic? Removing “Of Mars” from the title was a STUPID decision!

    It will eventually be seen as a good film, once all the bombast about the $ dies down…

  • Billy Batz

    All they needed to do in the ad campaign was say ‘From the creator of Tarzan…Edger rice Burroughs’s 100 year old masterpiece: John Carter’. Not hard to give credit to the source material is it Disney?
    Give it a sense of literary or pulp American history.People would then understand what it is.

    • Bud

      No. Wouldn’t work. The people paying to see JC are only thinking of the Disney Tarzan. OR the lame tv show. Very few people either saw the original films, or even read the book. They’re quaint, but they’re not current.

      And the film would have to stand on it’s own anyway, and it couldn’t.

      • Billy Batz

        They should have called it Transformers then, is that current enough for you?

  • http://fmhansen.com Frank M Hansen

    One look at the trailer and I had zero desire to see it except for the director, although in the end, that was not even enough to make we want to see it. You could blame the marketing but from what I heard about the movie (from most) is that the movie is no better than the trailer. But all that said is Andrew a bad film maker, no. Did he make a bad movie, yes. But most likely he will make better movies in the future and this just be a bad bump in the road that perhaps he needed to go through to get to something even better later. We are all making too much of this and trying to make excuses.

  • http://www.infurnation.com Rodso64

    Remember the ASIFA-Hollywood screening of Wall-E? I asked Andrew several geeky questions about the film, comparing it to SF films I’d seen before. Later, Andrew announced that his next project was a film adaptation of ERB’s “A Princess of Mars”. I shouted out ‘Woo hoo!’ and Andrew waved his hand and commented, “Oh yeah, Sci Fi Guy’s excited about that!”.

    Myself, in the end, I was a bit disappointed in the adaptation that made it to the screen — for reasons that are for the most part, frankly, rather geeky. But I still thought that it deserved to do better than it did. Pity that it wound up so bloody over-budget.

  • http://www.davidfreedman.co.uk David Freedman

    Also, Woody Allen said something brilliant. “I just keep making movies… some hit and some miss, but if you make enough, you’ll be sure to have some that hit.” That’s easier to say when you’re working to Woody Allen budgets. The stakes are much higher in the Tentpole world, but still… Stanton’s had more hits than misses. It happens. Move on. There’s blame everywhere I’m sure… right down to the Actors who probably didn’t want to look ‘red’ and so an Oompaloompa/TOWIE comprimise was reached. Ah well. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

  • jacques

    i applaud mr. stanton, since he “helped lead to the departure of two disney top executives”.

  • http://none Ashton

    Anyone who was smart would have seen this coming. When I watched the special features of Wall E you could see the pride and self-importance of Andrew Stanton . I thought to myself who is this guy? he acts as if he created Wall E by himself. I ask any of you to go back and watch those special features on Wall E, and watch how big his head gets while doing the interviews. Wall E was a poor and depressing show and he acted as if he made a master piece. It was only a matter of time before he fell on his face and realized that he had a ton of help on his other shows, and that it wasn’t all about him. Whoever gave him the keys to the car is an idiot…. Andrew Stanton is not Brad Bird, and never will be. Brad has talent, Andrew tried to read lots of books to get what he thought was talent. All I have to say is Pride cometh before the fall. The reason why Finding Nemo was good was due to the co-director Lee Unkrich, which is also why Toy Story 3 was so good and made lots of money.