The FPS MAGAZINE blog has a thought-provoking piece by Marc Hairston about how Disney – not having learned anything from their clumsy release of Miyazaki’s SPIRITED AWAY in 2002 – again bungled the release of Miyazaki’s HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE last year. This points to a more serious problem with feature animation in the United States: no studio understands how to market intelligent animation. I’m not necessarily talking about rated-R adult animation; intelligent animation is simply any type of animated film that doesn’t fall into the conventional formulas of mainstream US studio animation.
Studios become confused if an animated film doesn’t have big-name voices like Will Smith, Halle Berry or Robin Williams. They begin scratching their heads if there aren’t dozens of fart and puke gags scattered throughout the film. After all, how can you create an advertising campaign for an animated film that doesn’t have fart and puke gags in it? What about an animated film that has a strong point of view yet doesn’t have instant generic appeal to both 5-year-olds and 50-year-olds? Preposterous! Studios have proven time and again that they are unable to design marketing campaigns specific to a film’s needs; they have one cookie-cutter marketing formula for animated features and they try to fit every animated film into that scheme. If a film doesn’t fit, they simply don’t release it.
The cruel irony being that there is more variety in animated features today than at anytime in the history of this art form. Unfortunately, the average moviegoer isn’t aware of this fact because most of the distinctive animated films aren’t released in the US, and the ones that do secure releases are rarely marketed beyond their wrongly perceived “niche audience.” With HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, Hayao Miyazaki produced one of Japan’s all-time top grossing films. It’s shameful that CASTLE didn’t find its way into more than 200 theaters in the US, especially with Disney’s marketing and distribution muscle behind it? Puerile incompetent garbage like HOODWINKED can infest thousands of multiplexes, but Masaaki Yuasa’s MIND GAME (2004), one of the greatest animated films I (and many others) have ever seen, is unable to even secure a US distributor. What about the upcoming French anthology film PEUR[S] DU NOIR or the kooky Norwegian feature FREE JIMMY. Will they find their way to the US? If so, it’s doubtful they’ll receive more than the perfunctory art house release.