The Lone Ranger. Alice In Wonderland. John Carter. Walt wouldn’t be pleased.
You may remember The Lone Ranger: it was released a few weeks ago. There was a bit of publicity, people said it was shit and it kind of vanished. The Lone Ranger’s lifespan was so short, its visit to cinemas so fleeting, that you’d be forgiven for forgetting its existence. It’s the latest in a line of Disney live action flops that go to show that a big production name and a gigantic budget don’t always equal a success.
The Lone Ranger has been likened to John Carter, although people actually remember John Carter, if only when compiling worst of 2012 lists
The Lone Ranger has been likened to last year’s John Carter (although people actually still remember John Carter, even if only when compiling lists of the worst films of 2012). You would have thought that Disney would have learnt its lesson and avoided the ‘epic summer blockbuster’ path for a little longer, to at least give audiences time to forget its disastrous attempt at it last year. But it would seem that it hasn’t, and has once again created a vapid, two-and-a-half-hour long special effects fest for audiences and critics to rip to shreds. The Lone Ranger had the traditional right ingredients for a success: big name stars, financial backing…but there’s still something Disney lacks when it comes to creating successful live action films.
So why can’t Disney handle live action? By the studio’s own admission, a lot of the failure could boil down to poor marketing. Disney’s executive vice president in charge of marketing, Dave Hollis, said that they’d “hoped [The Lone Ranger] would connect with a broader audience,” after numbers showed that 68% of ticket buyers were over 25 years old and almost 25% over 50, much higher than the average for the studio.
Perhaps Disney is forgetting that its main audience is still primarily children. Of course, there is a crossover, more so now than in the past, with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and even Pixar reaching out to wider age ranges, but The Lone Ranger’s marketing strategy clearly didn’t appeal to that crossover audience. The marketing arguably had a lot to do with it.
The Lone Ranger’s publicity looked jumbled: too childish for adults, too grown-up for children
Just take a look at the publicity for Despicable Me 2, which was released the same week and triumphed at the box office. The target audience was clear, whereas, in comparison, The Lone Ranger’s publicity looked jumbled: too childish for adults, too grown-up for children. And on top of that, the trailers were enough to put anyone to sleep. Seriously, try and watch one the entire way through without getting bored (and they’re only two minutes long, which never bodes well for the rest of the film).
The Lone Ranger obviously didn’t appeal to the under-25s category the studio relies on so much for box office success, which could have had something to do with the choice of genre and subject matter. Westerns aren’t exactly the ‘big thing’ right now with young people, few of which would have even known of The Lone Ranger’s place in fictional history, let alone be interested in seeing his revival. Likewise, the ridiculous sci-fi/Civil War epic combination John Carter wasn’t the best idea Disney ever had. Nothing there was exactly screaming ‘blockbuster’ or looked to entice a broad audience.
So why doesn’t Disney stick to the classic, no-nonsense storytelling we know and love it for? Well, even that doesn’t work these days if you throw live actors into the mix, as Disney seems to have developed a habit of taking everyone’s childhood favourites and turning them into live action pointlessness. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was a critical disappointment, the upcoming Maleficent is an unneeded prequel to Sleeping Beauty and there are now rumours circling of a live action version of the 1966 classic The Jungle Book. That could be the only one worth seeing, if only to see how the hell they manage Baloo.
We’re not ready to forget the charming, fairytale image we have of Disney’s animation background
When it comes to live action, Disney doesn’t seem to have it in the bag just yet, and amongst other things, it might just be because we’re not quite ready to forget the charming, fairytale image we have of the studio’s animation background. When people say “I love Disney,” they’re not thinking of John Carter, but The Lion King, Cinderella and Bambi. It’s not that audiences only want animation – after all, Pirates of the Caribbean and, dare I say it, High School Musical have been huge recent successes. But they do seem to prefer it.
So, if it wants a box office hit, maybe it is for the best that Disney sticks to what it’s good at. Or, at the very least, if it’s going to tackle more live action fare, the studio should stop trying to pull the Johnny Depp card.
All images: Walt Disney Studios