Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holiday family movie scrum

It's no secret I like talking about release dates on this blog. I speculate on the reasons why films are released the dates they are, and either second-guess or applaud the studios for their decisions. I also tend to notice the dates where there are too many movies coming out, or too few, or whether several movies releasing on the same date cater to the same demographic and will therefore divide the available box office to their own detriment.

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, it's this last scenario that's in play: an all-out scrum between movies intended for the young (and the young at heart).

Which has encouraged me to take my first amateurish (very amateurish) stabs at doctoring images in Microsoft Paint. Hey, what do you want, I can't afford Photoshop. Be gentle. (A childlike attempt at playing around with images for a post about children's movies? I see the thematic relevance.)

Can you ever remember three family movies releasing on the same date? Two, maybe, but three?

As The Muppets, Hugo and Arthur Christmas all hit theaters in time for your Thanksgiving box office dollars, one of them is sure to be the loser. The best bet for a hit is The Muppets; the worst, Arthur Christmas. But my guess is that The Muppets will do such business that both the others will noticeably suffer.

Needless to say, I also have a take on each film. So let's get right to it ...

Just another Muppet movie?

I was as excited as the next guy to hear that the Muppets were being revived for a new movie starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams, both of whom I like very much. (A post for another time: Amy Adams may be the most inherently sympathetic actress in decades.)

But then I got to thinking of my excitement as just another byproduct of the reboot trend.

See, there's something about a movie called The Muppets that makes you think they're going back to some essential roots, shifting the Muppet paradigm in some way, or making a be-all end-all Muppet movie whose self-reflexivity is in some way key to what it will be.

Really, though, it may be just another Muppet movie in a series that already includes a half-dozen films over 30 years.

The plot of this movie, as I understand it, has to do with the discovery of oil under the Muppet Theater, and an evil oil tycoon's attempt to raze the theater to get to the oil. But if this movie were called The Muppets Take the Oil Field or Save the Muppets or There Will Be Muppets, it really would seem like just another Muppet movie.

Instead, we've got our hopes raised by the prospect of something shiny and new yet also consummately classic. I don't really know what big difference we're expecting -- the movie is not in 3D, and the format is not changing so that the Muppets will be digital. (God forbid -- the key to their charm is their tactility, and the knowledge that an actual puppeteer is just out of the shot. I remember when the CG movie Flushed Away was made in the style of Aardman's claymation, and it was a disaster.) But admit it, we're definitely expecting something that's extra "big" about this movie, not just another installment disguised as something special because the title is going back to the basics.

In case you've forgotten, the last couple Muppet movies were not received particularly well. And in case you think I'm some kind of Muppet grump, let me tell you that I absolutely love Muppets from Space from 1999. But there's a reason that was the last theatrically released Muppet feature. Even those of you who profess to worship Jim Henson stopped being enamored with the movies sometime around The Great Muppet Caper or The Muppets Take Manhattan. I bet you didn't even see Muppets from Space.

I just think it's convenient that we're all forgetting how we dismissed the later Muppet movies, while telling everyone how excited we are to see this one. We think that it reflects positively on our character that we cherish the Muppets, but really, most of us are fair weather friends. And smartly, The Muppets has convinced us that the weather is fair again. Here's hoping that's true.

It may just be a sign of the times. We seem to be craving nostalgia more than we have at any other time in cinematic history, if you are judging only by the large number of reboots. But it's not like we're so hard up for quality family entertainment. In fact, you could argue that Pixar's run of success, coupled with some beloved films by worthy Pixar imitators, means that our current era is one of the best eras ever for movies aimed at children -- certainly better than the Disney doldrums of the 1970s and 1980s.

So are we really starved for the Muppets, or are we just tricked into thinking we are? Either way, this weekend's box office should prove that the psychology worked on us.

And as a guy who loved Kermit the Frog from my early childhood all the way until I was a 25-year-old when Muppets from Space came out, I'm glad for it.

To the tune of the Kinks' "Father Christmas"

When I was young I believed in Christmas flicks
Though I knew they're mostly bad
I'd stand in line at the movie theater
Give me some cheer and I'd be glad

But the last time I saw a Christmas movie
I found it trite and cheap and lame
I felt like the studio had mugged me
I don't want them to do the same

But they say "Arthur Christmas! Give it some money!
Don't mess around with those other flicks
It'll bomb if you don't hand it over
We want your bread so we don't take our licks
And end up unemployed pricks."

I hope Hugo doesn't get whacked

I actually don't have much of a take on Hugo, except the obvious observation that it's such a departure for Martin Scorsese.

But the "whacking" joke actually has some extra meaning beyond just being a wink at Scorsese's more familiar cinematic milieu. This film really could get whacked at the box office. Not only is the story unfamiliar (I assume) to many kids, but the running time is prohibitively long, a very Scorsese-like 127 minutes. That's a lot of squirming for a lot of parents to have to endure.

In fact, I'd say that the presence of Scorsese's name on this project has everything to do with why many people are interested in seeing it. Without that, it could be just another story nobody's heard of.

I've also heard that the 3D should be great. Seeing as how I can't actually remember the last movie I saw in the theater in 3D -- could it really have been The Green Hornet all the way back in January? -- I'm really looking forward to my 1:40 screening of Hugo this afternoon, after our early release from work.

That's right, I'm carrying on the tradition of seeing a movie on my Thanksgiving Wednesday early release for at least one more year. Ordinarily, my wife might love my help with our son if I were getting out early. But today, he'll be at daycare, since his normal Friday session was rescheduled for the holiday. That'll mean I can see a movie, guilt-free, and then just pick him up afterward.

Hugo has pretty big shoes to fill, if you consider the huge success my Thanksgiving Wednesday screening was last year. Last year on this date I saw Tangled, and it went on to be my #2 ranked film for the whole year.

If I don't post tomorrow -- and please, don't let me -- have a happy Thanksgiving everyone.


Nick Prigge said...

I would pony up to see "There Will Be Muppets." Daniel Planview as re-imagined by Kermit. Or would it be Gonzo?

And please God, not a future "Muppet" movie in 3D.

Vancetastic said...

I'd like to see that prawn with the French accent play Plainview.

See Hugo! It's got some story problems, but it's an unparalleled visual delight.