Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Were Kung Fu Panda’s fans out getting a Hangover?

I was a little surprised when I saw that DreamWorks Animation was sticking to the Memorial Day weekend release for Kung fu Panda 2 in North America. Not only was it just a week after Pirates of The Caribbean 4 but it also had direct day and date competition from The Hangover Part II. The Hangover sequel was perhaps the most anticipated film of the summer for most 17 – 25 year olds; and given the nature of the American ‘R’ rating (people aged 13 – 16 can see R rated films at the cinema as long as they are accompanied by an adult guardian or parent.) I’m sure it was high on the list for many 13 – 16 years olds too.

Now at first glance you might not think there’s an issue here, Kung Fu Panda is essentially an animated children’s film and The Hangover a hard core raunchy adult comedy. I have heard the scoffs when discussing this very matter elsewhere believe me (Ahem Facebook people I’m talking to you). But we don’t deal with first looks or face value here; here we look a little deeper and use my, ridiculously full of trivial information about the movies, memory and fact finding to see what all this movie business is really about.

So we’re talking not only about the age of Computer animation, which has altered the makeup of audiences for “children animation” but specifically about DreamWorks Animation’s product. You see there’s a pretty clear formula for D A films, even those that are moving into more awards friendly mode, like How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. That is to aggressively target older viewers, the over 12s to 25 year olds in particular. Whilst they have always gone for ‘star’ names in the voice casting, this was initially as much about trying to get around their lack of brand recognition for children’s films. Pixar had it easy; their films were released and marketed by Disney and short of being in Asia with a Hayao Miyazaki film you just couldn’t get better recognition for family films than Disney. Of course Pixar cultivated their own brand to a point where it was more respected and trusted than the Disney one and their films performed far better. Disney, obviously, were Disney and despite their best efforts to destroy decades of work with many of their post Lion King efforts and plethora of sub-standard straight to video sequels, they had that trusted name that people paid attention to when deciding what to take the kids to see. DA however had nothing and needed to build their own brand as they went along, so enlisted heavyweight casting to help.

That strategy worked pretty well but then, in May 2001 something happened and that something was called Shrek. With Shrek DA cast actors who were hot with young adults and teens, but also well known to the over 25s. Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and John Lithgow appealed to a wide range of people (demographics if you must) and it paid off, big time. The first weekend Shrek opened it had what was then the standard audience split for this type of film; 80% families to 20% general audience. But in the following weeks that split changed until it became about 60% families and 40% general audience. Better yet that general audience was full of teenagers and early twenty-somethings. The casting had paid off better than anyone could have hoped and a new pattern was set, showing DA very clearly what they now needed to do. Shrek had cemented DA’s brand and they could now be sure of opening films with just the name and a “From the makers of Shrek” tagline. But they continued the casting strategy (some movies were already at least partially cast) and by the time Shrek 2 opened in 2004 the pattern had settled. Their movies, Shark Tale, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, MegaMind, How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar 2 all opening and playing to 60% (59% for Dragon) families and 40% general viewers. The anomalies being Over The Hedge, where the premise, marketing, and a less youth orientated voice cast, led to the film reverting to the old standard of 80% families and Shrek The Third, which took the split to an amazing 50 / 50!

So here we have Kung Fu Panda 2. It received good reviews and an A Cinemascore from audiences and it is the sequel to a very popular film. The first Panda opened to $60.2m in June 2008 and it was expected to reach $70m - $80m or more for this 3 day weekend; all the more so because it had 3D screens which charge more per ticket. But it made $47.9m over 3 days and $68m over 5 days; a significant drop from the first film even before you account for inflation and 3D ticket prices (which made up 45% of the gross).

Why did this happen? Well as you can see from the information above attracting 13 – 25 year olds is a major part of the DreamWorks Animation strategy and they’ve become extremely good at it. When they fail to reach that audience, as with Over The Hedge above, then the takings tend to come in at the lower end of expectations.

The Hangover 2 received 54% of its mighty $86m 3 Day weekend from the eager wallets of those aged 13 – 25. That’s around $46m before you account for the holdover box office for Pirates 4. OF course not all of the bleed from Panda 2 can be squared away as off to Thailand; but here is an idea of how much Panda was likely affected by having to share a release date with a film that at least 40% of its target audience would see first over anything short of Avatar 2. 40% off the $80m we were thinking Panda 2 may have made is $32m; you take away $32m from that $80m and you get the $48m the film finally grossed. That fits snugly into the $46m The Hangover 2 took from that key 13 – 25 year old group.

There ya go, it is of course more complicated than that, but I’m certain that this release date has cost Kung Fu Panda 2 dear. With X-Men: First Class opening in a few days there may not be a chance for the Panda to claw back those older viewers who made other choices this Memorial day weekend.

No comments:

Post a Comment