Have been browsing the web looking for interesting articles on Disney, when I came across this one from the Telegraph newspaper in the UK.
Disney film Up sparks ageism debate
It is destined to be one of the hit films of the year and has become the first animated movie ever chosen to launch the Cannes festival.
By Alastair Jamieson
Last Updated: 1:54PM BST 06 May 2009
But the next cartoon from the Disney’s Pixar studio, called Up, has already been given the thumbs down by investors and toy manufacturers because its main character, a grumpy 78-year-old man, is not considered commercially attractive.
The reaction has prompted accusations of ageism at the heart of the multi-billion-pound promotions industry that surrounds films aimed at children.
Produced in digital 3-D, Up sets a different tone to previous cartoon blockbusters from Pixar, such as Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc and Ratatouille.
It tells the story of widower Carl Frederiksen, who ties balloons to his house in order to become airborne. He accidentally drags an eight-year-old scout along with him and the reluctant pair embark on a series of wild and spectacular adventures in South America.
Although the £120 million film, which will receive its world premiere at Cannes next month, is eagerly awaited by critics, it has been getting a cool reception by financial analysts, some of whom urged investors to sell shares in parent company Disney.
They fear Up will fail to earn much-needed cash from spin-off merchandising deals on everything from toys and clothes to food and soft drinks.
“We doubt younger boys will be that excited by the main character,” said Richard Greenfield of Pali Research.
Previous Pixar releases have earned hundreds of millions of pounds for Disney from the sale of product licences. More than 25 million Buzz Lightyear toys have been sold around the world since the first Toy Story film was screened in 1995 and last year’s release of WALL-E saw replicas of the lovable robot become a Christmas best-seller. In Britain, such tie-in deals aimed at children are worth £2 billion a year – equivalent to £182 for every child.
However, there are no signs of a similar bonanza surrounding Up when it is released in Britain in October, with neither Tesco nor Asda yet aware of any collectable toy ranges or branded clothes. Usually, such marketing deals would already be planned by this stage, six months ahead of a film’s release.
“The film doesn’t sound like much of a goer,” said one buyer for a leading British toy retailer, who asked not to be named.
The situation is in stark contrast to the excitement surrounding the new Transformers film Revenge Of The Fallen which is released in June.
An advertising industry leader admitted ageism was a major factor. Hamish Pringle, director general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), said: “Older people are rarely the centrepiece of campaigns despite the booming grey market and the obvious reality that we are an ageing population. One of the contributing factors is that most of those working for ad agencies are under the age of 40 themselves.
“There have been one or two specialist ad agencies catering for the older market but they haven’t been particularly successful, partly because older consumers are less impressionable.”
Professor Isabelle Szmigin of the Birmingham Business School, part of the University of Birmingham, said: “This is a classic battle between creativity and commercialism.
“Age barriers need to be broken down in all walks of life and if we exclude older people from entertainment aimed at children we are not only dumbing down but discriminating too.”
Professor Szmigin said California-based Pixar and Disney “really should be commended” for making a film whose lead character was not a child or an anthropomorphic character.
She added: “At a time when we are an ageing society and economic pressures mean children are spending more time with grandparents while their parents are out at work, it makes sense to reflect reality.
“Besides which, pretending old people don’t exist reflects a prejudice children don’t actually have. If you look at films like Willie Wonka, old people actually play quite a prominent place and it looks to me as though the ‘old’ hero of Up is a vehicle for a story – perhaps across generations and even size because the boy scout seems quite chubby.”
Gary Grant, chief executive of the Toy Retailers’ Association, said there was no sign of excitement about the release of Up.
“Darker films are less marketable,” he said. “When you think about Batman you might think of a cartoon character but the recent Batman films have essentially been aimed at young adults so they won’t do anything for toy sales.”
Alan Dadswell, managing director of Toys N Tuck, an independent chain of shops in Essex, said: “We usually get people asking things weeks in advance but I’m not aware of anyone wanting anything to do with Up. We’re expecting a lot of interest in Transformers, though.”
The row has exasperated Disney, which has found itself defending the creative process from commercial pressures.
Robert Iger, chief executive of Disney, told critics earlier this month: “We seek to make great films first. If a great film gives birth to a franchise, we are the first company to leverage such success. A check-the-boxes approach to creativity is more likely to result in blandness and failure.”
This is one problem that exists at the moment, that many people, most importantly those who are in charge, seem to believe that animation is just for children, which means that an animated film is only successful if it sells a whole lot of toys and Happy Meals. Part of the reason why classic Disney animated shorts and features are no longer shown on TV (as well as those by other studios) is because the TV executives and programmers have their own preconceived ideas that cartoons are just for kids and that kids today only want to see crappy cartoons full of CGI and 3D animation. (Despite the fact that Pinocchio was the top selling DVD in March 2009)