No one has ever accused, I wouldn’t think, director of Wes Anderson of lacking a unique cinematic vision or style. If you’ve seen any one of his movies and are then shown, without any setup or information, a scene from another you’ll probably be able to peg it as an Anderson movie pretty quickly. The overly stoic characters who express themselves with eyebrows and sighs. The patterned wallpaper on the sets. The father issues. They’re all hallmarks and put them together and you’ve got an easily-identifiable Anderson film.
Make what you will of that style but I’m a fan, if for no other reason than because so few directors in this day and age actually have such a distinctive signature that they put on their movies. Not that other directors are hacks, but those who you can pick out of a line-up are few and far between. So if nothing else you have to stand up and salute the fact that he’s willing to indulge the passions he so obviously feels and break away from the pack in doing so.
Anderson is now bringing that vision, which he’s honed in traditional live-action arena, to the world of animation. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is an adaptation of a book from Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And to bring the book to life Anderson has chosen to tell the story through stop-motion animation, a brave and interesting choice not only because it’s outside the conventional wisdom (which, despite recent films like 9 and Coraline, says CG is the only real option) but because he’s never done it before. As we’ll see as we get into the campaign that’s going to become an issue in some regards. But let’s start at the top.
The first poster for the movie is, well, kind of awesome. It shows all the main characters dwelling just below the surface of the Earth, something that’s conveyed by the human legs at the top of the image, above the underground dwelling with all the animals.
Two things are made clear in the poster:
First, that there’s a loving family at the center of the story, something that’s conveyed through the image of the husband and wife in sort of a dancing embrace and the playful kids around them. In addition to that there are colorful supporting characters, including the business-skunk with a drink in hand and the explorer gopher.
Second, we’re immediately clued in to the fact that those people are in some peril, a situation made clear through the fact that those humans above our main cast are all sporting shovels, with one even holding a couple sticks of dynamite. So that’s the conflict in the movie.
The fact that the source book comes from the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is given precedence over Anderson’s being the director, hinting at the notion that Fox is marketing this more to the family movie crowd than fans of Rushmore, Tennenbaums and Anderson’s other movies. He’s a major component in many of the campaign’s other elements so he’s not being abandoned but in this regard the studio is reaching for an audience outside his core group of fans.
A series of seven character posters came next, taking many of the primary characters from the movie and putting them against a cool pop art kind of background and giving each a bit of explanatory text at the top. Since this is an animated film these posters are designed to show off the names of the cast in the movie as well as give an additional peak at the look of the characters.
The first trailer is all about introducing the audience to the look and feel of the movie, as well as giving a quick introduction to most of the main characters. There’s a small hint that Mr. Fox and his family and friends are engaging in some sort of attempt to do…something. While there are lots of clips of them planning and plotting it’s never made entirely clear what it is. That’s alright, though, since it’s pretty charming as it is. The distinctive Anderson look is obvious, as is the fact that the voice cast is putting its all into the performances that drive the characters.
The second does dive further into the movie’s story, showing that the adventures being planned by Fox and friends are an attempt to foil the plans of three nasty, mean humans. We get a bit more background on the characters and their motivations, as well as some pretty good jokes about the world these characters live in. It also contains more credits for the cast and a few pull quotes from the early reviews the movie has generated. It still very much has a good look at the production style but it’s more traditional it how it lays out a case for a movie with engaging characters and not just a cool look.
The movie’s official website opens, after making like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and digging tunnels, with the poster key art recreated on-screen.
Around the screen are various options. First there’s a promotion with Fandango that gives you a free iTunes download of one of the songs from the soundtrack if you buy tickets in advance. We’re also prompted to “Read the Fantastic Reviews,” which opens a pop-up with critic’s quotes and, surprisingly, links to those stories so you can read the full review.
There’s also a link to “Make This Thanksgiving Fantastic.” That opens a new site where you can play the Feast Like a Fox” game, which actually verges on incorporating the augmented reality technology so many people are talking about in that you control how many plates of food Mr. Fox eats by moving your hands in front of your webcam. You can also send a movie-themed e-vite to your friends and family to have them over for the holiday.
Back to the main site, it’s divided into two big categories – Meet the Characters and About the Film.
Under Meet the Characters you can access most of the main characters and, when you click on their names, you get a description of who they are as well as a Wallpaper and Icon you can download with their face on it.
About the Film is where most of the traditional content lies.
“The Film” contains a two-sentence synopsis of the plot that, given how much thought seems to have gone into other aspects of the site, seems a bit brief and disappointing.
The “Cast” and “Crew” sections have the career histories of the stars and creative folks – including Dahl in the latter section – that contributed to the movie.
Both Trailers and two Featurettes can be found under “Video.” and there are about 15 or so stills, a mix of movie photos and behind-the-scenes shots, in the “Gallery.” “Downloads” collects the Wallpapers and Icons that are individually available on each character’s featured page.
The “Fun” section has an interesting mix of offerings. There’s a link to the Dig Deeper blog, which seems to be made up of video posts and posted concept and character art detailing the film’s production. There’s also the Whackbat game that’s played within the movie. If you’ve watched the trailer or video spot that includes this game you’ll know that there’s no reasonably explaining the rules, so suffice it to say you try to hit the flaming pinecone just right and in the right direction and then the players thankfully move themselves around the field. There’s also a link to the iPhone app that’s available for $.99 in the iTunes store.
Finally on the site there’s “Partners” where you’ll find links to Borders, though just to the main page and not a movie-dedicated section, and a page called The Wonderful World of Roald Dahl, which shows all the tie-in books that have been produced and which you can buy, all of which are available on the Roald Dahl official site.
The Fox Searchlight site also has links to much of the same stuff as well as a prompt to engage in the Fantastic Plan. Like the “Feast” game, this one lets you control how fast Fox and his friends dig through the ground and to the farms of their nemeses. If you get there fast enough you can unlock exclusive content like Wallpapers and such.
The Searchlight site also has some of their usual social-media friendly content like a stream of Twitter updates that include mentions of the movie, links to recent press coverage, plenty of pictures and video and other good stuff. A lot of that is then replicated on the movie’s Facebook page.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Aside from Border on the official website I haven’t heard about any cross-promotional partners that have teamed with Fox Searchlight for the movie.
But there has been plenty of advertising. I think I’ve seen a smattering of TV spots, mostly trimmed down versions of the trailers, as well as plenty of online ads. These have mostly recreated the poster key art. These have ranged in execution from pre-load ads that take over a page as you’re trying to visit it to simple banners or square units.
Media and Publicity
Since the animation style for this movie is so different from what audiences have come to expect over the last few years there was also a featurette posted to Apple that showed off how the puppets, their costumes, the sets and everything else was created and the labor and love that went into the creation of this unique world. It also showed how much of the voice work was captured in real-life locations that mimicked those being created for the movie, so a scene in a truck actually had Clooney recording his dialogue in a truck and such like that. It’s very much an effort to get people talking about the movie and its unique style and, based on the amount of pick-up this featurette got on movie blogs and elsewhere, I think it succeeded in achieving that goal.
While there was plenty of buzz around the release of each successive piece of marketing material, the next major bump came in the wake of a story about how Anderson had, for all intents and purposes, directed the movie via email (LA Times, 10/11/09), something that apparently was more than a little upsetting to the crew working on the stop-motion animation. That story had other elements as well, but that’s the one that most everyone who read it picked up on and, because it was placed at the top of the story, that was obviously the intent of the writers.
That story appeared just days before an industry junket was held in London where some of the biggest industry writers were invited to sit down with the film’s cast and crew and lob softball questions. And then the director’s approach and interaction with his crew was revisited a month later (LA Times, 11/13/09) for, really, no apparent reason than to be able to print a bunch of outtakes from the first interview. It was ostensibly about Anderson’s exacting style and attention to detail but really came off as a half-hearted hit piece that had an odd tone to it.
Luckily there was plenty of more positive press around the movie, from interviews with the cast and crew to exclusive content and other more general musings and buzz from people looking forward to seeing it.
There is a lot to like about this campaign, especially if you’re a fan of Wes Anderson’s style and story-telling. You’ve got dry humor, kids who just want to please their slightly disconnected but generally well-meaning fathers and an elaborate plan that winds up bringing everyone together in the end. What’s not to like?
But what this campaign does is tell the story well, and that’s ultimately the challenge most campaigns fail to meet. The trailers, posters and even the website certainly make the case for the movie as a pleasant and entertaining way to spend an afternoon at the movies, which is all you can really ask of it.
It certainly is reliant on the hooks of not only Anderson’s name-recognition but also that of the star-studded cast, though even that comes loaded with the fact that many of them are Anderson troupe regulars (Schwartzman, Murray, Wison, etc). But even then it manages to achieve the secondary, though no less important goal of making the movie appealing to families, especially families who are either already familiar with Dahl’s source book or who are looking for an alternative to the computer-animated, pop-culture reference-filled fare put out by many of the studios.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- In the UK there were McDonald’s Happy Meals that tied in to the movie as well as promotions in Gap Kids stores there that gave kids activity sheets to fill out and create with and try to win tickets to the movie.