The Peter Pan story is kind of frightening, when you think about it. A group of kids are left on their own to defend their land and possessions – even their lives – against a group of pirates who obviously have no problem straight-up murdering them. And in the middle of that a girl and her brothers are kidnapped by a stranger in the middle of the night You can focus on the “clap to save Tinker Bell” moment all you want, but there’s a lot about the story that, intentionally or not, is designed to terrify kids, especially in some of the darker, grittier tellings. But, as Honest Trailers recently pointed out, even the Disney version isn’t all that wholesome when you think about it. Like many fairy tales, there are plenty of elements of real danger lurking under the surface.
Into the canon of Neverland stories comes Pan. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice and more), this one is basically Peter Pan Begins, telling what amounts to an origin story for the titular character. In this version Peter is a 12-year old orphan who is whisked away to Neverland, where he finds he’s essentially the Chosen One, a hero destined to save Neverland from the dread pirate Roberts Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). To help him he enlists the help of Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and one James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), a relationship that has more than a few shades of the Anakin/Obi-Wan partnership in the Star Wars prequels since we know ahead of time that this is going to turn out poorly. Let’s take a look at how the movie’s being sold.
Let’s start with the teaser poster. This shows the Jolly Roger flying above the rooftops of London at night, a massive moon in the sky that’s so close it would disrupt the Earth’s gravity and probably destroy all life on the planet. But it’s meant to appear magical and this is hardly the first poster or other piece of art to use the idea, so I’ll let the science go. The cast is listed at the the top, including the names of the characters they’re playing. That’s kind of an unusual move so I think the studio here was trying to be as clear as possible with the audience and not leave anything to chance. Toward the bottom you have the title treatment and, above that, the promise that “Every legend has a beginning,” which is a copy point that’s recycled from many previous movies, including Casino Royale. So no points for originality there.
Next up are the first in a series of character one-sheets. This first set features Pan, Hook, Blackbeard and Tiger Lily against a color-coded background with nice framework, the name of both the character and the actor at the top and the same “Every legend…” copy toward the bottom.
The second set again features the “X Actor as Y Character” call-out but this time the shots are less portrait-like and more “staged candid” in look and feel. Each one also has a unique “In the beginning…” description. So Hook’s, for instance, says “In the beginning…he was a friend,” alluding to how that would change later. Tiger Lily’s says “In the beginning…she was a warrior.” And so on.
The third set featured just three posters, meaning Hook and Tiger Lily had to share a one-sheet. These dropped the character/actor names and went back to the “Every legend…” copy. All three were eventually collected into a single banner.
All of these are moderately effective, but they’re also kind of…boring. There’s no real sense of action about them, regardless of how you get Hugh Jackman to pose. It makes sense that the studio wants to reinforce all the characters in the movie as well as the actors playing them, but these also create a sense of confusion that runs throughout the campaign, namely by making it unclear whose movie it is we’re watching. Is it Peter’s? Hook’s? Blackbeard’s?
The final theatrical poster would finally combine all four main characters in one image, though they’re lined up by actor factor, not character factor. So Jackman is closest to the camera, then Hedlund and then Miller, with Mara furthest in the back, positioning that you can draw a lot of inferences on. The “Every legend…” copy makes one more appearance here as well. It’s an alright poster and certainly lets you know the movie’s story will at least partly be set on a pirate ship, but aside from that it doesn’t tell you a lot about the story or the characters.
The teaser trailer opens with Peter finding his file at the orphanage he’s been living at. It contains a letter from his mother explaining why she left him but telling him he’s destined for something great. We then see kids are being taken from the orphanage by what appear to be clowns rappelling from the roof. The action then shifts to Neverland, where Peter and other kids are being forced into some kind of work by Blackbeard, but then he appears to escape with the help of James Hook. The two encounter the…native people (I’m not sure how they’re referring to this group in the movie), who tell him the locket he wears shows him to be a brave warrior, tying in to that whole “destiny” thing. There’s then a high-flying montage of action sequences before ending with a face-to-face confrontation between Peter and Blackbeard.
That trailer is chock-full of action. We get decent introductions to all the characters and to the basic premise of the film, which is that Peter has a great life ahead of him. But we don’t see much evidence of that here, so on that front it’s a lot of telling without much showing. It does focus heavily on the design and the overall look of the film, which is impressive, even if some of the sets do look *exactly* like the ones used on Spielberg’s Hook 22 years ago.
The official trailer opens similarly, with the note from Peter’s mother. But we skip over the child kidnapping and move more quickly to Peter being aboard a pirate ship, this time focusing on the sense of wonder he seems to feel and not the threat he and the others are facing. After that setup we get more character introductions but the rest is then about Peter and the part he may or may not play in a Neverland prophecy involving a child who will lead a revolt against Blackbeard. The focus here is squarely on the origin of Peter Pan as we see Peter decide to stand against the threats to him and his friends, learn to fly and so on.
This one is a bit more effective than the teaser because it gets to the action more quickly. Still, it’s a bit heavy-handed in how it plays up Peter’s role as the Chosen One, the fulfiller of a prophecy. That’s been such a theme in recent young adult/kids movies in the last decade it’s become quite worn out. I also like how this trailer is sure to remind the audience that the movie comes from the studio that brought them the Harry Potter movies as a way to appeal to…whom, exactly? A kid who was eight years old when the first Harry Potter film came out is around 23 now, so they’re not in the market for these movies themselves, nor are they likely to have kids old enough for a movie like this. That seems like vanity more than an actual appeal to a demographic.
The final trailer – dubbed “Adventure” – opens with some third-person narration promising to tell us a story we haven’t heard before, including how sometimes enemies begin as friends and so on. We get a lot of the same beats we’ve seen in other trailers but with some shading around the edges. So the “We have a prophecy…” scene has a bit more context and so on.
It’s good, but it falls under the same weight as the first two, which is that it both gives away a lot and doesn’t show very much. It’s not that we’ve seen all the important story points, it’s that we’ve seen the first part of the story points and, because this is the origin of a story we’re already familiar with, we kind of know how all those points are going to pay off.
Online and Social
The official website opens with a nice animation of a pirate ship flying over the houses of nighttime London, an animation that gives way to the main splash page for the site. There you’ll find a rotating box of calls-to-action to watch the trailer, enter a sweepstakes or click for some other reason, a box that’s just above a link to find “Tickets and Showtimes.” In the upper right-hand corner is a countdown to opening day and in the bottom left are the movie’s preferred hashtags for people to use. Those boxes will be persistent throughout the site and different animations will guide you as you click from one section to the next.
Opening up the menu the first option – other than “Tickets and Showtimes” – is “Videos,” where you’ll find the three main trailer, Teaser, Official and Adventure. After that is “Fun and Games,” which has activities for the younger crowd like a handful of casual games, tools like avatar creators and activity books and, finally, printable items like coloring pages, party invitations and so on.
The “Meet the Characters” section has a photo, brief description and short video of each character. So James Hook’s page has a 15 second video that features a couple scenes featuring him from the movie. Hook, Blackbeard, Tiger Lily and Peter all get featured in this section.
“Downloads” has four billboard-type banners that can either be downloaded or shared straight from the site onto the social network of your choice, so long as your choice is Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Tumblr. Odd that Google+ is an option here and not Pinterest, which would have made a lot more sense. It’s also odd that you can’t actually download the images, just share them.
There are five posters – four character-specific posters and what I believe is the theatrical one-sheet – in “Posters.” Again, it’s surprising there aren’t some social sharing options here and that these couldn’t have been added to the “Downloads” section since clicking on them opens the image file in a new browser tab, which makes for easy downloading.
“About” has the usual studio write-up of the film’s story and key players and creative talent. There are probably over a dozen stills in the “Gallery,” most of them focusing on the four major cast members but with a few that show off some of the movie’s more colorful design elements.
The “Discover Neverland” section features photos from the live events that were held at locations across the world and which will be referenced in the Media section below. “Soundtrack” takes you to the Watertower Music site where you can sample and buy the album. “Partners” lists the companies that signed on as promotional partners and “Fear the Beard” takes you to the official website for that sweeps, which includes all the legalese it requires.
The official Twitter feed is alright, with plenty of newsy updates along with videos, countdown images, Retweets of Hugh Jackman as he engaged in press and publicity events and more. Same goes for the Facebook and Google+ profiles, which are nearly identical to each other but don’t have the same amount of actor/partner sharing you see on Twitter. And many of those images can also be found on Instagram.
The Pinterest profile is a bit more interesting. There are several boards there around different themes like “Family Meals,” “Fashion for Kids” and more. The connection to the movie is sometimes tenuous. Some pictures feature Miller at a fashion event and so on but other items, including many of the recipes, are just there. I like how they created aspects of the movie and then filled them with relevant content, though, even if there’s no connection directly to the movie. This is basically about making the Pinterest profile into a lifestyle hub that has thematic, more than overt, ties to the movie and trying to raise awareness of the film by pinning items and trying to get people’s attention that way.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There was plenty of TV advertising done, with most of the spots being pretty familiar to what we’ve seen in the trailers above, just in truncated form.
There was also lots of online advertising done, including via Twitter Promoted Posts and other formats.
In terms of promotional partners, here’s what we have:
- Aaron Brothers: Ran a one-day promotion offering the first 20 people who spent $10 at each location a free movie ticket.
- Color Me Mine: Offered Pan-themed events and activities at its various locations
- Hormel: Offered movie-branded product in stories and gave away a ticket to the movie ticket to people who bought three pepperoni products or two bacon products.
- Langers: Free child’s Pan t-shirt when you bought four bottles of juice.
- Mac Cosmetics: Featured the movie on its website in exchange, it seems, for being the official makeup of the film’s production.
- Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt: Created a number of movie-themed flavors that were available in stores and offered movie-branded collector’s cups.
- Sun-Maid: Promoted the film on packaging, including a sweepstakes giving away movie tickets and a grand prize of a trip to the film’s New York City premiere and two prizes of a trip to Warner Bros. Studio.
Media and Publicity
The movie suffered some questionable publicity early as it was moved from summer 2015 to fall (Variety, 4/20/15), partly to allow for additional production time (which gave it the unfortunate air of being “troubled”) and partly, as people speculated, to avoid competition from some of the summer’s other big releases.
Just a few weeks out from release the studio announced it would celebrate that release with a series of live events across the world (The Wrap, 9/17/15) featuring appearances by the cast and crew, large-scale recreations of Neverland and other experiences.
Late in the game there were lots of interviews with the cast and crew, too many to mention here. Director Joe Wright was focused mostly on the visual design of the film (EW, 10/6/15) while Mara had to respond to the controversy (EW, 10/6/15) surrounding the casting of a white actress – her – in the role of what is essentially a Native American character.
(Ed Note: I know there was lots more, but since I’m still getting back into the MMM groove I just wasn’t tracking all the film’s publicity)
I want to like this but I just don’t feel like the campaign overcomes the burden of knowing, and having to sell, the film as a prequel. So it hits the “This is the chosen one” nail over and over again to the point where, because this is a prequel to a familiar story, we feel like we know exactly how this movie’s story is going to play out.
But that “come see how Peter Pan came to be” is sometimes treated as an afterthought to the emphasis that’s put on selling Jackman’s performance as Blackbeard as well as the overall spectacle of the film. It very much seems at times in the campaign like the story is secondary to the visuals, which isn’t surprising.
I guess in the end I feel like this isn’t a bad campaign, but it’s a bit schizophrenic. And it seems to be aiming for a demographic that is a lot more narrow than it seems, which is kids who are old enough for adventure films but not too old that they haven’t already moved on to super hero movies. A spate of bad buzz isn’t helping anything but it remains to be seen whether the charm of Jackman, in particular, and the promise of amazing visuals are enough to bring people into the theater.