When teenager Rafe Katchadorian (Griffen Gluck) starts at a new junior high he’s not quite ready for what greets him in the new movie Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. Used to a certain degree of freedom and expression he’s instead surrounded by a school whose administration doesn’t allow much of anything. No self-expression, no creativity, no nothing that wreaks of individuality or chaos. That doesn’t go over well with Rafe and he enlists a group of new friends who have also had it with the rules in place to help him launch a rebellion.
The group embarks on a series of escalating extreme pranks meant to upset the applecart at every opportunity. They’re determined to break every rule in the school, much to the consternation of Rafe’s mom (Lauren Graham) and especially to the upset of the school’s principal (Andrew Daly). Only through chaos, though, will the students prevail and so, with their goal of changing the rules by breaking them in mind, hilarity and hijinks ensue. The movie is based on the series of popular young adult books.
The first poster sets up the story pretty well. Principal Dwight and Rafe are shown against a backdrop of a wall of lockers, the latter walking away from the former, who looks scolding and ready to reprimand the latter. Bright pop-art type illustrations are coming out of Rafe’s head that show all kinds of destruction than antics that he’s thinking of. More than that those illustrations show him to be very creative, which is the primary point of contrast and conflict between the two. That’s underlined by the copy “Rules aren’t for everyone.”
The same copy point adorns the theatrical poster, which arrays all the main characters in the classic flying V formation, with Rafe at the point closest to the camera and the kids and adults who factor into the story fanning out from there. Again, the design around them features the kind of creative drawings that are meant to come from Rafe’s imagination and they’re on display here to show the audience what he’s got going on in his head.
The teaser trailer starts out by introducing us to the overly strict principal and then Rafe, the new kid at school. The two don’t hit is off as Principal Dwight has a lot of rules for conduct at the school, rules that Rafe is determined to undermine. So the entire rest of the trailer is devoted to the pranks he pulls to take on the system.
There’s nothing hugely innovative here. It’s obviously of the same family tree as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and countless Nickelodeon or Disney Channel original films, just with a slightly larger scope than the latter. It’s all about kids sticking it to the man, so it’s going to be hugely popular with the 12-year old and under set.
The next trailer introduces to Rafe as he’s about to start a new school, something he’s not thrilled about. He’s got a sister who’s annoying and his mom has an awful boyfriend, all of that topped off by being at a school with way too many rules. After falling afoul of those rules he rallies a bunch of other kids and begins to fight back with prank after prank.
It’s a little better than the first trailer since it makes the characters a bit more understandable. But the main thing here is the animated interludes, which are just great. If the movie as a whole plays as offbeat as this trailer it could be a lot of fun.
More of the same in the third trailer. Some different shading here and there but largely the same vibe and overall pitch.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website very much mimics the look and feel of the one-sheets, which is nice. So the front page has a series of modules that contains much of the content of the site.
The first section (working clockwise from the upper left) is “Watch Videos” where you can find two of the trailers and a version called “Read Along” that is a bit shorter but adds some fun animation to the footage. Then there’s a section that you can click on to view tear-away versions of some of the rules of the school.
“About” has a short synopsis of the movie’s plot that establishes the main conflict between Rafe and the principal. “Meet the Characters” doesn’t have much information, just a series of photos of the characters that you can cycle through. Skip past the big module in the middle that encourages you to watch the “Trailer” and you come to the “Photo Gallery” that actually opens up a new section containing several production stills.
There’s a “Sketch Book” feature that lets you color in one of a series of drawings (meant to mimic Rafe’s notebook) and save it if you want to to your hard drive where it can be shared. I’m surprised there’s no native sharing button there. “Get Tickets” is self-explanatory. The photo of a set of lockers will pop up a random series of things on your screen when you click on those lockers. Finally there’s a section called “The Book” that links to an outside page with information on the source book and where to buy it.
Along the top menu there are only two sections that aren’t replicated elsewhere: First is “Chatter” which takes you to a dashboard of social posts from the cast and crew, as well as the movie’s official Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels. Then there’s “Partners” where you can find out about the companies that have helped to promote the movie.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one condensed the story down to under a minute, skipping much of the setup of the story and getting straight to the pranks Rafe and his friends pull to buck the rules. So there are a lot of the same gags that are in the trailer, just fewer and more cut down.
Safe to assume at least some online ads were run as well and likely even some outdoor billboards placed to raise awareness.
There were also a number of promotional partners that joined the marketing push:
- Langers – There’s nothing on the site, but you can apparently get a movie-themed bag with purchase of select items.
- Frixion – Nothing additional on the brand site, though the partnership makes sense given the story’s focus on creativity.
- Boys & Girls Club of America – Nothing on the organization’s site.
- Skylanders – You could get two tickets to the movie with a purchase of an Imaginators starter kit.
- AYSO – No information about the partnership on the official site.
Media and Publicity
Author James Patterson, the writer of the source material, as well as the rest of the cast appeared on “The Today Show” to talk about the movie, the story and more. Patterson also talked about how this was his favorite among the adaptations of his work (which are plentiful) and how he wanted the story to encourage kids to read more.
Outside of that and a few other quotes and appearances, much of the press for the movie was simply around the release of marketing materials.
You’d be forgiven you got some serious Diary of a Wimpy Kid vibes from the campaign. There’s a lot here that’s cribbed from those movies, which makes sense given they’re aiming for the same audience of pre-teens who don’t expect much from their movies, they just want something that’s not a cartoon but still isn’t a full-fledged adult movie. That’s an important audience to appeal to and this does so pretty effectively.
As I mentioned, there’s some decent brand consistency to the marketing, which is good to see. But to the above point, it hits on the areas that are going to resonate most with the target audience, which are defying authority, coming into your own identity and causing some innocent fun at the expense of the adults around them. So it works, assuming you’re in that target demographic. If not, this may not look like a ton of fun.