Let me start by saying I loved Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and highly recommend it for kids and adults. It might be a bit intense for younger kids, but my 7- and 9-year-old loved it, and Zack Snyder takes the story seriously, so there’s enough depth for adults understandably leery of the glut of simple-minded 3D animated movies.
While it was unexpectedly engaging and entertaining, I’ve been especially surprised that it’s still lingering in the back of my mind days later.
The first time we saw a preview for Legends, we were impressed by the 3D — an increasingly rare feat these days — but none of us had much interest in seeing the movie and we’d never heard of the series of books. A couple of weeks later, while browsing our local B&N, I noticed the books and pointed them out to my kids (7 and 9) but they weren’t the least bit intrigued. The covers look old-fashioned compared to the movie preview, as if they were classics from the 60s instead of the 21st Century, and they’re about owls and owls are, well, kind of creepy.
Owls aren’t like cats or dogs or penguins, all of which are cute and lend themselves to anthromorphologization. (Is that a word?) They’re creepier than rats, which are just plain nasty, but Pixar did a good job of making them appealing in Ratatouille, so Warner Brothers didn’t have an impossible task ahead of it, but a tough one nonetheless.
First, the WB is no Pixar when it comes to animation, as the ridiculously lame and discordant Coyote Falls short that preceded our showing of Legends proves, and promoting it in connection to Happy Feet, as at least one commercial did, sends the wrong message, too, because those two movies have very little in common.
Second, while Zack Snyder’s imprint is heavy on the film and it being his first animated movie is certainly noteworthy, “From the Director of 300 and Watchmen” isn’t an ideal tagline for a PG-rated movie aimed at kids.
So what to do?
“Good transmedia production contributes to the long-term health of the intellectual property.”
Legend of the Guardians is a perfect example of what transmedia IS NOT, and how the lack of an organic transmedia development process can hinder the evolution/extension of a story into other mediums.
Its disappointing opening weekend box office ($16.1m) suggests its marketing failed to connect with its target audience, partly because its target audience was so ill-defined.
The film’s based on Kathryn Lasky’s novels, and while she’s enthusiastic about it, she didn’t have an active role in its production as far as I can tell. Warner Brothers has all of the usual marketing initiatives — commercials, interactive website, Facebook page, iPad app — and there’s even the requisite cross-platform video game that’s gotten solid reviews, and Lasky’s publisher, Scholastic, has put together a smart micro-site connecting the books to the movie… and yet, there’s no cohesive feel to any of it.
It’s all primarily marketing collateral for the two core products — the books and the movies — without offering alternate points of engagement to delve deeper into the world of Ga’Hoole. Scholastic’s decision to not repackage the books for a better connection to the movie makes them feel disconnected, not unlike how most superhero comic book-based movies are often disconnected from their source material and don’t lead to any discernible bump in sales.
(Watchmen and Kick-Ass are notable exceptions because they were straight adaptations and the source material was self-contained.)
If positive word-of-mouth doesn’t lead to a strong second weekend (and judging by its 51% rating at RottenTomatoes, that seems unlikely), we probably won’t be hearing from Soren and company again. That would be a shame.