Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
While waiting for How to Train your Dragon to start, my kids and I were treated to a wide range of movie previews, including ones for Despicable Me, The Last Airbender, The Karate Kid, Toy Story 3 and Guardians of Ga'Hoole (Think: "Hedwig, the Movie").
When I later conducted a quick focus group with my 10-year-old and two seven-year-olds, their least favorite preview was the Despicable Me trailer.
How can one of the most anticipated and star-studded animated films of 2010 be such a dud in the preview department? Well, if you watch it dispassionately, as I've had to twice now, you learn these three things (and not much else):
1. It's about a mean spy who wants to infiltrate the lair of an obnoxious young nemesis. Why? Dunno. Who are we rooting for? Not clear. What makes them interesting? No clue.
2. The mean spy gets a serious Wile E.Coyote-style butt-kicking via high-tech weapons. Why? Apparently, just because.
3. Many A-list stars are voicing characters in the film, but if the preview is any indication, they stick to grunts and yelps. (Question: of the small percentage of kids who know who Steve Carell is, how many care?)
With such little faith in their own storyline, producers might as well have chucked this idea and instead made Road Runner, the Movie. Judging by the preview, it's virtually the same thing: Fellow launches an attack, fails, gets blown up, then comes back for more.
Given the success of beautifully complex stories and compelling characters like those found in How to Train Your Dragon, Up, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and just about everything coming out of Walden Media, why would Hollywood still market exclusively to the lowest-common-denominator "smash! boom! joke! pow!" interest of kids? That's like creating a preview for Titanic consisting entirely of the film's nude scenes.
I don't even think the tactic works that well. Not with my kids anyway; they may not be able to spell "condescension," but I think they can smell it.
Reality Check: Is Hollywood Too Fixated on Fantasy?