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Pixar movies have rarely delved into pure fantasy. That might seem like an odd statement but think about it for a minute. Most of their films deal with the fringes of the world that we would consider “normal.” Toys come to life, fish or ants embark on adventures, monsters have their own dimension and use ours for fuel, our future is one of a trash-filled world and endless space wandering. Only Cars can really be said to take part in a world that’s completely outside ours, one where the primary sentient being are automobiles.
The studio’s new movie and the one we’re here to discuss today, Up, looks like it begins to introduce some of that pure fantasy thinking into the Pixar mix. This, their tenth movie, follows an old man named Carl who one day decides he’s done with life in general and so ties thousands of balloons to his house in an effort to go on an adventure. It’s not exactly a fairy tale in that Carl is a human being and it all appears to take place in the real world, but the notion of just lifting up a house in order to escape the mundane certainly qualifies as being the thing of fairy tales.
Carl’s journey takes on a complication when a persistent Wilderness Explorer named Russell, undeterred by the old man’s refusal to buy whatever he’s selling for a fundraiser, winds up inadvertently tagging along on the porch of his now floating house. Together they wind up exploring distant locations and, of course, learning from each other how important it is to have a friend and other such life lessons.
The first teaser poster took a very, very cool less is more approach to the design. The movie’s title is there in the sky, almost like it’s been formed out of a wispy cloud. In the middle ground is Carl’s house, floating above the clouds thanks to its massive array of balloons that are all attached to the inside of the house’s chimney. I kind of love this because, with the addition of the “Disney/Pixar” text at the top of the one-sheet it’s the kind of thing that makes the passer-by look at it and instantly be attracted. The listing of the two studies create brand recognition in the mind of the audience and go a long way in making the movie attractive in and of itself. But then when you add the hyper-colorful balloons and the idea of a floating house, it’s a solid all around package that I’m sure had a good number of people putting this on their list of movies to see this summer right then and there.
The theatrical poster took the same basic idea but added the characters themselves and, along with them, a little bit of action. Once again, the Up title appears like a word written in the sky just below the Disney/Pixar names. The house still floats thanks to its bevy of balloons but this time the three main characters – Carl, Russell and a dog named Dug – are dangling precariously from a garden hose below that flying house. It’s every bit as effective as the teaser because it gives the audience a look at the characters in the film, characters who seem a bit cartooney and ridiculous looking and whose personalities are immediately identifiable just from this one look.
In-between those two releases there were a set of character-centric one-sheets that hit. Dug the dog appears in one in full cone-around-the-neck mode. Russell seems to be having the time of his life at the end of that hose in his. Finally, Carl looks resigned to there just being way too much going on in his, which is probably the funniest of the batch if only because the animators so perfectly capture that expression.
As was the case with Ratatouille, a series of retro-style art posters were commissioned by Pixar and displayed in the studio’s headquarters. The posters were designed by a handful of artists and aren’t exactly promotional for the movie but kind of for things within the movie. So there’s a recruitment poster for the Wilderness Explorers, an ad for travel to Venezuela and more. These aren’t actually for the film’s marketing campaign but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them as they’re very cool and very collectible.
The first teaser footage appeared at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2008, showing just a house being lifted up, up and away by a giant collection of balloons. As he goes by, the old man who lives in this house non-chalantly says, “Good afternoon,” making this possibly my favorite trailer ever. It very clearly shows the visual look of the movie, something that’s always as important to Pixar’s releases as the stories are.
The first official teaser trailer starts off much the same way that other Pixar teasers have, with a recounting of the wonderful journeys the studio has already taken us on. Footage from all nine previous films is incorporated before the narrator introduces us to the star of the latest movie, Carl, who opens the door to his home, sizes up the audience, grunts and shuts the door right in our face, which is perhaps the…ballsiest way to open a trailer for a kid’s film EVER. After that we get introduced to the basic premise of the film as Carl sets sail in his house, only to discover Russell outside on the porch. He initially refuses to let him come in only to then open the door again, giving us a good sense of how Carl really is and how these two will interact as they set about on this adventure together.
The theatrical trailer starts off by introducing us to Russell first as he attempts to do a good deed by helping Carl cross the street or just about anything else. Russell rebuffs all his offers as we’re given a brief glimpse at the title treatments for a handful of Pixar’s previous efforts. We then get the same “Please let me in.” scene of Russell on the porch but from there on out the focus is more on the movie’s action and adventure. We see sequences of them flying through storm clouds and ultimately arriving at some exotic location, where they befriend an exotic bird and are pursued by the movie’s villain, a dirigible flying character who looks an awful lot like Kirk Douglas.
It’s in this trailer that we also meet Dug, the dog with a collar around his neck that allows us to hear what he’s thinking. I’m not going to make any fancy predictions or anything, but I think Dug may wind up being the greatest talking animal ever to appear on-screen, if for no other reason than the way the animators and director of the film have him say, “Squirrel!” It’s just awesome.
The official website for the movie opens with the theatrical trailer and not much else before you should go ahead and Enter the Site.
Once you do, a sequence with the house flying through the sky plays while the site loads, eventually giving way to Carl and Russell walking through the jungle, still tethered to the house above them by a rope and a garden hose. Site content is listed at the top of the screen.
The first section is “About the Film.” There you’ll find a brief Synopsis, information about the Filmmakers and a long series of Production Notes. All of that is presented in a travel diary type book.
After that is “Characters” where you can learn more about the characters in the film. Each one gets a brief bio, as well as their own specific Wallpapers and AIM Icons that you can download. I like it when sites package character-specific content like this as it hits the audience right when they’re interested with an opportunity for engagement as opposed to just hoping they grab something from elsewhere on the site.
The way the stills in the “Gallery” are presented is actually pretty cool. There are no thumbnails to surf through, but when the pictures change, either by clicking the arrows or as the AutoPlay moves through them, they’re picked up and moved to the back like you’re shuffling through a stack of real photographs, complete with a sound effect of one dragging on the next as it’s moved. The idea of sorting through pictures like this might be a bit anachronistic to those of the digital age, but it’s super cool and very clever to those of us how can appreciate it.
“Videos” is a huge collection of material. Both Trailers, a Video Game Trailer, four TV Spots, four Clips, all three Upisodes and three Featurettes can all be found here, pretty much allowing the audience to get to know the characters of the film in as many ways as possible, however they’d like. This is *exactly* what studios need to be doing – putting as much video on their sites as possible to serve as an archive and one-stop-shopping point for whatever the audience is looking for.
“Downloads” has Wallpapers, Icons, Posters (awesome, love it when these are available) and Screensavers. “Games” has a handful of games to play and “Mobile” just prompts you to send a text message to a number in order to get exclusive content and more.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
In addition to the TV spots that have been running in relatively heavy rotation and sizable print and outdoor campaign I’ve seen, Disney has partnered with a sizable number of companies as promotional partners for the film.
First up is Color Me Mine, one of those places you find in downtown locations and shopping malls that offer pottery and other items kids and paint and decorate themselves. Locations are offering special kids nights where youngsters can come in and create Up-themed (and that’s interpreted pretty broadly) designs and receive a movie-based activity sheet. The store’s website features a promotional video as well as information on the events.
The partnerships with Boys & Girls Club of America and retail outlet Party City are actually entwined. When you buy an Up paper balloon at Party City locations, 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the charitable organization.
Insurance company Aflac is also a partner. The company’s duck has been integrated into footage from the movie in a TV spot, viewable on their site, that uses Carl’s younger days as a way to show how life’s responsibilities need to be planned for and how Aflac can help. The promotion is actually part of a much bigger campaign by Aflac to rebrand the duck as a friend who’s there to help that you can read about here.
Home furnishings company Carpet One is offering a $25,000 Home Makeover sweepstakes on their site. And the AARP is offering seniors a sweepstakes where they could win a vacation at Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort. The organization even has an online community on their site for the promotion. JCPenney’s Portrait Studio is offering a free 8X10 photo with minimum $20 purchase. All American Pet is running a “Does Your Dog Look Like You” contest. And Airship Adventures is offering a discounted family package when you bring your Up movie ticket stub to one of their locations.
Media and Publicity
Interesting, this seems to be a campaign that doesn’t seem to have a heavy earned media or publicity effort. Any Pixar film is going to have a certain number of stories about it, but the fact that their films aren’t built around having so-and-so hot talent of the moment doing the voices and their creators seem to enjoy letting the film speak for itself, there isn’t the usual round of talk show appearances and such like that. There are occasional interviews with the director and some of the talent, but not anything approaching the level of other summer films.
Unfortunately there was, as has been the case with the last several Pixar movies, the usual stories containing little but hand-wringing about this latest release’s commercial potential. Like all its predecessors, this story seems to peg the idea that Pixar is actually being artistically creative as a major point against it, apparently under the assumption (which has been proven false in each previous instance) that people will be turned off by anything that doesn’t include 28 fart jokes.
These appear with such regularity – despite their being proven false each and every time – that I’m beginning to suspect there are two possible sources for them being written:
- They’re part of a whisper campaign mounted by those with an interest in seeing the movie fail
- They’re part of the publicity team’s efforts to tamp down expectations around the film so that if it does flop (unlikely) people aren’t all that surprised but if it succeeds it looks like Pixar pulled out yet another nail-biter.
You can draw your own conclusions about which you think is more likely. Scott Mendelson at FilmThreat has a good overview of all the inaccuracies in this latest story as well as some well-worth-reading thoughts about how facts are often cast to the side in favor of broad statements that fit a writer’s desired narrative.
Disney and Pixar felt so strongly about Up that they decided to take it to the Cannes Film Festival (though out of competition) which took place just a couple weeks before the film’s opening date, allowing it to fit nicely into the overall publicity plan. The film actually served as the festival’s opening film, with a big outdoor event including a small house being lifted by a massive amount of balloons just like in the movie. The film’s creative team at Cannes even posted updates to an @UP_dates (that’s actually kind of funny) Twitter account that included their own pictures of the events at the festival.
Fun, entertaining and colorful, it’s hard to imagine who isn’t going to be attracted to this campaign. Of course there are going to be some who decry the lack of strong selling points to young girls or some other demographic, but I think Pixar’s movies have overcome similar criticism in the past to prove they’re appealing to all groups and I don’t really seeing this being an exception to that. If young girls can become fans of movies as boy-centric as Cars and The Incredibles this shouldn’t present a challenge.
What I dig about the campaign – and this often goes for Pixar movies themselves – is that it’s not afraid to present the unconventional. The main character, by all conventional thinking, should not be a 78-year old grouch who lives alone, much less a 78-year old who slams the door in the audience’s face in the trailer. I mean come on. Who does that? That’s just asking the audience to stop watching if you follow the advice of consultants and others of their ilk.
But not Pixar. Their unconventional approach and strong focus on original and interesting storytelling is actually a strength according to them and they’re going to do things their way. Considering that’s proved out alright in the past I’m going to go out on a limb and say it will work out fine for them this time around as well.
This is a strong campaign with fun and creative elements that combine into a nice, solid, cohesive whole. No one element really stands out as being heads and shoulders above the rest in terms of quality because they’re all strong. Nice job.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 5/29/09: The Newseum in Washington, DC is helping to promote the film by giving away rides in an easy-chair attached to a bunch of balloons that will take people 50 feet up in the air.
- 6/12/09: Kofi at Screenrant has some problems with he calls the bait-and-switch tactics used by Disney/Pixar in advertising Up, saying the emphasis on the talking dogs and other comedic elements doesn’t accurately represent a film that’s more serious. He says there are reports of parents leaving the theater with upset children who thought they were getting something more akin to Bolt. I haven’t seen the film yet, but have these parents seen anything Pixar has done? Of course their movies are more contemplative than the advertising makes them out to be. Almost all of them fit that mold.
- 7/10/09: Disney/Pixar took to the skies in what seems like an obvious promotion for Up over the 4th of July weekend. They brought a Zeppelin airship over from Germany and decked it out with a picture of the movie’s floating house and title treatment and flew it over the Los Angeles area. Airship Ventures, the company that manages this particular Zeppelin, was a promotional partner with the movie, offering discounted family packages for a sight-seeing trip when you presented a ticket stub from Up.
- 7/10/09: The Wall Street analyst who made headlines with his predictions that the “commercially questionable” Up would lead to box-office failure and troubles for Disney stock has come out and admitted that yep, he was pretty wrong about that.