Friday, August 03, 2007

A Defense of Blandness - by Marc Deckter


Marc Deckter has the makings of a top Hollywood animation executive. He's figured out how they try to rationally justify what they do every day by amphibian instinct.

He has concocted an executive-style argument for blandness and through the goodness of his heart has agreed to share it with the unwashed masses that Hollywood loves to bilk.

I just want you to know that Marc himself hates blandness and likes only the cartooniest of cartoons.
In fact anything that tries to sneak in a story or inspirational message or tells him it's ok to be the best Marc Deckter that he can be completely enrages him. The other day, he gave me his review of the latest monstrously expensive bland feature and it wasn't pretty.

is one of the good ones.
But he does love defending the rights of the insincere, lame and tasteless.

So far he has come to the aid of poor misunderstood industries like McDonald's, Rap and Muzak. He hasn't defended Christian Rock yet, but I'm confident he is working up his arguments.

Today he rescues Animated Features.


by Marc

Being bland is a strategy big studios use to guarantee audiences won't hate their product.
Thus guaranteeing a profit will be made.

This is not an argument about making good entertainment - it is about being a safe studio.

This strategy is not good for making audiences love your work, it's only good at making audiences not hate your work. This is an important distinction.


- with a generic/bland character, you don't have to worry about your audience hating the character, because there is not enough substance to hate. It'd be like hating a blank piece of paper. What is there to dislike?

Once your character starts making opinions and having specific characteristics, some people may like the character - and some people might not. So you have immediately created a potential for losing some of your audience.


- the studios are investing a lot of money into these features. And the investors want a guarantee that they will make their money back. The studio can't afford to have their features flop. So what's the safest way to guarantee financial success?

1. copy a subject that has already been proven succesful. CG bug movies are popular? Let's make another one. The mom in the video store looking to buy her kids a movie to watch will remember she liked one bug movie, and she'll buy another one. And another one. And another one....

2. use pre-existing characters that already have a fanbase. Scooby Doo. Garfield. Alvin and the Chipmunks.

3. make characters that are difficult to dislike. The more bland and generic a character is, the less there is to dislike. Look at Mickey Mouse. His personality is like a blank piece of paper - there's nothing there. And look how popular he STILL is! I see people wearing Mickey Mouse t-shirts at least once a week. You might not love Mickey, but I'll bet you don't hate him - there's nothing to hate.


If you are actually creative and experiment with your art, you are taking a risk. People may love your product, but there is also the risk that they will not love it. And a big studio just can't afford to take that kind of risk.

So the big studio keeps their eyes on the smaller studios - the ones that are experimenting - and then when a smaller studio has success, the big studio will superficially copy their experiment and make a guaranteed profit.

So you see, I'm not defending blandness as an artistic choice - but as a smart economical choice on the part of a big studio that is investing millions into these features.

Now the argument, of course, is that if a big studio released a creative and not-bland feature, everyone would love it. Well maybe - but maybe not. But there is always a GUARANTEED audience (guaranteed profit) being safe.


Basically my point is that it is not idiotic that these big studios want to play it safe.

Big studios with Big Budgets cannot risk Big Failures. It's as simple as that.


The hole in this theory, of course, is that there are plenty of bland films that were not great successes. John has explained to me that there were tons of Disney rip-offs in the 90's that all failed (Ferngully, etc...) and did not make profits.

But in the past 10 years or so, the bland theory seems to be ringing true. I guess we can't trust these numbers 100%, but if they're even close to being accurate, its pretty obvious how profitable the bland theory is:

CG Bug Movies

A Bug's Life (Pixar, 1998)
Budget $120,000,000

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $162,798,565 44.8%
+ Foreign: $200,600,000 55.2%
= Worldwide: $363,398,565

Antz (Dreamworks, 1998)
Budget $105,000,000

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $90,757,863 52.8%
+ Foreign: $81,000,000 47.2%
= Worldwide: $171,757,863

The Ant Bully (Warner Brothers, 2006)
Budget $50,000,000

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $28,142,535 51.3%
+ Foreign: $26,765,154 48.7%
= Worldwide: $54,907,689

CG (and real) Penguin Movies

March of the Penguins (Warner Indepenent, 2005)
Budget $8,000,000

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $77,437,223 60.8%
+ Foreign: $49,955,016 39.2%
= Worldwide: $127,392,239

Happy Feet (Warner Brothers, 2006)
Budget $100,000,000

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $198,000,317 51.5%
+ Foreign: $186,258,869 48.5%
= Worldwide: $384,259,186

CG Fish Movies

Finding Nemo (Pixar, 2003)
Budget $94,000,000

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $339,714,978 39.3%
+ Foreign: $524,911,000 60.7%
= Worldwide: $864,625,978

Sharktale (Dreamworks, 2004)
Budget $75,000,000

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $160,861,908 44.2%
+ Foreign: $202,668,288 55.8%
= Worldwide: $363,530,196

CG Fairy Tale Parody Movies

Shrek (Dreamworks, 2001)
Budget $60,000,000

Domestic: $267,665,011 55.3%
+ Foreign: $216,744,207 44.7%
= Worldwide: $484,409,218

Hoodwinked (Weinstein Company, 2005)
Budget $15,000,000 (estimated)

Domestic: $51,386,611 46.9%
+ Foreign: $58,103,417 53.1%
= Worldwide: $109,490,028

( I pulled these numbers from and

All of these bland features made profits, so how idiotic could it be to make bland films?

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