What's Brooks Barnes Got Against Pixar?
I imagine this isn’t a great morning to be Richard Greenfield. He’s the market analyst at Pali Research who earlier this year downgraded Disney stock because he felt Pixar’s latest movie, “Up,” had a poor outlook. Brooks Barnes quoted him in the New York Times last April:
“We doubt younger boys will be that excited by the main character,” he wrote, adding a complaint about the lack of a female lead.
I wrote about this back then—slamming not only Greenfield but Barnes and the Times for getting their facts wrong by ignoring international markets—but after two months Greenfield’s quote looks even daffier.
It contains two complaints.
The first is about Carl, the lead character in “Up,” an old man in a medium designed for kids. He’s a legitimate market concern. That’s Greenfield’s territory.
The second complaint is about the lack of a female lead, which is a PC rather than a market concern. In fact, it’s the opposite of a market concern. Most movies don’t have female leads because most market analysts feel there’s no audience to support them.
Worse, “Up” has a prominent female character: Ellie, who’s the engine for the entire story. It’s such an odd comment from a market analyst. Maybe that’s why Barnes presented it without quotes.
Greenfield, I’m sure, is waiting to see how “Up” does in its second weekend, as well as internationally, before he issues his mea culpa—if in fact market analysts issue mea culpas. I doubt they do. Otherwise we’d be drowning in them. But for the record, in its opening weekend, “Up” made over $68 million, which is the second-best opening for a Pixar film, after “The Incredibles.”
Barnes’ mea culpa, such as it is, comes in his usual post-weekend box-office article in today’s Times, in which he uses the word “marketing” six times, including in the first graf:
Rapturous reviews and a colossal marketing campaign sent “Up” into the box office stratosphere over the weekend.
And then this in the fifth graf:
Strong opening weekends can be bought with big marketing campaigns, of course, so the coming weeks for “Up” and its performance overseas — where recent Pixar titles have made the bulk of their revenue — will be important in the evaluation of the film’s financial success.
Both of his statements are true—particularly the fact that strong opening weekends can be bought—but why mention all of this, and so stridently (six times), in connection with “Up”?
Was “Up”’s campaign particularly intensive? We don’t know. Barnes has no figures, just the say-so of other studios, along with some anecdotal information.
So is this the usual m.o. for Barnes? Does he often talk up the marketing campaigns of successful weekend films? Yes and no. Mostly no. In his post-“Star Trek” article, he attributed its success, in part, to a “megawatt marketing campaign”— but only once, and in the second graf. Meanwhile, he makes no mention of marketing for the opening-weekend success of such films as “Hannah Montana”, “Fast and Furious” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” earlier this year.
Does this mean those films didn’t rely on marketing to succeed? Or the relied less on marketing than "Up"? No one knows. Because no one has the figures.
Barnes’ “Up” piece, in other words, feels a little like ass-covering. He focuses on marketing to explain why a film he thought wouldn’t do well did.
Me, I would love it if every Monday Barnes gave us the marketing budgets for, say, the top five films. To compare and contrast. That would be fascinating reading. But they're not available and so all he has is adjectives (“megawatt”; “colossal”) and a seemingly scattershot approach to writing about marketing.
Here’s something, for example, Barnes doesn’t mention as a reason for the success of “Up,” but which, if I were writing that piece, might be my lead: It’s a Pixar movie. And Pixar means something to millions of moviegoers around the world. It means quality.