Boy, DreamWorks sure is having a rollercoaster of a year. If
it isn’t getting
knocked around in the trade papers for its films, it’s been hounded
by Wall Street for not making any money. All the while, it just keeps
cranking out more content than ever, and at least one big surprise.
When I saw the trailer for Home, I was substantially
unimpressed. The desire to see it was not present, and despite the colourful
animation, there was precious little to entice me into the cinema this weekend.
Would I have predicted a dud, or at least mediocre performance? You bet!
So now I’m eating my hat, because the film has had an
American debut weekend of $54 million. If you’re not aware, that’s Big Hero 6
and Spongebob: Sponge Out of Water territory. Given the usual mathematics that
go into these kinds of things, the film is on track for a very decent run, and
will surely ease a lot of people’s anxiety in Glendale…and Wall Street.
Since I haven’t actually seen the film, I can’t comment on
its quality (many critics, including
fellow Scoop contributor Charles Solomon, were rather tepid overall.) Yet
clearly audiences saw something in the previews or marketing that connected
with them, or perhaps more accurately, their kids.
Which merely highlights the age old saying in the
entertainment business that when it comes to pinpointing hits, nobody knows
nothing. There’s also the similar rhetoric about how only audiences can tell a
studio that it has a hit on its hands. It’s been that way since time immortal,
and despite the rise of data mining and analytics, the situation is unlikely to
change until audience’s behaviour does too.
On the one hand, the film has lots going for it. It’s not a
sequel, it features a female character with an ethnic background, and it’s
happy not being on the technological cutting edge. Such traits are surprisingly
refreshing in 2015 when animated films are more likely to be sequels, male-oriented,
and oozing with expensive CGI animation. However Home’s positive qualities
alone unfortunately do not a hit make.
So what does the film have going against it? Well, it is
expensive (~$135 million), it has a celebrity cast whose voice-acting skills leave
a lot to be desired (Rhianna, I’m looking squarely at you), and as Solomon
notes in his review, the story is formulaic and the jokes are anything but
original. Home appears to be, for all intents and purposes, an ‘average’ film
that should have the requisite ‘average’ results.
The audience disagrees however. Which in some ways, is
actually a good thing. It’s tempting to fall into the mindset that the audience
is made up of fools only too eager for another installment of Shrek; they’ve
certainly proven receptive enough to the four we’ve seen already. Such a
mindset is a trap.
The fact that audience’s are occasionally irrational keeps
films from becoming entirely homogenous in terms of genre and themes. It forces
studios to continually experiment in the hope that a new hit or franchise is
discovered that they can use to get one up on the competition. It’s like when
How to Train Your Dragon was released, and became a sleeper hit; nobody
expected that either!
Home may not appear to be a brilliant or groundbreaking film
like Dragon, but the fact that its apparent mediocrity has proven popular,
means that second-guessing the audience continues to be a risky bet.