Back in 1969, my parents decided to brave the movies with a sleeping infant. They chose "Midnight Cowboy" because it looked to be a good western. It, of course, was not, and was the first "X" rated movie that I ever went to, though I slept through it. The next day, it was pulled from the Lubbock movie theater. If only the same had been true of Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, then I would not have had to sit through it on its second day in the theaters. However, Midnight Cowboy became the only X-rated movie to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards; Oogieloves may break different kinds of records. In case you haven't heard, Oogieloves, which cost $20 million to make, earned less than $500,000 its first weekend. A holiday weekend. Here is a good play-by-play review.
So, why was I there? Because my four year-old made me. For some reason, the trailer spoke to him. So we went. When we bought the tickets, I asked the guy behind the counter if anyone else had bought tickets for this movie yet. He said "no." This was a Saturday. Of a holiday weekend. There were five people total in the theater. The other parent there looked incredibly embarassed to be there. I decided to embrace it.
But even I, with my great attitude and carpe diem personality, couldn't make lemonade out of this movie. If I tried to explain the plot, you wouldn't believe me. Three "oogieloves" live together and have a band. They look like a combination of Doodlebops and Teletubbies, except without the aesthetically pleasing design. They are oogly. And they live with a vacuum (yes, a vacuum), a fish and a pillow (yes, a pillow). Oh, and a talking magic window. Children's cinema is rarely peopled with talking vacuums and pillows. Dogs, yes; vacuums, no. Oh, and the vacuum is hilariously named "J. Edgar." That is wrong on so many levels. But, the pillow, which of course has no arms or legs and is immobile, is having a birthday. The vacuum, which also has no arms, went to get magic balloons for the birthday, but let go of them with his nonexistent hands. The oogieloves have to go get all five of them. Of course, the strangest characters have ended up with the balloons and we get to meet them: a woman who loves polka dots and lives in a teapot treehouse; a guy who talks like a gangster out of the Sopranos who runs a milkshake restaurant; a singing sensation who loves roses but is allergic; a bow-legged bouncing cowboy who loves bubbles; and a Spanish dancing couple who live in a sombrero by a windmill. If a group of English majors on drugs got together late at night, they couldn't come up with this.
While I was watching the movie, I was reminded of the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I suppose at one point was meant to highlight the amazing Beatles album, but ended up being a movie only eleven year-olds can watch. In case you missed it, the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton left their idyllic small town to make their rock-n-roll fortune, fell prey to the temptations of the big city, and had to redeem themselves by relocating the four magical musical instruments stolen from their hometown. At least there were only four. Not five. And the movie started with songs from one of the most successful albums, sung by the most successful recording artists at the time. And it was awful. (But I watched it about two hundred times on HBO when I was eleven.) Oogieloves starts out with three unknown life-size puffy things lip syncing to songs you should never have to hear, then it goes downhill.
Of course, the ultimate question is whether my preschooler liked it. Unfortunately, I leaned over about four times and said, "I hope you love this movie, because I can't believe we are watching it." So, of course he said he loved it. We did get three free glow sticks (I bet they have plenty extra). I'm waiting to see if he ever asks for the DVD. That's the kicker.
I also forced my 13 year-old to accompany us. She didn't run the risk of any of her friends seeing her there, so she wasn't too upset. As the credits rolled, I turned to her and said, "You know the bouncing cowboy guy? That's Westley, from Princess Bride." She got this strange look on her face and said, "That's kind of sad." Yes, it is.
So, from a business standpoint, who thought this was a good idea? If you want to appeal to the preschooler set, you could at least get some brand-name silliness, like the Doodlebops or the Wiggles or the Fresh Beat Band, which are very popular. Why try to create your own brand out of nothing, particularly one that seems so low-rent? And surely as they were wrapping up the movie, someone could tell it was going to flop. Why not direct to video? Enquiring minds want to know!
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