Some more happy faces

hits counter
As one of my readers pointed out the other day, Up is not the first Pixar movie to receive the happy-face treatment.  Here we see the original Toy Story poster on the left, and the DVD cover on the right.  In the first, Woody looks frightened and mistrustful of the cocky, headstrong Buzz — rightfully so, as their relationship is the central drama of the narrative.  But in the second image, Woody looks like the secrets of the universe are being revealed to him.  He’s not just happy to be carried off by Buzz, he’s positively ecstatic.  Woody apparently has no problems at all in the DVD version of this movie.  (The army men have also been included in the fun.)

Here’s the teaser poster for A Bug’s Life, and the DVD cover.  If Flik is happy to see us in the movie poster, he’s doing a good job of hiding it — the poster is subdued, mysterious and subtle.  Nothing subtle about the DVD cover: Flik is overjoyed to see us!  And he’s brought the camera in nice and tight to make sure we know that!

Here’s the original poster for Night at the Museum.  Ben Stiller looks serious, threatened and angry about the prospect of working in a museum where everything comes to life at night.  The poster promises adventure, exoticism, weirdness and thrills.

Here’s the DVD cover.  Ben’s not angry or threatened anymore — he’s cowed and maybe a little fearful.  Plus his uniform has gone from gray to blue, taken from a different photo, and the museum hallway is much more brightly lit.  And there’s a monkey clinging to his leg.  And the Tyrannosaurus looks a lot happier to see him.  Looking at the two images, I’m actually a little surprised they went with the first one for the poster — Stiller actually does look a little too angry and threatening for a family movie.  Still, the poster helped get the movie a $250-million gross — how off-putting could it have been?

But look!  In some territories, apparently Ben was still too threatening!  Now, not only is he cowed and fearful, he’s put down his flashlight!  Now he looks completely denatured, helpless before whatever scary thing lies outside the picture plane.  And, since all the movie’s principle attractions are gathered behind him, the thing he’s fearful of can only be the DVD purchaser. Also, you might notice that Atilla the Hun has been replaced by Ricky Gervais — perhaps this is the English edition.

In my completely unscientific, haphazard investigation of this odd phenomenon, I skipped around from title to title, following nothing but my instincts regarding where the happy-face might turn up next.  I thought Eddie Murphy would be a prime candidate for the happy-face treatment, but to my surprise:

Look, here’s Eddie, shocked and appalled on the poster for Imagine That, his adorable daughter clinging to his neck.  And there he is again on the blu-ray cover, shocked and appalled again!  If ever there was a movie that might have benefited from the happy-face treatment, I would think it would’ve been this.  The movie didn’t do well at the box office, and I would have guessed that the studio would have done anything to convince consumers that it’s a buoyant, kid-friendly comedy — why didn’t they make Eddie beaming and proud of his daughter?

Here’s Eddie again for the Dr. Dolittle poster and DVD cover — startled and confused in each one.  The studio didn’t find it necessary to cheer up the title character.  I was beginning to think that it might be in Murphy’s contract that the marketing people can’t manipulate his face for the promotional materials, but then I saw this:

Here, a completely different Eddie has been inserted into the image.  Poster Eddie is sly and cool (and, unfortunately, because of his hat and glasses, almost unrecognizable).  Owen is the same, Famke and her legs are the same, the explosions are the same, but Eddie’s different — he’s slightly less sly and cool, closer to goofy, and now he’s carrying a big gun, and there’s some kind of action-y thing happening down below his left shoulder.  And everyone’s in color.  Did the studio worry that people would think I-Spy was a black-and-white movie?


20 Responses to “Some more happy faces”
  1. When was I-Spy put out on DVD? If it came out since the use of black and white in some films (e.g., Sin City), they may have felt it necessary, as you consider, to indicate the movie is in colour.

  2. icesickle says:

    Maybe it’s not happiness

    I find it interesting that in every one of your examples here, except Toy Story, the DVD cover image is zoomed in much closer on the protagonist.

    Toy Story is interesting to do a rule of thirds of, because Buzz, occupying so much of the center 9th, is unquestionably implied to be the protagonist through positioning, when, in actuality, Woody is the focus of the movie. The DVD changes things up so that Buzz is shifted up and away more while Woody’s position occupies more of the center. In addition, an enlarged, bright red Toy Story logo is now directly above and behind Woody’s hat, drawing the viewer’s eye there first, especially since the eyes of Western viewers are naturally trained to read from top left on down. As if that wasn’t enough, the yellow “TOY” is much bigger, and the green in the spacesuit of Buzz is, unsurprisingly, the opposite of the red in the “Story” sign. All of this serves to change the implication that this is Woody’s story, or at least a shared one between Woody and Buzz, which is pretty accurate, even though Woody’s new expression is not. One step forward, one step back. Others have previously suggested that DVDs are an appeal to nostalgia, at least for those who already saw the movie in theaters. There’s likely something to that. I note that with irony, as am in the coveted male, 18-24 demographic, yet I see maybe three movies in theaters a year. However, I do buy probably 50 DVDs minimum in the same time span. In the case of the Toy Story DVD cover, marketing people may be trying to remind people of a heartwarming ending. “Wasn’t that great? Buy the experience again!” Woody does end up fairly happy, in the end.

    The zoom-ins of all the DVD covers vs. the posters interest me. Obviously the posters of the non-animated films include the names of the principle real-world people involved. (They have to, right?) For a reason not immediately clear to me, there seems to be a desire to make the protagonists seem bigger and more immediate. Night of the Museum is the most subtle of these in terms of size, but the changing the uniform to blue has to be deliberate. It still makes him much larger than life, standing against the glowing orange. I can’t help but wonder if this has more to do with the changes than the happy vs. sad speculation.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Maybe it’s not happiness

      Making the characters bigger and “crowding” the picture elements together is done for the smaller format of the DVD cover. A movie poster exists to invite us into a world of imagination, but a DVD has to sell, and sell hard, whatever the disc has to offer. That’s why you’ll notice, in all cases (except Dolittle), the title is moved from the bottom to the top of the image — because it will be eventually stuck in a rack with a bunch of other DVDs for the consumer to flip through. The poster makes the case for the movie graphically, then gives you the title as a convincer. The DVD’s job is much different, it’s to shout the presence of the title and stars, then remind you of why you want to see the movie again.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: Maybe it’s not happiness

        And the “happy” faces are to convince you that these are people you want to spend time with and invite into your home—they convey warmth and friendliness and safety: You like us! Buy us! It’s a very different proposition from beckoning you into a movie theater.

      • samedietc says:

        Re: Maybe it’s not happiness

        remind you of why you want to see the movie again.

        That (about the job of DVD covers) helps explain why many of these compositions are busier and / or brighter: when going in to the movie for the first time, you might not know about (for instance) the army men in Toy Story, but when you’re thinking of picking it up for a second (and repeated) viewing, you can be reminded of all the parts that you (or your kids) might like to see again.

        It’s curious to me because, for most of these films, the spectator can be reasonably assured of a happy ending–the Toys will make up their differences, the museum guard will something something–but the DVD covers do more to assure that a happy ending is in store (and probably being sold to people who already know the happy ending). In that case, would a worried Woody on the DVD cover be more confusing, since everyone knows the movie is really about their coming together?

        • swan_tower says:

          Re: Maybe it’s not happiness

          It isn’t that they don’t know about the happy ending; it’s that you’ve got about .61 seconds to remind them of it. I agree with the theory that a lot of those covers are designed to sell to the audience that wants to revisit past fun, rather than experience it for the first time.

          Hey, Todd — I’d love to see a comparison of covers for movies that aren’t family comedies. Are there analogous (though, one may presume, rather different) changes for action movies and the like?

          • Todd says:

            Re: Maybe it’s not happiness

            I thought about this too — for a moment, I wanted to check to see if maybe Arnold was giving us a big toothy smile on the Terminator DVD cover. But of course, the action DVD cover has a very different job to do than the family-comedy DVD cover. It’s worth looking into whatever changes are made, though.

      • swan_tower says:

        Re: Maybe it’s not happiness

        A movie poster exists to invite us into a world of imagination

        I especially thought that with the A Bug’s Life examples. Movie poster says “ooh, hidden world of bugs! Aren’t you curious? This little glimpse I’ve given you is cute, and slightly intriguing.” DVD cover says “Remember that adorable animated movie with the blue guy? He’s happy to see you again!” The Night at the Museum examples also go from mysterious to familiar, bringing everyone more into the light. Very much feels to me like those DVDs are aimed at the audience that’s already seen and enjoyed the film. For them the mystery’s already been answered, so you want to remind them of the fun stuff.

  3. leonardpart6 says:

    To be fair about A Bug’s Life, it’s not meant to rework the poster art – for the VHS release, Disney produced four different covers, each featuring a different big-smiling character. The DVD cover simply duplicates the Flik one.

  4. maakies2 says:

    There seems to be a lot more focus on Ben Stiller’s dinosaur penis strap-on in the 3rd (British) version.

    • Anonymous says:

      Stiller also appears to be giving us “Blue Steel” in the third version.
      -Doctor Handsome

  5. I know that the theme is Disney/Pixar poster makeovers, but it seems only fair that you include the differences in other family fare, such as, say, “Antz.” While not as drastic a reversal, there are significant differences in the artwork.

    • Todd says:

      I looked at the Antz artwork, and the poster-to-DVD art is so radically different that I thought it didn’t really belong in this category. The other Dreamworks titles all start off with their characters grinning like maniacs from the get-go. Antz, of course, puts its protagonist in the triumphant pose usually reserved for movies about mentally retarded people.

      • Yeah, the transition from the white series of posters to the DVD cover is a little jarring, but there was a movie poster that showed the protagonist from a much farther distance than the DVD cover, lining up with points made earlier about the ‘zoom’ effect that seems to be popular.

        Although, truth be told, I don’t understand what I’m supposed to get from the white series of “Antz” movie posters other than there’s a movie, it has ants, and ants are small. Oh, and based on the one with the magnifying glass, ants are workers that can carry a much larger size object than their own body weight.

  6. greyaenigma says:

    I will say that a big improvement from the original Night at the Museum poster is that that corrected the T Rex from fully skinned to properly boned.