Thursday, May 8, 2014

Boys Need Mythic Merchandise To Help Fantasy Stories Stick Today and Stella McCartney Gets That (aka Maleficent [& Fairy Tales] for Boys - 2 of 2)

This is part 2 of 2 o the topic of fairy tales (especially those considered girls tales) being marketed to boys and the importance of doing exactly that. (You can find part 1 HERE.)
Today, not only is there a new "creature feature trailer" for Maleficent (harking from Walt Disney Studios Australia), there are even more creature concept designs to share! Continuing on from yesterday's post, here is part 2 of "Maleficent [& Fairy Tales] for Boys"...
First, though, here's the new trailer, which is full of Henson-esque goodness (and oh, so toyable! And yes, that's actually a real word these days... *eyeroll*)
I still only see one dragon, though, and I'm fairly sure it's Diaval... *crosses fingers for an awesome Maleficent-dragon to be revealed in the movie*
But why am I focused on this being marketed to boys? Don't boys have plenty of tales? I would argue that, especially since the "princess culture" has asserted itself over every toy store in every country, that fairy tales are in serious danger of being thought to be only for girls. If you've read any traditional collection of fairytales (I'm not even talking about Grimm's and Perrault, but the much newer, pre-princess illustrated volumes of tales) it was clear that most fairy tales were both for boys and girls.
What's so interesting to me, is that Maleficent is not being marketed primarily at little girls per say,  even though:
1) Maleficent is Disney - the same Disney that has made a mint on princess culture propaganda and
2) the original animated film is considered a "princess movie" (despite having possibly THE best Prince ever created in the Disney canon, which is going to be doubly ironic when the live action version is so two dimensional - hah!)*
My thoughts on marketing fairy tales to boys began in earnest back when Disney started changing the names of their fairy tales to sounds less... fairy tale (or, as they thought, girly). When marketing Frozen, however, (which Disney continually says "is inspired by The Snow Queen", meaning, they keep putting that fairy tale association in front of us, no matter how unlike a fairy tale it actually is), the marketing team decided they needed to grab the boy-audience early and entice them to the theater in a way they hadn't yet managed.
Enter the re-arrange-able snowman, Olaf, and a very goofy reindeer in a short film used as a teaser for the movie.

Despite my misgivings at what seemed to be an obnoxious approach, the humor of the Olaf and Sven short did, indeed, catch the attention of little boys and they weren't disappointed when they saw Olaf, Marshmallow and Sven on the screen. They even enjoyed seeing Elsa using her powers and her character be a little conflicted about the whole thing. But then, Disney kind of shot themselves in the foot (as far as marketing to boys, anyway), as there was hardly any merchandise suitable for a boy who loved the movie to acquire, keep and play with. Instead, it was Princess-city. Even the Olaf plushes were kept in the "girl's aisle" with very "girly" packaging!
I cannot tell you how unhappy my initially delighted child became. He went from not being able to stop talking about Olaf and the power of ice and snow, and even talking about Snow Queen characters, to desperately wishing Olaf wasn't part of a "girl movie". To date I have only been able to find a pair of pajamas that were suitable, one plush (that had no girly packaging) and one decent t-shirt that didn't scream "this is for girls!". Now, whenever there's mention of the movie, his, and other children's, lasting association is that it's really just a princess movie. Although I'm not as bowled over by the movie as many have been/are, this really does a disservice to everyone who worked so very (very!) hard on this movie. It also jams another giant nail into the "fairy tales are girls, only" coffin (except in cases like Jack the Giant Slayer, which, for reasons I wrote at length on yesterday, just wasn't as successful a boys fairy tale film as it should have been either).
Whoever would have thought making a fairy tale stick would rely so much on merchandise? But, I can hear you say, surely we don't have to rely on t-shirts and plushies to pass our fairy tales to our kids these days, do we? That's downright deplorable! (Isn't it?)
I don't think we have to rely on merchandise BUT I think we have a better chance of making the tales stick, if we support the telling of a tale via the means that communicate best to kids best today. It's all about passing on - and holding onto - the essence of the information, or in this case, fairy tale. While at first the thought seems strange and even objectionable, the signs have been here all along. Even the Grimm's knew if you could create something you could hold and look at whenever you wanted and grow attached to, after the fact of the tale telling, that those stories would stick better than ever before. Today that means t-shirts, costumes, plushies, dolls, video games and lunch boxes. (Yes, lunch boxes!)

Enter Maleficent and the wide array of marketing happening for this film.
I have to say, I wouldn't be surprised if the marketing team drew a giant grid on a board, listing all the various channels they could market via: music, fashion, high end accessories, dolls, pop-vinyl figures, stationary, cosmetics, costumes and cosplay, commuters, children's dress-up, classic Disney re-imaginings merchandise and newer pop culture versions, etc and what they could create for each. They even took into consideration all the social media options for sending things viral: lots of visuals, posters, "gif-able" clips, progressive image reveals, concept designs, featurettes etc etc, not to mention looked at demographics: fashion conscious women, edgy teens, social media, artists, lovers of the classic animated movie, fantasy buffs (aka LOTR & similar fans), dark fairy tale aficionados, romance fans, Disney lovers and, yes, children. (And yes, Subway is covering the "lunch totes".)
So where does it show they've been considering boys as part of their audience? It started with the trailers: first impressions of the movie were on the darker side, with powerful images of landscape changing magic and intimidating characters who needed fighting. Then came indications of a fight, the more imposing forest creatures and instead of early-gentle nature-loving Maleficent; we were shown impressive power that made a king shake in his boots, along with some serious battle scenes and the forces of nature rising up to this character's call. It was only around this time that the prettiest of images started emerging but with an underscore of ominous music which was at odds with how pretty and light these scenes looked, like the young child Aurora in a field. Then came the dragon and more knights in battle and a reveal of a landscape at war with the people. I have to say, by this point I was wondering if parents were going to be concerned about taking their little girls to this movie! My son, on the other hand, went from being concerned that this was going to be too scary to "this is awesome!". The more creatures were revealed, the more fantastic everything has seemed to him. From the cute (but still not too girly) goblins and troll-like creatures, which have assured him that there will be fun magic as well as dark, to Diaval's many forms in which he enjoys seeing the bird-like aspects of, all these remind him of... ET and The Neverending Story. I kid you not.

But this is still all pre-release, and Frozen did fine with their approach as well. What I'm already seeing as being a huge plus for my son is that, while there still isn't a whole lot, there is merchandise just for boys.  While I hope there's more, here I'm talking specifically about the Stella McCartney Maleficent children's line, who Angelina Jolie collaborated with in designing, as well as Disney, of course. (My son has already grabbed his various lego dragons, including his version of Smaug, and enacts battle scenes where the dragon wins. Having recently also watched Epic (bad name, pretty good movie), he's very interested in wild nature both in weather and in growing things and gets annoyed when people clip their trailing vines or cut down their trees.) What he's going to want, though, is a piece of Maleficent he can take home for himself, and the Stella McCartney boys' options do exactly that. (In fact, he's already begged me for both shirts, "...but if you can only choose one, Mama, please choose the trolls.").
I have been so struck regarding the difference in impact on boys in general for merchandising for this particular blockbuster fairy tale production (not just my son), and the obvious consideration for little boys of the same that was lacking in presenting Frozen, that I sent a note to the company to thank them, making sure to tell them why I thought what they were doing was so important.

It reads as follows (emphasis in bold is only for the blog post here):
To Whom It May Concern at Stella McCartney, 
A quick note to say thank you for designing some great Maleficent stuff for boys too! 
With all the marketing thrown at little boys for Frozen and hardly any Olaf products in sight my son went from loving the Olaf & Sven parts of the movie, to believing it must only be for girls, because, there was only "girls stuff" available to purchase (mostly anyway). Maleficent, with all the trolls, ents, dragons and knights etc is great for boys to sink their fantasy teeth into and seeing these products he's already more excited about seeing the film.  
I wish more people understood how much impact these items have on kids perceptions of a story and film. The merchandise they (kids) see afterward helps create the lasting associations they have with the film, and if boys are going to tap into mythic stories, we need to cater to them too - so, again, thank you.
(I should note here also, that Stella McCartney is sending a percentage of all sales to help disadvantaged children as well, which is another reason I'm considering pinching pennies and saving for one of these shirts my son wants so badly, when normally I wouldn't consider spending anywhere near that much!)
I do feel the need to add, here, that this is all before the film has been released, Perhaps it will all change after the fact and we'll have a re-run of the Frozen-is-a-girls-movie syndrome, but I really hope we don't.

In fact, I would be so very happy if legos bought the rights to making a mainstream (not a "Lego Friends" version *shudder*) construction toy for Maleficent. And then they made a lego video game... (I think I might have to go suggest this to them.)
I can tell you right now, if Disney made plushies of these troll-fae, they'll be half way to being beloved by everyone, including boys who adore ET, for generations to come!

* I'm actually wondering if Angelina Jolie, who is always thinking of her own children and continues to be a strong advocate of all children everywhere, had something to say about making sure her boys would love seeing the movie as much as the girls. I know she had a huge influence on almost every other part of the movie - from costumes and casting to directing and music - and it certainly feels that way to me. If that's the case, I am sincerely grateful to her on behalf of mothers of all little boys everywhere. 


  1. I like your view, and i agree whole heartedly. All my guy friends are like that, and now they love maleficent, too ( after i complained at them to see it for, like, a month. They are so stubborn!)

  2. Nice way to execute a post. I think you have done a fabulous work. Keep posting.
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