It’s expected that a blockbuster like “Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen” get nonsensical tie-ins like Strawberry-Peanut Butter M&Ms — junk movies spawn junk food. And we don’t squawk in protest at “Twilight: New Moon” band-aids, if only because it takes a certain amount of wit (or, uh, greed) to propose using a vampire’s face to stop bleeding. But then there are our auteurs, our artists, whose work is challenging, unusual, not just empty entertainment. Clearly, they, of all people…do not deserve marketing and merchandising?
McDonald’s has a “Fantastic Mr. Fox” Happy Meal, which brought out the fiend in the Guardian‘s Ryan Gilbey, who fumed that this wouldn’t “be noteworthy in the slightest if the film in question were some DreamWorks piece of junk, or a knock-off directed by a hack,” but that Anderson “should not be getting into bed with McDonald’s, and using his work to lure young children into destructive eating habits,” because he taints his work. “True art, it seems, can co-exist after all with moist, defeated cheeseburgers and limp, glossy French fries,” he snipes. “I do hope Cahiers du Cinema got the memo.”
Well, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has plenty of animation and action for the kids, but the dialogue also makes zero compromises for them, so from a studio perspective the McDonald’s tie-in makes a lot of practical sense — it’s an attempt to get people to see the film as just another kid’s flick. The Anderson fans are accounted for already (and aren’t enough by themselves to make the movie profitable), it’s everyone else that needs persuading.
Arguably, filmmakers have an obligation to do everything they can think of to get people to see their films if they want to work with larger budgets (for, say, a pricey stop motion feature) and be financially responsible. But also, Gilbey’s assumption that because Anderson is famously controlling he has major say over what the studio does with his film once its been completed is naïve. Anderson’s last few films haven’t been huge box office draws — why would he be able to insist his film be excluded from a corporate deal Fox made in May?
McDonald’s is a (deservedly) easy target; no one seems to be whining about, say, “Where The Wild Things Are”‘s tie-in Uggs, not even the kind of overwrought college activists who cover themselves with fake blood to protest the fact that the boots are made of sheepskin. (Personally, I’d like them more if they claimed they were made from the fur of actual wild things.) The issue here isn’t the “ethics” of getting in bed with McDonald’s as one evil corporation in particular. It’s really about the old issue of “selling out.”
“Selling out,” incidentally, is something the music kids got over years ago, the moment bands realized they could quit their day jobs if they sold their music for ad use. And film is a much more expensive business. It would, admittedly, be sad if those previously skinny kids who are fans of Anderson somehow got sucked into a french fry spiral of obesity because of this partnership. Now then: would you care for a Margot Tenenbaum Menthol?
[Photos: “Twilight: New Moon” bandages. Available now at Hot Topic and elsewhere]