As 4Kids entered 2002, they were sitting fairly pretty. They now had two successful cash cow franchises under their belts along with a slue of other non-anime-related licensing deals to create various sources of income. In 2000, they had even topped Fortune’s 100 Fastest Growing Companies list. It seemed 4Kids was overdue to be hoist from their petard and make their first big fumble.
As 4Kids was dubbing the fourth season of Pokemon, Johto League Champions, they dubbed the fourth Pokemon movie, Pocket Monsters the Movie: Celebi – A Timeless Encounter, and retitled it Pokemon 4Ever, which is a title that has so many hilarious layers to it, especially in hindsight, it’s almost impressive.
Since Pokemon’s returns were on the decline, especially in the theaters, Warner Bros. bowed out of distributing the fourth Pokemon movie, meaning 4Kids had to find someone else to take the reins. Why they chose Miramax is unclear, but the company was owned by Disney at the time, and Disney had recently been dipping their toes in the anime market after gaining the dubbing and distribution rights to Studio Ghibli movies to varying degrees of success.
Their first Ghibli outing, Kiki’s Delivery Service, was a fairly strong success, but when they gave another Ghibli title, Princess Mononoke, to their subsidiary, Miramax, things did not go nearly as well.
Miramax was helmed by famed piece of burning ultra garbage, Harvey Weinstein, and he wanted to make significant cuts to the film. According to Production Manager, Steve Alpert, who had spent 15 years as Senior Executive at Studio Ghibli, Weinstein wanted to cut 45 minutes from the film, even though he reportedly had promised Hiyao Miyazaki that he wouldn’t cut the film at all. Alpert told him Miyazaki would never agree to that. In response, Weinstein rationally and calmly…..yelled at the top of his lungs in a fit of unbridled rage, “‘If you don’t get him to cut the fucking film you will NEVER WORK IN THIS FUCKING INDUSTRY AGAIN! DO YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND ME?!! NEVER!!’”
Alpert, who didn’t get him to cut the fucking film, would go on to work in that fucking industry for another decade before retiring and becoming an author discussing his experiences in that fucking industry.
In response to the news that Weinstein intended on cutting the film, one of Miyazaki’s producers famously sent Weinstein a katana with a message that said simply “No cuts.” Disney’s deal with Ghibli required the company and Miyazaki have consent over any changes, a clause that was likely spurred from being burned by Manson International when they dubbed and horrifically mutilated Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Weinstein was massively pissed at this rejection.
In an interview in 2002, when asked about his penchant of heavily editing films acquired from foreign markets, Weinstein replied, “I’m not cutting for fun. I’m cutting for this shit to work. All my life, I’ve served one master: the film. I love movies.”
Speaking of which, guys, I love paintings. I love them so much I bought The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali. Then I cut it up into tiny pieces, threw away a bunch of them, and superglued what was left, grabbed a Sharpie and drew a butt farting. Thank god. Now American audiences can finally appreciate this wonderful painting.
Princess Mononoke was released uncut, but was not very successful financially upon initial release. It made Disney so wary of their new territory that they didn’t release the already-dubbed Castle in the Sky until 2003, after their release of Spirited Away, this time handled by John Lasseter of Pixar, did significantly better, even if it still wasn’t a massive financial success.
Which brings us back around to the question of why 4Kids chose Miramax. If they’re so geared towards money, why would they choose a company whose only anime title under their belt wasn’t very successful and had been lead by someone like Harvey Weinstein?
Harvey Weinstein had only offered $1mil up front to get the international distribution rights to Pokemon Movies 04 and 05 from 4Kids, but he also offered 75% of back-end profits, which is a very good deal in the long term. Chances are that they also didn’t have that many companies vying for the rights anyway, so Miramax won out.
Harvey Weinstein was reportedly very optimistic about the movies’ future success State-side, despite the fact that the fandom was waning, and the movies had been in such a steady decline since the first entry that low profits was the reason Warner Bros. gave up to begin with. Weinstein thought he could “reinvigorate” the Pokemon franchise and that they’d come up with a “bolder, smarter marketing concept.” which is equally confusing.
4Kids technically wasn’t doing anything wrong in the marketing department. Interest in the franchise was just decreasing, and that’s to be expected, to some degree. Original fans were growing out of Pokemon a bit, and newer younger fans had yet to come into it. It’s true 4Kids lightened up on advertising as the movies went on, but that was probably because they knew the returns, no matter the marketing, weren’t going to be as strong as based on their numbers for revenue from the TV show and whatever they got from toys, games and the TCG. Plus, they might be able to gauge success based on how well the movie did in the Japanese box office.
There wasn’t much wrong with the franchise either – it’s just that the movies weren’t heralding as much attention. And that also makes sense because initial interest in a brand-new franchise that had already exploded elsewhere would most likely be incredible. The second entry would lose its initial mystique, but still be very appealing. People would start to get a little tired of the formula by the third.
Not to mention that, the more the series goes on, the more niche it gets. Moviegoers who aren’t very familiar with the series won’t feel compelled to watch installments of a movie franchise beyond the first one unless they become fans of the TV show or games after that. Pokemon the First Movie was more or less accessible to everyone because it was new to pretty much everyone. It was a starting point, even if it did have a slight learning curve in catching onto Pokemon names and certain mechanics.
The same cannot be said for sequels. Even if fans understand that they’re usually contained stories, people who are less familiar might not. If you ask someone if they want to watch a first movie of any franchise, there’s a much higher chance they’ll agree than if you ask if they want to watch the fourth without having seen the first three. I imagine that’s why they constantly introduce every single Pokemon movie with ‘The World of Pokemon’ intro. You have to give a baseline each time to help catch any new people up with how this world works.
What makes this claim even more confusing is that Miramax did the polar opposite of what they said they would do. They didn’t reinvigorate the movie franchise – they brought it out behind a shed to beat it with a rake.
Apparently, Weinstein’s idea of “bolder, smarter marketing concept(s)” is to basically do as little promotion as humanly possible. They made precisely one poster for it, which also ended up being the DVD art, one trailer (TrailerAddict has two listed, but they’re both EXACTLY the same barring the slight change to the Miramax Films logo….) which I can’t remember seeing anywhere whatsoever, and only released the movie in very few theaters. To put it into perspective, Pokemon the First Movie was released in 3,043 theaters. Pokemon the Movie 2000 was released in 2,752 theaters. Pokemon 3 was released in 2,675 theaters.
Pokemon 4Ever was released in……..
249 theaters overall.
No, that’s not a typo.
Wizards and 4Kids apparently still wanted to do their card promo, so, once again, any lucky American theatergoer to actually know that this movie existed and was in a theater near them could obtain a promotional Celebi card with their ticket purchase as long as supplies lasted. And supplies did last, because no one saw this movie in theaters. A promotional Suicune card would be included in the later DVD release.
Obviously, Pokemon 4Ever was not financially successful….at all.
In its opening weekend, Pokemon 3 managed to snag around $8.2 million.
In its opening weekend, Pokemon 4Ever scrounged together $717,061.
Again, no, that’s not a typo.
Pokemon 3 ended its run with a return of $17,052,128 from the box office.
Pokemon 4Ever ended its run with a return of $1,727,239.
One last time. Not a typo.
Pokemon 4Ever had become the franchise’s first complete flop.
But not all of the blame can be put on Miramax’s shoulders….Although, a lot of it can be. Not only did 4Kids not do nearly as much of its own promotion as it normally would, not making any new toys or anything as far as I can see, but 4Kids also mutilated this movie so badly that it was being compared with the first movie in that it had so much altered and, oddly, added to it instead of removed.
4Kids, in one of their most confusing moves ever, contracted out the original animation company of Pokemon, OLM, to have three new scenes added to the movie. The reason for two of these scenes was for the sake of making the ‘big twist’ of the movie be more obvious to the audience, even though it absolutely 1000% didn’t have to be. Not only was it already fairly easy to figure out given the clues the original already had, but the revelation wasn’t anything significant or mind-bending. It was more like a ‘Huh…..okay.’ kind of thing. However, those at 4Kids didn’t get this twist when they watched it, so they decided they needed to make it more obvious for kids, even if the twist has absolutely no bearing on the movie at all besides basically being a cool Easter egg.
The third scene was the most confusing. It was an entirely pointless scene of Team Rocket just kinda bantering and having a slight moment of slapstick. It didn’t contribute to the big reveal at all, so why they bothered having that scene made is a huge mystery. There’s no information on how much 4Kids spent to have these scenes made for the movie, but the more petty side of me hopes it was more than $1,727,139.
In a very surprising, but welcome, move, 4Kids did keep the soundtrack to the movie barring the opening theme song and the end credits song. I have no idea why. I would say it was to save money, but their completely flippant waste of however much money they spent on the extra scenes blows that idea out of the water. Some people speculate they started having issues with The Pokemon Company or Nintendo about replacing the soundtracks, but I can’t find anything concrete on any theory. As a result, this is the first Pokemon movie without an accompanied English soundtrack. There is a Japanese one, but it was never released in the west.
Unlike the previous two movies, which had only received slightly better critic reviews as they went on, Pokemon 4Ever’s critical response was very much negative, earning it the reputation of being the worst film of the four that had been released at the time, with many critics claiming it was dull, boring, paced poorly and emotionally manipulative.
As with the first three movies, the fourth installment also premiered with a short, this time Pikachu’s Pikaboo. However, for the first time ever, the short was not included in the theatrical release. Yet again flipping on their head, 4Kids did absolutely no editing to the short outside of just changing the title card to an English one and creating new theme songs. They even kept the end credits sequence, which leads me to believe they knew Miramax wasn’t going to include the short in theaters and were perfectly fine with that.
Speaking of Miramax, it’s time to shift speculation on this situation to something a little more sinister.
I’ve been keeping something from you. One of the worst things to happen to the Pokemon movies, at least internationally.
When Miramax bought the international distribution rights to Pokemon 4Ever and Pokemon Heroes, and later Movies 06 and 07, because for some reason they thought it was a good idea to give them the rights to even more movies after this disaster, they bought them permanently. As in, to this day they still have the international distribution rights to Movies 04-07. And TPC cannot do a damn thing about it. They can’t get the international rights back, they can’t stream any of the English dubbed movies on Pokemon TV or release the movies outside of Asia. Not even Disney XD was allowed to air the movies on TV when it aired a Pokemon marathon after they gained some distribution rights. Miramax or Paramount, who currently owns Miramax, are the only ones who can.
It seems this wasn’t out of character either as Weinstein had made a habit out of shady business practices like this, such as putting a hold on the release of certain films, particularly foreign films and arty films, so he could abuse a loophole in a bonus deal he had made with Jeffery Katzenberg and make as much money as he possibly could for himself. As Edward Jay Epstein of Slate put it, he was “hemorrhaging rivers of red ink.”
Miramax clearly did a better job promoting the DVD release than they did the theatrical release. I actually remember commercials for the Pokemon 4Ever DVD release constantly playing on TV, and it did both alert me to the fact that this movie existed and prompted me to buy a copy.
My conspiratorial head believes Miramax initially set it up for a permanent deal so they could keep milking DVD and other home video releases forever, even if they only got 25% of the share. Getting 25% of the back-end of a largely expensive theater release that would compare with the previous three movies, while also paying for promotional materials, and getting pitiful returns likely didn’t seem appealing to them. Churning out cheap DVDs and milking them until the end of time was likely much more appealing, especially if they could lure more people into buying the DVD by including the exclusive short, Pikachu’s Pikaboo, on it.
Pokemon was still very popular, and they likely figured it would still have a consistent following for years, even if the hype was dying down. They would still keep making money on the DVDs no matter what, and the theatrical releases were likely part of the contract (at least for Movies 04 and 05) that they simply had to uphold. At any rate, they would certainly make back their $1mil investment and then some.
However, this situation is still confusing because they’ve largely ignored these movies for years. They have been re-released a couple of times, but not to anywhere near the extent you’d think would be necessary to justify not just selling the rights back to TPC, whom I’m sure would pay reasonably for them.
What’s especially insulting is that Miramax basically scammed people with the re-releases. Despite the original DVD having the short, multiple special features and subtitles, the re-releases it had after that didn’t have the short, any other special features or subtitles, even though all of those things were listed on the covers. The only thing the re-releases have over the initial release is being in 16:9 widescreen instead of the cropped 4:3. What’s even funnier is that they released a Blu-Ray collector’s set containing all four of the held movies (on one disc) in 2012 and, again, they just re-used the poster art for Pokemon 4Ever for the box art.
This cover doesn’t even say which movies (in a manner that kinda misleads you into thinking that it has the first four movies, not Movies 04-07) or includes some of the other Legendaries to the front. It’s one of the laziest DVD covers for a movie collection I’ve ever seen.
What’s confuses me even more is why 4Kids and/or TPC even let Miramax buy the permanent international rights. 75% of the back-end profits is appealing, but, if you ask me, running risk of a company – one that barely has any experience whatsoever with anime, the experience they did have was terrible, and was lead by the human embodiment of all things awful – holding your films hostage forever doesn’t seem worth it.
But 4Kids being 4Kids, they were frequently planning for bigger things. Right as everything was being mucked up with Miramax, 4Kids was making a deal to expand their anime reach even further.
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