An Absurdly Deep Dive into the History of 4Kids | Part 11: Playing Their Cards Wrong (2004 cont.)

The Pokemon movies and show were declining in popularity, but 4Kids still had a massive franchise as a backup – good ol’ Yu-Gi-Oh!…….Which was also declining in popularity, but still good ol’ Yu-Gi-Oh! Unfortunately, while Pokemon had a movie coming out every year, Yu-Gi-Oh! had no movies whatsoever (not counting the movie based on Yu-Gi-Oh! Season Zero.) To rectify this situation and help reinvigorate the series, 4Kids commissioned Studio Gallop, the original animation studio for the series in Japan, to make a Yu-Gi-Oh! movie specifically for an American audience – Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie: The Pyramid of Light.

Now I’m going to need you to follow me here, because this is confusing. It’s unclear who controlled this movie’s production, but I’m going to bet it was 4Kids since the intended audience was clearly American and they were the ones funding everything. Al Kahn and Norman Grossfeld, President of 4Kids Productions, were producers on the movie. All of the producers, in fact, were listed as employees from 4Kids Productions. In addition, the production companies are listed as 4Kids Entertainment and Studio Gallop.

As for who wrote it, I checked the credits in the movie, and it credits the original story to Junki Takegami and Masahiro Hikokubo. The screenplay was credited to Matthew Drdek, Lloyd Goldfine, Norman Grossfeld and Michael Pecoriello. The only reason that confuses me is because “adaptation” is never in the credits whereas it always is in the credits for their TV shows. Crediting the translation work is also typically in the credits for the TV show. Also, saying they wrote the screenplay, not just the dubbed script implies they did more in regards to dictating the story and even the animation than simply adapting the script. Again, it’s a confusing situation, and feel free to inform me if there’s something I’m missing. This is just the way I’m interpreting things from the information I’ve gathered.

I originally thought that 4Kids left this movie more or less alone in the paint department since the movie was specifically crafted for them, but no. The original version of the movie had all of the on-screen text in English, which is weird because usually they put Japanese text on screen. You’d think this was at the request of 4Kids so they wouldn’t have to paint as much, but no. 4Kids decided to do something very weird. Admittedly, the English in the Japanese version is not good. But it’s just filler text – it doesn’t matter much. 4Kids didn’t care, so they replaced all of the on-screen text with their own text.

They even put in little 4Kids Easter eggs. In the newspaper Solomon is reading, the photographs are credited to Matt Drdek, Lloyd Goldfine and Norman Grossfeld, while the article itself is credited to Michael Pecoriello…..It’s really weird, honestly.

Sub:

Dub:

Most notably, 4Kids decided to replace the Japanese cards with exact copies of their English counterparts, which was quite the surprise to fans. In the TV show, 4Kids was restricted to painting over the cards to only show the artwork, the card type color, the monster type icon, the attack and defense points and the level stars. The reason for this was FCC restrictions on showing real-life merchandise in kids’ shows. Since the FCC doesn’t control theatrically released movies, 4Kids could show the cards full out. You could say this was 4Kids’ magnum opus of advertising.

However, there are some visual errors with the cards in the English version. Sometimes, the images are mirrored, and there are times when copies of a card show up when there are several cards on screen. The most famous example of this is when Yugi’s cards fly up in his face and you can see two Winged Dragon of Ra cards.

This errors aren’t present in the Japanese version.

Despite all of the confusion, this may seem like a perfect situation, right? If 4Kids is helping with the production of the movie, nothing will need to be cut, right?

No.

Apparently, despite the fact that 4Kids was basically orchestrating this entire movie, for the most part, they still had to remove 12 minutes of footage from the movie in order to make it 90 minutes, supposedly for the sake of future TV broadcasts, which I don’t think ever happened, but I don’t know for sure. (Edit: It was recently brought to my attention that it did air on TV at least once on Toonami on July 30, 2005) I don’t quite understand this because when 4Kids aired Pokemon: Destiny Deoxys on TV, they edited the movie down by 15 minutes as well, but they kept the full version on the DVD. Why did they release the broadcast edit of Pyramid of Light in theaters and on the DVD? The full 102 minute version was released in Japan. A lot of it seems like superfluous bits and pieces to build up to 12 minutes, so many of the shots are split-second, reaction or establishing shots.

This same Reddit user who posted that compilation claims the script was also drastically changed to near Pokemon the First Movie levels, but that’s a bold claim that I don’t think is true. I’ll refrain from making that my adamant opinion, though, as I have never watched either version outside of the deleted scenes reel and the bits and pieces I watched to double check some things. They really should have at least released the uncut version on DVD, especially since nothing seems cut for the sake of content or censoring etc.

The Yugipedia entry does say the two versions are substantially different, but outside of the aforementioned 12 minutes cut, they don’t list anything I would consider too drastic. Anubis speaks “Ancient Egyptian” much more in the dub when he didn’t in the Japanese version. The Dagger of Fate was turned into a plot device for one scene when it wasn’t mentioned there in the Japanese version. I do intend on making a review for this movie sometime in the future, so I’ll have to see for myself down the line.

Speaking of changes, though, they actually let this movie get away with a hell of a lot. Alcohol was left in. Several instances of violence that would have been cut from TV airings were left in. The pentagram on Dark Magician Girl, which was usually painted away, was left alone. Injection Fairy Lily kept her hypodermic needle instead of having it changed to the rocket that it usually is on the broadcast cut. They make direct references to death and say “die”. Most shockingly, though, they allow Kaiba to say “Spare me your bull about friendship, will you?”

4Kids did the most marketing they’ve done since the original Pokemon movie. They had several Yu-Gi-Oh! cards given away at theaters with the purchase of a ticket – Pyramid of Light, Sorcerer of Dark Magic, Watapon and Blue-Eyes Shining Dragon. They were given away in booster pack foil wrappers so moviegoers wouldn’t know which card they got until they opened them.

4Kids also made another deal with Burger King to give promotional toys for the movie away with Big Kids’ Meals. This time, they gave away little paper pyramids that covered plastic Millennium Puzzles that contained small toys of various Duel Monsters such as Kuriboh, Pumpking: King of Ghosts, Catapult Turtle, Silver Fang, Parrot Dragon, Time Wizard, Rocket Warrior, Baby Dragon, Big Shield Gardna, Labyrinth Tank and more. There were 20 toys and 100 pyramid puzzle pieces, which either came in gold, silver, pewter or bronze.

This time McDonalds also got in on the promotional material. They gave away a variety of 15 cards – all of which, in my opinion, being hot garbage, barring maybe Cosmo Queen and Millennium Shield.

They also released the vocal soundtrack, including a track by, of all groups, the Black Eyed Peas. The score was never released as a soundtrack in America, only Japan. One of the composers for the film, Joel Douek, did release the soundtrack unofficially on his Youtube channel, however. What I find most funny is, in the movie, right after the first credit to Kazuki Takahashi, before any of the other credits run, they put “Soundtrack available on 4Kids Lane Records.” on its own title card on screen. They REALLY wanted people to buy the soundtrack.

Oddly, 4Kids, along with Viz Media, made an ani-manga exclusively for the movie that was released in America, Italy and France. Basically, they just snipped screencaps from the movie and added comic text bubbles and sound effect text to turn it into a comic/manga. Each version of the ani-manga was released with a special promotional card. Americans got Slifer the Sky Dragon, the French got Theinen the Great Sphinx, and Italy got Blue-Eyes Shining Dragon. A preview ani-manga was even given out in 2004’s Comic-Con International.

Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie: The Pyramid of Light released in US theaters on August 13, 2004. It did poorly at the box office, and, though it didn’t perform nearly as badly as the Pokemon movies had been for the past few years, it was easily trumped by the first three Pokemon movie releases. However, considering 4Kids foot the bill for this whole project, it’s hard to say that it balances out for them. The presumed budget for this movie was $20 mil, and the total gross domestic box office returns was $19,762,690 with $29,170,410 worldwide. Considering all of the money 4Kids also injected into marketing and whatever money would need to go back to the Japanese production studio, it’s suffice to say they didn’t make much money on this movie. It’s noted on most sources as being a critical and commercial failure.

Their Television and Film Production revenues for the year the movie was released only went up about $5mil from 2003. If we want to be really optimistic, that can be a rough estimate of how much the movie netted for 4Kids, but the exact numbers are unclear since numerous properties are included in that figure. Either way, it’s safe to assume they were expecting much bigger numbers. However, it did stand as the third most successful anime movie released in theaters in America upon its release. As of this writing, it stands as sixth.

Critically, however, the movie fared abysmally, even worse than the worst received Pokemon movies. Critics even more strongly suggested moviegoers to stay away unless they were already fans of the franchise since, admittedly, Yu-Gi-Oh! does have a much steeper learning curve when thrown into it immediately than Pokemon, and they were purposefully inserting this movie immediately after the Battle City arc (and spoiling the ending of that arc in the process, which couldn’t have made fans happy since the last episodes of the arc hadn’t aired at the time. Whoops.)

It was ranked 68th in Rotten Tomatoes list of 100 Worst Reviewed Films of the 2000s, and it is currently the second lowest rated animated movie on Metacritic – The Emoji Movie taking the bottom spot. Across the board, the movie is viewed as dull, boring, nonsensical, badly drawn and animated (I can attest that the movie’s animation is even worse than it is in the TV series), with an extremely thin plot. Even reviews made by fans of the series go so far as to say it’s garbage and didn’t even suggest watching the movie if the producers had a gun to your head, claiming it’s preferable to just get shot. Geez. At best, I saw some fan say it’s okay for fans, it’s not the worst thing in the world, and that was about the height of it.

The movie is mostly considered non-canon since the events and the main villain, Anubis, don’t get referenced outside of this movie. The English version of the show makes some vague references in the future, but that’s it.

The movie was released on DVD and VHS on November 16, 2004 with really no actual bonus features barring a cinematic trailer and two music videos.

As for Japan….They did not give a damn about this movie. I really don’t think they even wanted to acknowledge the movie in the slightest. They really wanted to keep this out of Yu-Gi-Oh!’s canon and likely didn’t think their Japanese audience would take to it anyway. It was a paycheck for Studio Gallop above all else, I think. Mostly a win-win because 4Kids was really the one taking the financial risk. It was released in Japanese theaters in an extremely limited capacity on November 3, 2004. It was then aired on TV Tokyo on January 2, 2005, and that was about it for Japan’s acknowledgment of the movie. As far as I know, it was never released in any home video format in Japan. It just kinda disappeared.

Interestingly, though, they did release an exclusive novelization of the movie in Japan written by Junki Takegami. It is insanely rare, never released State-side and is out of print.

Overall, in 2004, 4Kids did okay. They did about as well as they did in 2003, earning $103,306,000 in net revenues, up just slightly from $102,079,000 in 2003, their production costs were slightly higher at $10,029,000 from $7,819,000 in 2003, and their net income was $12,730,000, which was down a bit from $14,799,000 in 2003.

In lawsuit land, Summit Media was in the crosshairs again, this time by Telamerica Cable Connect or TCC involving the purchase of advertising units for use on ABC Family, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. TCC apparently didn’t provide proper documentation for their delivery and purchase of these units, so Summit refused to pay them. TCC demanded Summit pay $234,000 plus interest for the money they owed. In response, Summit countersued for $150,000. They had an arbitration hearing scheduled for May 2005, but they opted to just settle the matter themselves. The countersuit was dismissed, they settled out of court, and Summit wound up paying TCC $112,000.

Next – Part 12: Out of the Box

Previous – Part 10: One Piece in Pieces


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