Why Is Pixar’s ‘UP’ Using Bait-and-Switch Advertising?

Published 6 years ago by , Updated June 6th, 2009 at 10:15 pm,

russel carl pixar up Why Is Pixars UP Using Bait and Switch Advertising?

A week ago I wrote a post about how the Weinstein Company supposedly tampered with the trailer for The Road, in order to “help” the film – which is essentially a meditative look at the bond between a father and son traveling across the ruins of America – reach a (supposedly) wider audience.

The post caused a tiny stir and even inspired a response post from Alex Billington over at First Showing, who claimed (echoing the sentiment of many readers) that I was crying foul about something that is by now a banal topic: Hollywood using bait-and-switch advertising to lure us into theaters under false pretenses.

Well, this week I find myself “crying foul” about bait-and-switch advertising once again, this time in reference to a movie I actually saw and loved. I’m talking about Disney/Pixar’s wonderful new film, UP.


If you’ve read my review of UP, then you already know that my overall opinion of the film is that it offers a surprisingly mature (and moving) look at the nature of grief and loss and how we climb back from those crushing emotions. Of course being a Pixar film, that serious undertone is dressed up as a fantastic adventure about a widower who ties a bunch of balloons to his house and flies off to explore South America. However, as I confessed in my review (and many other readers seconded) many key scenes of UP are so wrenchingly powerful, sad even, that you can’t help but be moved to tears. The film really urges you to take stock of your life and (if you’re lucky) the love in it, and (arguably) sends you away with a new appreciation for both.

While that kind of emotional resonance is a phenomenal accomplishment for an animated film (UP is clearly worthy of a Best Picture nomination, IMHO), it’s not so easy for the kids to digest. Sure, there are some silly talking dogs and a juvenile comedic foil thrown in there for the kids to enjoy and laugh at, but at its core, UP tells a very adult story.

pixar up love story Why Is Pixars UP Using Bait and Switch Advertising?

That isn’t just my opinion, either. If you check out the comment thread on my UP review you’ll see several instances of parents complaining that the film made for a bad experience for them and their children. A couple of parents even went as far as to say they had to leave the theater at the behest of their melancholy children. My first reaction to these parents was “That’s YOUR fault: Do your homework before you take your kids to a movie; never assume something is going to be OK for them just because it has a familiar brand name slapped on it.” And, truth be told, I was good with that response. I stood by it.

Flash-forward to last night: I’m sitting on my couch catching up on some summer TV when all of a sudden I catch a TV spot for UP – one of those “UP is the number one movie in America!” spots where they flash you all the names of critics and publications that have praised the film. Imagine my shock: Of all fancy names they flashed (New York Times, USA Today, Time, etc…), only one critic (Hollywood.com‘s Pete Hammond) was quoted – and then, only quoted for one word out of his entire review: “Hilarious.”

I nearly fell off the couch.

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  1. Why should Pixar put everything in the trailer? The movie is PG. Pixar is making films for both adults and kids. At my screening the kids LOVED LOVED the middle 60 minutes. The beginning and closing 15 minutes each were for the adults.
    Parents should read online reviews (thousands out there describing the film’s plot and how adults need tissues….;and decide accordingly)

  2. All I can say is ,
    I Just tell people That it is a remarkable film .
    I offer no spoilers ,
    Even to those I know who have younger kids.
    The closest I got was telling my writing teacher it was bittersweet but endearing .
    Her 3 year old daughter seemed unaffected by the sadder parts.
    As for the marketing,
    dissapointing and yet predictable .

  3. @steve utsey

    You’re missing the point. It’s not about “giving everything away,” it’s about painting the movie as one particular thing (like Toy Story) when in fact it’s quite different.

    And I can’t wait to go see it again… maybe this weekend, in 3D this time.


  4. It seems like everything has to be dumbed down these days, trailers are no exception. Lets face it, they believe the story they’re selling is more alluring than the one they’re showing. That raises a question though, why not just make the story they’re selling?

  5. Is this question really necessary? It’s called money. It’s animated so kids will go thinking it’s a comedy for kids. Why else would they make it appear that way? Kids are where the box office is at these days. Just look at the huge money makers – potter movies, hannah Montana and transformers. It’s a simple strategy.

  6. They don’t just do this sort of tactic for crappy movies. Movies that are (at least in my mind) enjoyable and entertaining movies are marketed often misleadingly. The example that pops into my mind right now is M. Night Shamalan’s The Village. It was marketed as horror, but really what really should have drawn audiences (including me) to the theaters was the mystery of the woods surrounding the village and the monsters that inhabit it.

    Oh there are so many other movies that have this sort of marketing problem, far too many for me to make mental note of the perpetrators. So while Disney/Pixar didn’t do anything unusual here, I still want to hold them to a higher standard just based on their record of successful films. Aw hell – I’m a Pixar fan and I just wish they wouldn’t pull this crap.

  7. The difficulty with a movie like “Up” is that when it comes to advertising, how exactly do you approach it? How do you sell it in such a way that a.) people will want to bring their families to it while b.) underscoring the mature aspects of the film?

    Above all, it still is a family film, only a family film that requires that parents know their children well enough to judge whether or not they are ready to deal with the issues the film brings up. How does one take all of that and put it into an ad that makes you want to go see the film (the whole point of the ad in the first place).

    I agree that the advertising is misleading regarding the underlying ideas and difficulties the film may present, but the alternative is, how exactly should one advertise it while still achieving its goal of attracting audiences? I’m still at a loss as to how that balance could be achieved.

    It’s a testament to the film, however, in its utter uniqueness that such a problem even exists. This is a film that should and probably will be analyzed by film scholars years down the line for many of the things we’re talking about now.

  8. It sounds like Disney/Pixar is using the tagline, “Hilarious” to let people know its going to cheer them up. As the economy is driving some people to pick and choose films more selectively. But true, marketing these days is all about deception. Disney has led by example in this. They spend millions on ways to get people to buy their crap.
    Other misleading films, “Land of the Lost” is chock full of Will Farrell’s adult humor and t&a. I was offended as I’m a fan of the original show. This should be a movie kids can see, but its more like an R rated film…
    The writing was interlaced with bad comedy and lame boob jokes.
    If you do see it there’s a scene halfway during the end credits. I would rate it at a 1 out of 5 stars. I’ll be amazed if LOL, pulls down big numbers.

  9. My basic question is this: why aren’t they throwing up more of the critical praise on that tv spot? Why just “hilarious”? Why not any of the reactions that say how moving or touching the film is? Why shy away from that praise? Because it may not sell as many tickets as “hilarious”? A film that has genuinely touched people like UP has should be able to celebrate its accomplishment, not have to downplay it.

  10. Most of the ads I’ve seen for the film don’t touch on any of the “moving or touching” parts.

    Keep in mind Kofi, that these films are “animated” movies.
    Overall they are made for kids…

  11. I haven’t seen, nor do I plan on seeing Land of the Lost, but if what you say is true 790, that pisses me off royally. I was astounded when the other day I learned the movie is PG-13.

    Why in the HELL does a movie based on Land of the Lost need to be pg-13?!?

    So parents will go in remembering the show from when they were kids (completely innocent) and be treated to T&A and foul humor?



  12. Land of the lost

    Vic, the way that Holly formed a bond with Chaka was to allow him to hold on to her breast. (More than once) Chaka then bonded with Farrell by grabbing his junk.

    This level of “humor” permeates the entire film…

    There’s also a long scene where they all get wasted on some psychotic fruit and then the gay humor kicks into high gear…

    Not what I expected from a Sid & Marty Krofft production.
    Now I have to call my relatives and tell them to keep the grandkids away from this. :-(

  13. Back to the topic, did anybody see Bridge to Therabitia?

    A mature movie advertised like a narnia-clone.

  14. aah haaahaaa LOL, JM,,,,

    That was funny. :-)

  15. Rob, what’s with the harsh comment?
    complete retard?, this post is interesting and welcome…

  16. lol @ ‘bait and switch’

    you’re kinda slow huh?

    most people ‘get it’.

  17. 790, did you see the movie i was talking about? Or are u just taking some kind of “revenge” for what i tell you in the HD topic?

    Bridge to Therabitia deals with a child feeling guilty for the death of his best friend, it’s not just about imaginary monsters, but i guess you didnt get it (if you indeed saw it)

    Well, maybe youre the target audience for misleading advertising anyway 😀

  18. No JM, I wouldn’t waste my time watching that film, actually I was amused by your comment,
    “Let’s get back on topic, did anybody see Bridge to Therabitia?”

    As the topic is “Up”, unless the film deals with a similar theme “the loss of a friend” I wouldn’t know as I couldn’t careless about “Up”.

    I just found Kofi’s point interesting and needed an avenue to vent about LOTL.
    I was going to post my comments on “Open Discussion” but this one seemed to workout…


  19. @ JO & Rob

    Guess you guys aren’t what we call “readers” because you’re insulting me for reasons I clearly address in the post:

    I’m not naive. I know Hollywood uses bait & switch to fill theaters. My problem is why is a movie that has already earned good buzz through critical reaction and audience word of mouth for being “moving” and “beautiful” and “one of the best films of the year” STILL trying to present itself in commercials as being a child’s adventure comedy??? This film is more adult than childlike, in fact the whole point of it is letting go of the past (a.k.a. more youthful times) and enjoying life in the present (a.k.a. your later years).

    These advertisements could easily sell the film using quotes from other reviewers about how moving and beautiful it is, but they’re not. IMO the touting the film as an Oscar-worthy achivement or even something adults should see WOULD FILL MORE SEATS!!! It would appeal to the vast demographic that still thinks UP is just for kids. It’s a better business model.

    And Rob, I would LOVE for you to write a post that’s this thoughtful and intelligent. I’d love for you to write a sentence that thoughtful and intelligent. Double-dare you.

  20. @JM

    Terabithia, that was probably the most egregious example of this ever.

    BTW, for any new folks – any comments that are highly witty and erudite along the lines of “You’re a retard” or “this article is stupid” will be deleted.

    Have a nice day.


  21. That is too bad about Land of the Lost. That was one of my favorite shows growing up as a kid and it is sad that it has to be reduced to potty humor. They really could have made it a great action oriented family film, even with Ferrell. It should have been more “Elf” than “Stepbrothers.”

  22. Kofi, thanks for the article. I can’t name them off the top of my head, but I’ve certainly taken note of this way too many times before, and it’s rather annoying. While I haven’t seen Up yet, I’ll give them a pass on this though.

    In fact, I’d give pretty much all movies targeted toward little kids a break. Not because I think it’s appropriate, but because kids are only who they want to target. The final say isn’t, and shouldn’t be, up to the studio. Growing up, my parents screened movies before letting us see them and that’s a tradition I plan on continuing when I have kids.

    Also, I have to wonder what other directions you would have had them go, with the commercial. Since I don’t know what the rest of the film is like, I am genuinely curious.

  23. I just wrote something up about Land of the Lost – it makes this look like NOTHING.

    Check it out on the home page.


  24. I agree 100%. I really want to go see this, but I’ve thought of it as a kids movie until I read this article, and my girlfriend is dead against seeing it probably for the same reasons. I mostly wanted to see it because I wanted a good silly film to watch.

    Would I be disappointed? Maybe if that’s what I wanted when I walked into the theater. Quit trying to sell, and let it be what it is. Good movies will always make money, especially for those who are interested in it.

  25. @Vic

    Im made that comment based on my personal experience. I knew nothing about that movie and the book, saw the trailer and i thought, as many people i can tell, that was a narnia kind of movie.

    Sorry if you didnt feel the same, but that was my first impression when i saw the trailer and the movie was a completely different thing.

  26. @JM

    Dude, I was agreeing with you. :-)


  27. I agree with you, there’s more to the movie than just “hilarious.” It was something, much, much more, and this is exactly what movie-makers WANT!! They want a movie that moves across the spectrum, and to just focus on one aspect is disingenuous and “bait-and-switch.” They need to be honest, and by being honest, it will only serve them in the long run. Yeah, I’m disappointed, too.

    I love the film and can’t wait to see it again.

  28. I have always been a lover/hater of those wonderful individuals who cut the trailers for movies. They can, when given the freedom to do so, to put together a trailer that neither gives away the story or ending of a movie and allows us to decide in those few seconds or couple of minutes whether or not we want to see this film (this a rare beast and only exists for very small independent films or Pluto Nash, take your pick).

    Then, there are those trailers commissioned by the Powers-That-Be, who in their very finite wisdom, decide that they don’t want to play UP the fact that UP threads a very adult themed story wonderfully with the standard Pixar fun ride, and that some families here just might WANT to take their kids to see this kind of family fair.

    But to be fair to them (Disney/Pixar), they didn’t exactly go out of their way to advertise that Bambi’s mom dies or the scene where the young boy has to shoot Old Yeller, so this may be just keeping with the ‘tradition’ of keeping in the elements of the film that will draw in the greater audience (or I could be wrong…been a while since I’ve seen the original trailers for those two).

    I understand what your saying, and maybe we shouldn’t get too complacent and allow for the studios to think that this kind of advertisement is okay in all cases, especially where the film is being targeted towards a specific audience and they are maybe alienating a much larger demographic or purposefully ignoring an audience that might come and see their film because it has target specific elements that they don’t think would bring families in, and of course families is what Disney/Pixar is all about.

    Perhaps next time they come out with a product like UP, they should test a trailer specifically aimed at showing those elements that to me make UP a very adult friendly film that will have the tears rolling down the face and really make the grown ups WANT to go see the movie and feel that they HAVE to go see it.

    Just my opinion of course 😉

  29. @Vic

    Oops! Sorry 😀 i’ve misread.