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WTF: What’s Wrong with Targeting an Audience?

Over the years, I have developed a bit of a reputation by local critic friends as being an apologist for the Walt Disney company. I am routinely chided and ridiculed by colleagues and radio show hosts for giving relatively positive reviews to films like Beverly Hills Chihuahua, High School Musical 3: Senior Year and this week’s new release of Hannah Montana: The Movie.

But I stand by my reviews and opinions, which stretch beyond the Mouse House to other films like Paul Blart: Mall Cop and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. These are all movies that didn’t appeal to the average stuffy film critic. Rather, they targeted their audience and proved time and again that movies can do well without the support of the rabid online fanboys or local art-scene gurus.

Case in point… I was at a screening of Hannah Montana: The Movie earlier this week, and the audience with populated with young girls and their parents. And these kids frickin’ loved the movie.

I was one of the few local critics that showed up to the screenings, but I don’t really blame those that stayed home. After all, critics who write for online men’s magazines or review films for the local NPR station don’t really need to be covering Hannah Montana: The Movie for their audience. In fact, I’m sure that an online outlet targeting males ages 18 to 35 isn’t the ideal audience for Hannah Montana (unless they have daughters at home or are just your garden variety pervert).

But I do blame the various folks I’ve talked to about the film afterwards who didn’t think the movie did enough to reach an audience outside of Hannah Montana’s television and pop music fan base.

Case in point, after watching the film, I was talking with the son of one of the local reps. He complained that he didn’t really like the movie, an my response to him was, “Well, what did you expect? You’re also not an eleven-year-old girl.”

Later, as I was preparing radio spots with hosts in various markets, I was asked if the film reached out to anyone beyond the audience that watches the show on television. And that led me to say…

What the financial cash cow?

Why should a film like Hannah Montana: The Movie try to reach a greater audience? The movie had a modest budget and was specifically targeting the tween girls. This formula has proved very profitable in the past, with Miley Cyrus’ 3-D concert movie last year raking in the dough.

This would be like expecting Kevin Smith to have tried to speak to the tween audience with his film Zack & Miri Make a Porno… or for last week’s inexplicable box office champion Fast & Furious to have tried to connect with the born-again Christian crowd.

Sometimes, filmmakers have to try for a greater audience when their movie costs so much that it can’t live on fan support alone. The box office disappointment that was Watchmen is a great example of a movie that was brilliantly done but didn’t connect with a wider audience, even though it needed to in order to justify its reported $120 million budget.

What’s wrong with targeting an audience? The Walt Disney Company is unapologetic about making movies and television shows for a very narrow demographic, and they have been wildly profitable doing this. (I’d love to be able to cash in on this media machine… wouldn’t you?)

Are films like Beverly Hills Chihuahua, High School Musical and the Hannah Montana product line bad movies? If you’re looking for something deep and contemplative that will be a serious contender for the Best Picture Oscar… then sure they are.

But they are made for a specific audience. They are marketed to that audience. And anyone who sees these movies expecting it to be something more than what they are is an utter fool.

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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