How Disney has sold the latest adaptation of a famous efficiency study.
That Cheaper By The Dozen – and the two previous film versions from 1950 and 2003 – is an adaptation of what amounts to a slightly fictionalized version of a real-time study in productivity and efficiency is probably lost on most modern audiences. The original 1948 novel was based on the true experiences of Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth and their brood of 12 children, the latter studied by their parents for how to run a tight, efficient household with so much going on.
Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff step into the roles of Zoe and Paul Baker. After the pair were married they merged their existing families and added to it, resulting in the 12 kids running roughshod over their house, schedules and lives, all while trying to run their own business.
Where the 1950 film with Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy remained somewhat loyal to the source novel, the 2003 version with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt played as a much broader comedy, a trend this iteration seems to continue. With the movie about to arrive on Disney+, let’s take a look at how it’s been marketed.
announcements and casting
The project first got started in 2016 when Kenya Barris said he was producing a new version of the story for, at the time, 20th Century Fox. It became a Disney+ original film in 2019 when Disney acquired Fox.
Disney made news of the movie being in the works officially during its presentation to investors in late, 2020. Union’s casting was revealed at that time, with Braff joining early in 2021.
Union and Braff shared a brief video update announcing a March 2022 release on Disney+ Day in November of last year.
the marketing campaign
The trailer (1.1m YouTube views) was released in early February. It opens by showing the size of Zoe and Paul’s family and the logistics necessary to keep everything moving as well as how their unusual family structure is sometimes viewed as odd by those on the outside. The focus here is largely on the antics the kids get into, especially the younger ones, and the often flummoxed reaction of Paul and Zoe to the mayhem unfolding around them, signalling this a “family friendly” comedy being sold.
The poster that came out at the same time sells precisely the premise and little else, showing Zoe and Paul’s faces mashed into a pileup of their kids and pets.
The Bakers arrive at a pool party and in a short commercial released a week or two later.
Disney also released a series of character posters with Zoe, Paul and their kids each getting their own one-sheet, though a couple pairs of twins do share. Even the dogs got their own posters.
The cast tried to explain the story in a dozen words in a little featurette. Union, who also served as producer, is featured in another video talking about how she has approached a blended family in real life and what she’s brought from that to the screen.
Another poster has the whole family lounging in Paul and Zoe’s bed to once again show off how crowded their life and house are.
As I mentioned above, everything here is “family friendly” in the most widely understood use of the term. It’s being sold as a movie that anyone from three to 89 years old can watch and generally enjoy without fear of being offended at all, unless of course you’re still in the nine percent or so who feel interracial marriage is a bad thing for society.
You can take issue with some of the details, and I know that people’s tolerance for Zach Braff sometimes varies wildly, but this is a generally pleasant campaign for what looks like a generally pleasant movie.
What stands out, if you’re familiar with the source material, is that (at least based on the marketing materials), this new adaptation seems to have jettisoned completely the idea of family/organizational efficiency or any ties to the Gilbreth legacy. Even the 2003 movie had Hunt’s character play an author who had written about the family. Now it’s just a premise and familiar brand.