JoJo Rabbit – Marketing Recap

Director Taika Waititi returns with a satire set in the past that’s still very much about the present.

jojo rabbit poster 2Waititi takes a break from interstellar super hero adventures to bring audiences another biting comedy. JoJo Rabbit is set in World War II Germany, home of young JoJo (Roman Griffin Davis) and his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). JoJo is a member of the Hitler Youth, but his heart isn’t really in it and his sensitive nature leads to him being picked on by the other boys.

To compensate for that, JoJo creates an imaginary friend, one that gives him advice and helps him deal with all the emotions he’s feeling. It just so happens that imaginary friend is a version of Hitler himself (Waititi). Things get even more complicated for him when he discovers his mother has been hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home.

Fox Searchlight has given the movie, which is admittedly unconventional in its story and subject matter, one of the more memorable and entertaining campaigns of the year, one that’s true to Waititi’s brand. The movie is only opening in select theaters this week.

The Posters

jojo rabbit posterThe movie’s irreverent attitude is on display on the first poster, released in late July. The title is presented in big letters within a massive hand making what could be bunny ears, a peace sign, or both. The impressive cast list’s names are dropped in the blank space outside of that hand.

In August the second poster came out. This one arranges photos of the primary characters around JoJo, Hitler in the background giving the young boy rabbit ears to convey some sense of humor and have some fun with the title.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer (2.3 million views on YouTube) was released in late July, at the same time it was announced the movie would screen at Toronto. It doesn’t offer many hints to the story, but does include plenty of scenes showing Waititi’s absurdist take on World War II Germany. At the very end we see the director himself as Hitler trying to raise the spirits of young JoJo, who’s being picked on by his classmates.

September brought the second trailer (10.8 million views on YouTube), released just as the film was enjoying its festival screenings. It’s wonderfully delightful in how it shows JoJo to be a product of his time, albeit an apparently reluctant one. He’s shown as being conflicted about his involvement in various Hitler Youth activities, even as he has his imaginary friend there helping him along. When he discovers his mother has been hiding Elsa in the attic of their house things get even more complicated as he has a face to put to all the propaganda, one that doesn’t seem threatening or dangerous.

There are two moments worth calling out in particular:

First, Elsa repudiation of JoJo – “You’re not a Nazi, JoJo. You’re a 10 year old kid who likes dressing up in a uniform and wants to be part of a club.” – seems like a direct comment on the kind of militia cosplayers frequently seen in today’s world on the outskirts of social protests and other events. These men aren’t actually part of the military but enjoy putting on similar uniforms and sporting similar weaponry, finding common cause in intimidating the women and people of color they feel threatened by.

Two, Hitler’s backwards leg kick as he walks away from JoJo toward the end of the trailer would appear to be Waititi providing a subtle physical reference to a previous comedic incarnation of the dictator. Namely, it’s very similar to how Charlie Chaplin kicks the globe around the room during a key sequence of The Great Dictator. The movement is so clear and similar it can’t help but be inspired by The Little Tramp.

Online and Social

In addition to the trailers and other marketing assets, the official website from Fox Searchlight has a “Message from Taika” where he shares what his goals in making this movie at this time are and why he chose to undertake this kind of project. It’s a wonderful message that speaks clearly to the idea of children being raised to hate and what the effects of that kind of indoctrination are.

Advertising and Publicity

It was announced in late July that the movie would premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, a major platform for the film and one where Waititi was given the Roger Ebert Directing Award. It was also slated to open Fantastic Fest in September and for the London Film Festival as well as the Hamptons Film Festival.

Waititi and Searchlight revived a decade old meme – one that predates the days when social media platforms lets users add GIFs as a shorthand for their feelings – with the release of a reaction video using footage from the film Downfall with new, inaccurate subtitles. In this case, Hitler is shown in his bunker reacting poorly as his generals and others informed him about the movie and Waititi’s involvement. It’s brilliant.

Reactions that came out of the Toronto screening were mostly positive, though a bit mixed as people grappled with how exactly the movie handles its Nazi material. It did win the Audience Award at the festival, though.

It was then scheduled to be the opening night feature at Film Fest 919 in October.

A sweet moment between JoJo and his mother was shown in the first clip released at the beginning of October. The next clip has Rosie confronting a Nazi officer (played by Sam Rockwell) about the mistreatment JoJo has received. One more shows JoJo and Imaginary Hitler having a pleasant and inspiring conversation.

Online ads used a mix of straightforward key art and over-the-top “chumbox” ads that took the provocative nature of the movie’s story and amped it up even further as a way to defuse controversy by poking fun at itself. Preroll video ads were placed on YouTube and other social networks that used cut down versions of the trailer.

Media and Press

As production got underway, Waititi talked about how it was going to piss off a lot of Nazis (always a good thing) and shared a first look at himself in Hitler garb to get people talking. The movie was also part of the CineEurope presentation from the studio. Waititi talked more about his unusual role during a masterclass he held during the Toronto Film Festival and then offered a brief update while promoting the “What We Do In the Shadows” TV show earlier this year.

An interview with Waititi included his comments on the movie’s story and tone.

Reports came to light in early August that Disney executives were becoming increasingly concerned about the movie, specifically that a satirical film about Hitler as a young boy’s imaginary friend was too controversial for the studio’s fans. That seems to assume that group is a single entity with a sole opinion based on movies like Cinderella and Toy Story, not to mention The Avengers and Star Wars. It’s also telling that a movie whose target is Hitler has people within the studio nervous.

During Venice there was another interview with Waititi where he explained how and why he tried to tell a story set in Nazi Germany with a comedic tone and how he approached playing a “benign” Hitler that existed in the mind of a 10 year old boy. He hit similar points when he was interviewed during the Toronto Film Festival.

jojo rabbit pic

A massive profile of Johansson included mention of the many high-profile films she has in the works and on the release schedule, but it was her comments about Woody Allen that generated the most headlines.

An interview with producer Chelsea Winstanley allowed her to talk about the role of comedy in analyzing social issues and what kinds of movies she has coming in the near future. Similar ground was covered in a joint interview with Waititi and much of the cast while Johansson spoke about how she approached her role here. Her emphasis on motherhood was reiterated by the director, who said he made the movie in part as a tribute to single moms.

Overall

If you want a single element that sums up the tone of the campaign it has to be the resurrection of the Downfall meme. One of the odd things about that meme, which was popular online in the days before Twitter in particular offered native GIF support, was always based on the shared assumption that it was kind of alright to use something explicitly Nazi-related to share some other message. We were finding humor by coopting Nazi imagery, removing some of the power that imagery has.

That’s more or less what Waititi is doing here. He’s using a very specific era – one that was filled with hate and violence – to send a message that hatred and violence are weak and powerless in the face of love and compassion. Using satire to do so only makes that message all the more cutting and compelling.

Waititi has made nothing but wholly original films. Even Thor: Ragnarok is on that list, with a tone and style that was drastically different from other super hero spectacles. They’ve all been about outsiders who are desperate to be understood, and this movie is no different, it’s just using slightly more controversial subject matter for fodder, but that makes the message all the more powerful.

Picking Up the Spare

There were lots of interviews with Waititi that touched on themes he expressed at the premiere, including how comedy can be used as a means fighting hate and how we should be past having to point out that Nazis are bad.

Waititi appeared on “Kimmel” and “The Daily Show” while Johansson stopped by “The Tonight Show.”

More clips as well as a making of featurettte have been released since the movie hit theaters, along with another video that focused on the ensemble cast assembled. Waititi reflected on applying his unique perspective to the subject matter in a featurette released in early November.

The movie’s production team talked about getting the look of the era right as well as how it would have appeared to a young boy. McKenzie also finally got a profile of her own.

An important point from this interview with Waititi, that he’s not in the business of conveying historical facts but getting to the truth of a moment.

There as a profile in November of Davis, the boy who plays JoJo, that included his thoughts on what message the movie is trying to send.

“You’re Not a Nazi, JoJo.”

If there’s a movie made especially for our times – at least based on the marketing so far – it appears to be Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit.

The line that jumps out at me most is the one used in the title of this post. It’s spoken by Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), the Jewish girl being hidden by JoJo’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). She’s confronting JoJo, who is shown as being somewhat conflicted about the Nazi-centric upbringing he’s receiving.

That one line speaks more to the state of society we find ourselves in at the end of the 21st century’s second decade than any feature-length examination of how we found ourselves at war in Afghanistan for 18 years, recountings of the 2008 financial crisis or any other film that seeks to capture a moment in time. It’s a reminder that satire and humor is frequently more timely and capable of commentary than drama.

Hate crimes are on the rise and have been for a few years, driven at least in part by the polarizing and divisive political rhetoric coming from some parties. Political protests are often attended by private citizens in full militia garb and armed with military-grade assault rifles.

The latter in particular seem to be exactly the sort of folk being addressed here. The kind that have found some sense of community in dressing as if they are themselves in the military and have some duty instead of being sad little men who lack any sense of order or purpose in life.

Those are the dangerous ones, the ones who would have been part of the same organizations JoJo joins in the movie had they been born in a different place and time. They enjoy the fear they inspire, they get a rush from intimidating others. It’s how they feel important.

When Waititi calls his movie an “anti-hate satire,” this seems to be what he’s targeting, at least in part. These people are driven by hatred and want to be part of something, so they’ll be part of something dedicated to hate.

Other films have done a good job of analyzing where we’ve been, but while satire might be what closes on Saturday night, it’s also one of the only genres capable of examining the immediate cultural moment in a clear and merciless way. It doesn’t allow for sentimentalizing, it doesn’t offer succor to potential targets, it doesn’t abide by the no-slaughter rule.

A report last month mentioned Disney, which now owns JoJo Rabbit producing studio Fox Searchlight, is a bit nervous about the movie. It’s unclear why that might be besides “alienating” fans of the Disney brand. But the only people (other than those who don’t understand what satire is) who should feel uncomfortable or alienated by this kind of takedown of hate are those who hate.

If that one single line is any indication, that group in particular will have a lot of opportunities to feel uncomfortable.

Thor: Ragnarok – Marketing Recap

2011’s Thor was fun. Less an origin story than a “how he fulfilled his destiny” story, the mix of comic book content and Shakespearean gravitas was pretty enjoyable.

Thor: The Dark World was drastically less fun in 2013, removing the cocky self-confidence that was essential to the character in favor or endless brooding over an incomprehensible story.

And now we have Thor: Ragnarok, the third solo outing for the God of Thunder in addition to his two team appearances in the Avengers films. This time around Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is confronting nothing less than Ragnarok, the death of the gods, at the end of Hela (Cate Blanchett). Finding himself out of commission and largely powerless on a mysterious alien world overseen by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).

While fighting for his survival he encounters his old friend Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the Asgardian warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Together they need to not only get themselves off the planet they’re trapped on but also back to where they can take the fight to Hela and stop her plans. This time around director Taika Waititi is pulling the strings, so let’s see what happens when you let a slightly mad New Zealander control of a superhero film.

The Posters

The first poster is a colorful effort that shows a short-cropped Thor with helmet in hand as he stands in the middle of an arena of onlookers. The swirling debris and bright light at the top are meant to show this is taking place somewhere other than Earth, which is important. A slightly animated motion version of that poster was released later on.

A whole series of character posters put each member of the ensemble on their own, set against a bright and colorful background that’s coming at them like a wave. Everyone from Thor to Odin to Grandmaster to Valkyrie to Hela get their own posters, selling this as a real team movie.

A more comic-book like artistic style was applied to the poster created specifically to promote IMAX screenings. All the characters are here in various action poses, but it’s all run through what appears to be a “comic” effects setting in Photoshop as I’m skeptical this is actual artwork. Another IMAX poster is more traditional, arranging photos of all the major cast around the one-sheet in order of importance. The bright, colorful visuals are all in the background while the major element is the call to action to “Experience it in IMAX.” One more poster singles out the title character, who has lightning shooting from his eyes just like in a scene from the trailer. This one was created specifically for those buying tickets through Fandango.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer starts off with a “you’re wondering how I got myself in this situation moment” shot of Thor in chains, followed by a quick shot of Hela smashing Thor’s hammer in her hands. That shows the power he’s facing off against and the stakes of the story. She has plans to destroy Asgard and as a result Thor is catapulted through space to a strange alien planet where he’s collected by Valkyrie, who’s working for the Grandmaster. Thor is forced into an arena where he has to fight an opponent that turns out to be the Hulk, who’s decked out in full gladiatorial gear. That leads to the lightest moment of the trailer, where Thor gets all excited that it’s a “friend from work” (a line that was later revealed to be a contribution from a Make-A-Wish recipient on set that day) but it’s clear he’s not going to get off easy.

This is pretty great. It shows the broad strokes of the story, from Thor’s confrontation with Hela to her plans for Ragnarok to the scenes on the alien planet we meet Goldblum’s Grandmaster. As many people pointed out, the shots of Grandmaster and his court contain some of the most blatant Jack Kirby-inspired imagery ever put on film. And that last gag is just great, showing off some of the humor everyone’s been waiting for since it was announced Waititi was going to be in the director’s chair. There’s a great touch to the whole thing, though, that marks it as being more in line with the first Thor movie than the second one.

The second trailer, which debuted at San Diego Comic-Con, doubles down on the idea that this is a buddy comedy featuring Thor and The Hulk. It seems like half the footage in the trailer involves Thor talking to or interacting with either Hulk or Banner. Most of that is to explain they need to stop Hela, the Goddess of Death that is threatening to unleash Ragnorak. So they assemble a team that includes Loki and Valkyrie to take the fight to her. There’s lots of gunplay, sword slinging and more as they seek to save the universe.

It’s fun and funny and got everyone excited, which is exactly what it needed to do. There’s more story shown here, which is nice, but it’s Waititi’s comedic touch that’s really on display. It’s almost as if they’re working extra-hard to move the franchise in a direction 180 degrees the somber, dark dark tone of The Dark World.

Online and Social

It’s not totally surprising that the movie’s official website is somewhat lackluster. Big franchise films like this don’t need to put much effort in on this front. The colorful key art featuring the array of characters graces the front page, which notably includes links to the social profiles for Marvel Studios and not this movie specifically. Despite that, there were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles that have been in use since the first film was released.

The actual site content menu has prompts to get you to “Watch Trailer,” check out a “Photo Gallery” of stills, read a brief “Synopsis” and find out more information on the movie’s promotional “Partners.” That’s about it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot, titled “Contender,” aired during the first NFL broadcast of the season. Most of the footage here has already been seen. New, though, is Thor making the pitch to join his team to Valkyrie. When she asks if the team has a name he stammers a bit before saying it’s “The Revengers,” a name Banner doesn’t seem to be totally on board with. So it’s making it clear to the football audience that not only is there a massive Thor/Hulk battle and lots of spaceships and other action but also some offbeat humor.

Further commercials like this one continued using the humor that’s so prevalent in the rest of the campaign, particularly the competition between Hulk and Thor. Some also included Doctor Strange to make it clear the story still connected to the rest of the MCU. Eventually spots like this one took a more traditionally-Marvel approach to sell the action.

The following efforts were undertaken by the movie’s handful of corporate promotional partners:

  • Red Robin offered a free movie ticket when you bought a limited edition movie-branded gift card.
  • Comicave produced high-end collectibles based on the movie and the look of the characters.
  • Synchrony Bank created a movie-themed landing page with “Thor-spiration” videos to help people “save like a hero” and more.
  • Screenvision Media, which made the movie part of its regular pre-show entertainment package.

Media and Publicity

There had obviously been lots of speculation and on-set reports about the movie leading up to this, but San Diego Comic-Con 2016 was the first big splash of official material. That included props on display that hinted at potential ties to the Planet Hulk storyline and was part of Marvel Studios’ Hall H presentation. Those activities also included a fun look at what the cast and characters have been up to in their time off. Marvel later released the short online and on the home video of Captain America: Civil War and it was as great as advertised.

Blanchett spoke briefly from time to time about the role she played as the movie’s villain. After lots of speculation and rumors, Marvel finally confirmed some key plot points, including that Thor would face off against Hulk off-world. Waititi later talked about what attracted him to the project, what he hoped to achieve, the process of working on the movie and more.

The first big official publicity push came with an EW cover story that featured comments from the cast, first-look photos and a glimpse at some of the news characters for the first time. It also notably showed off Thor’s new hairstyle, which got lots of people talking.

This movie was one of those that were highlighted to journalists who attended a behind-the-scenes look and tour at Marvel’s upcoming slate. While promoting other things, Goldblum also talked about his experience shooting Thor, particularly praising Waititi and his approach to getting the most and best out of his actors.

Marvel’s Kevin Feige talked about the movie regularly, including making sure fans knew this one was an essential part of the path toward the coming Infinity War.

There were a few stories about the movie in Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview, including first-look stills, comments from Waititi about how he wanted to capture the vibe of old sci-fi movies he loved like Flash Gordon and more.

Just as they’d done with Doctor Strange, Marvel launched a STEM challenge encouraging young girls to create community-improvement projects and submit them, with the five best winning a trip out to the movie’s premiere.

The new characters this movie introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the focus of this story, which included comments by Thompson about how lazily female heroes are often written and what set this one apart.

Throughout the summer Waititi talked often about the movie and how he approached shooting such a massive story, including commenting on how his experience on Green Lantern years ago influenced him and how often he put on a motion-capture suit himself to fill in for someone who was unavailable at the moment.

This was just one of a few movies with Elba in a starring role, a trend that lead to him gracing the cover of a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, with a story that had him talking about this and his other recent releases. Hemsworth and the rest of the cast appeared on various late night talk shows and other media to promote the movie and engage in host-driven antics. The star even talked about how he was kind of bored by the character before Waititi shook things up a bit. Ruffalo hinted in an interview that this could be the first chapter in a bigger Hulk story, though he’s also said Marvel has no current plans for more standalone Hulk movies.

Waititi’s unique personality was the focus of this New York Times profile, which positioned the director as someone who can’t believe his luck and being given so much latitude, including looks at his background, how he got the job and how he managed a casual and creative production.

In the final weeks of the campaign Thompson became more of a central figure as she revealed that, while it’s not directly addressed in the story, Valkyrie is indeed bi-sexual. More than that, the presentation of the character was identified as a great one for inclusion on a number of fronts. That increased spotlight included features like this that reviewed her career to date and talked about how she made the leap from smaller films to a big superhero franchise. There was also one more profile of Goldblum just because.

Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Goldblum and Thompson, as well as Waititi, all did the TV and other media rounds in the couple weeks leading up to release.

Overall

It’s hard to overstate just how fun this whole enterprise is. I really feel like Marvel Studios made the conscious decision to let Waititi have more say in the marketing of the movie than it usually hands over to directors, who are often simply workhorses in service of the corporate machine. Instead it let the filmmaker have a bit of fun with the shorts released before the marketing really ramped up and continue to be the public face of the campaign, bringing his fanbase along for the ride as he conveyed his unique sense of humor and assured them it would be intact here.

That bit of originality and levity was desperately needed for the character, who’s been on the cusp of being not just overly-brooding but also one used only to further the overarching story along. Both The Dark World and his role in Age of Ultron were subject to the needs of setting up what’s next, which did no one any favors. That rescue seems to have come in part by realizing Thor needs a supporting cast that operates on his level, something that was present in The Avengers films but lacking from his solo movies. The campaign has made sure everyone knows this is just as much of a team story.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Director Taika Waititi continues to be an absolute wonder with this introduction to the film that’s part of the push for its home video release.
It’s not *exactly* the version of the character played by Tessa Thompson in the movie, but the take on Valkyrie was popular enough that a new version of the Asgardian warrior who looks a lot like her film incarnation is joining a new “Exiles” series from Marvel.