How The Oogieloves became the biggest box-office bomb of all time
A bizarre new children's film sets the ignominious record for the lowest-grossing wide release in U.S. history. What happened?
Critics are buzzing over the dismal performance of The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, a G-rated family film that played in more than 2,000 nearly empty theaters over the holiday weekend. The film comes from writer/producer Kenn Viselman, who distributed the hit children's series Teletubbies in the United States, and stars a cast of C-List actors seemingly picked at random, including Cloris Leachman, Cary Elwes, and Christopher Lloyd. The film's production and marketing costs reportedly exceeded $60 million, but Oogieloves still earned less than $500,000 over the weekend, which makes it the worst-performing wide-release film of all time. (The previous record-holder — a $40 million animated film called Delgo — grossed $511,920 in its opening weekend in 2008.) What happened to The Oogieloves? Here, a guide to the bizarre children's film that couldn't:
First of all: Who — or what — are Oogieloves?Much like Teletubbies or Barney the Purple Dinosaur, the three "Oogieloves" are played by actors in oversized, colorful costumes. (Watch the trailer below.) According to the film's website, the characters live together in a squeaky-clean fantasyland called LovelyLoveville with a goldfish named Ruffy and a vacuum named J. Edgar. In the movie, the Oogieloves go an a quest to find five magical balloons in time for their friend Schluufy's surprise birthday party.
Who came up with this?Ken Viselman, a self-described "marketing visionary" who helped shepherd children's hits Thomas the Tank Engine and Teletubbies to U.S. shores. Viselman is "a sort of Willy Wonka of the toy merchandising industry," says Steven Zeitchik at the Los Angeles Times, and Oogieloves was the "culmination of a dream." In an interview with Zeitchik before the film's release, Viselman dismissed his doubters as "one of those things you deal with as a pioneer."
What do critics say?They are unimpressed, to put it mildly, if they bothered to review Oogieloves at all. Of the 19 critics who reviewed the film, only 6 gave it a positive review, earning it a 32 percent approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. "A prime contender for the most peculiar wide release of the year," says Geoff Berkshire at Variety. Oogieloves even manages to fail at its primary purpose, says Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times: "At a recent press screening, the youngsters in attendance lost steam at a steady clip, stopping with the standing and the sitting" — the audience is encouraged to sing and dance along with the film — "in favor of simply running up and down the aisles."
What does Viselman say now?He's surprisingly upbeat. "This was never about box office," Viselman tells The Wrap. And the media attention surrounding the film's box-office failure "could ultimately help" the film find an audience, he says. And Viselman is not ready to write off more entries in the Oogieloves saga, either, speculating that the "notoriety" of The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure will lead to future films that could premiere in theaters or on video.
Is there any chance he's right?Maybe — though it may be a different audience than he expects. The unprecedented failure "has unleashed an alarming obsession within me for all things Oogieloves in the last 24 hours," says Grady Smith of Entertainment Weekly — and based on the media attention the film has received, Smith isn't alone. Though Oogieloves may have a difficult time finding its intended audiences of toddlers and parents, the dubious honor of becoming the worst-performing wide release has earned it the attention of "tripped out drug users and snarky bloggers," who will ensure that Viselman's passion project lives on — if only as "a meme-dwelling punchline."