A fascinating long read at the New York Times reveals how the success of The LEGO Movie inadvertently led to the development of a Fruit Ninja movie.
Fruit Ninja, much like The Emoji Movie and The Angry Birds Movie, epitomises cynical movie making – when something devoid of any history, plot or obvious values is taken as the basis for a motion picture for the sake of ticket sales. An article at the New York Times explains how The LEGO Movie actually helped spawn this spate of low quality, app-based animated movies (The Emoji Movie was awarded one star out of five by Empire magazine).
The article follows Tripp Vinson’s progression in acquiring the rights to Fruit Ninja and bringing on board screenwriters to develop the film. It relays the movie producer’s career, following trends and aiming for big box office rather than critical acclaim.
He’s a journeyman producer who specializes in popcorn flicks; over all, his films have an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 30 (out of 100). Vinson may not win Oscars, but he knows how to get his projects into theaters. He has survived and advanced in Hollywood by quickly adapting to trends — what’s selling and what’s falling out of fashion. His filmography reads like a map of Hollywood’s shifting sands.
After the 2007 writers’ striker, Vinson sensed a new change in Hollywood and decided that he needed to develop projects based on existing IPs (Intellectual Properties). What’s more, the surprise animated hit of 2014 told him that he didn’t need an IP with a plot.
Vinson didn’t see how Legos could be the basis of a feature-length film. He watched in disbelief as the movie raked in $69 million its opening weekend, grossed almost $470 million worldwide and was almost universally lauded by critics. ‘‘It was magical and fresh and really profitable,’’ he recalls. The movie was clever, telling the story of a Lego construction worker caught in a battle between good and evil, which is eventually revealed to be all in the imagination of a boy playing with his controlling father’s Lego set.
Of course, once the producer had an agreement to develop a Fruit Ninja movie, he hit a problem.
Vinson then realized that he was faced with a formidable predicament. There are no protagonists or antagonists in Fruit Ninja. There’s no mythology. No moral. The game play involves staring at a wall as pineapples, watermelons, kiwis, apples and oranges fly up into view. The only thing you do is swipe at the fruit with your finger, cutting them in half. Sometimes there are bombs, and you’re not supposed to swipe at those. ‘‘There’s a fun game to play, but that’s it,’’ Vinson says. ‘‘The challenge was: What the [expletive] am I going to do with Fruit Ninja?’’
For those with an interest in the movie making process, and the current creative malaise in Hollywood, the rest of the article is certainly worth reading. What will be obvious by this point to fans of The LEGO Movie, is just how much producers looking to make movies from apps have missed the point. Dan Lin, the Producer who conceived of The LEGO Movie and its sequels, was inspired by his son playing with LEGO bricks. He passionately believed in the project, in making something that was more than a 90 minute toy advert.
Lin didn’t know when he was making ‘‘The Lego Movie’’ that it would inspire so many other movies based on toys, games and apps. When I last spoke with him, over the phone, I got the sense that birthing an entire generation of cynically made movies weighed on him. Companies call him all the time, he told me, asking if he can do for their company what he did for Lego. ‘‘You know, 95 percent of brands are not Legoizable,’’ he said. When I told him about the Fruit Ninja script, he let out a little gasp. ‘‘Oh, my gosh,’’ he said. ‘‘Who’s making that?’’