What Does Central Park Zoo Have Against ‘Madagascar’?

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Disney Pixar’s latest film Brave opens today and promises to clean up at the box office. The film’s official partner, Visit Scotland, is hoping audiences will want to “Experience the land that inspired Disney-Pixar’s Brave” (even as the Atlanta Braves have their legal issues with the movie).

Brave‘s opening means that Madagascar 3, the nation’s top film for two weeks running, is about to be forgotten until DVD time. As Madagascar 3 pushes off, and with Brave‘s Scotland tie-in in mind, we have one nagging question before it goes: why the hit animated franchise failed to make the obvious marketing tie-in with New York’s Central Park Zoo? [more]

Don’t be fooled by the “Madagascar!” on the Central Park Zoo homepage. It’s promoting not the hit series of films but the zoo’s “one-of-a-kind wildlife from the world’s fourth largest island. Towering baobobs and octopus trees, forested deserts, and other enchanting habitats will transport you there.” In fact, nowhere on the Central Park Zoo’s website or anywhere in its PR will one find a mention of Madagascar, a franchise whose plot revolves around the zoo.

In the 2005 film, we meet a lion, a giraffe, a hippo, a zebra, penguins and monkeys who all live at the zoo. In the latest film — which has earned $300 million worldwide, already half of the last film’s $600 global take — the characters are again focused on returning to the Central Park Zoo. The final scene takes place in the zoo. The official Madagascar game even has a Central park Zoo level.

“There is no partnership with the movie,” the assistant director of communications for the zoo’s parent, the Wildlife Conservation Society, told brandchannel. He did not elaborate or answer additional questions.

That hit films can boost tourism to those films’ real life locations is no secret nor a surprise. Following the release of the epic film Australia, one resort Down Under reported a 70 percent jump in inquiries.

What’s more, producers of children’s films are getting savvier at officially partnering with such locations. Night at the Museum, a film about the fantastic adventures of a night watchman inside the American Museum of Natural History in New York, is credited with boosting visitor numbers by 20 percent. A sequel, Night a the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian attempted to recreate the magic in Washington DC. In anticipation of the attention it would get from the film Dolphin Tale, Clearwater Marine Hospital embarked on a $12.5 million expansion.

So lucrative are such partnerships that, in some cases, when the film’s location is fictional, investors go out of the way to make it a reality on order to cash in. Case in point, Disney’s $1.1 billion dollar push to create the just-openedCars Land” attraction.

Despite the Central Park Zoo’s lack of an official partnership, fans put together their own trips to tie-in with the film. A recent private screening of Madagascar 3 for a youth group in New York was followed by a trip to the zoo.

The New York stage production Madagascar Live! has also held promotional events at the zoo.

So why not an official partnership wherein the zoo could use the popularity of the franchise to drive visitors and highlight some of its exhibits?

One theory is that the zoo in the film is seen — in both the first and third installments — to be a cage the animal characters at first want to escape, and in the end choose not to return to. The zoo may not want to associate itself with the film’s somewhat negative depiction as a venue to escape from.

That’s understandable, but ignores the kind of relationships audiences have with films. For example, last year’s hit drama The Help, about the plight of African American maids in 1960s america, portrayed the town of Jackson, Mississippi in a way that could not have been less flattering. Yet, VisitJackson.com currently features a “Jackson Driving Tour.” Your thoughts?

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