Behold! The General Mills Dark Universe is born!
(aka Quick, Get Me Tom Cruise’s Non-Union Mexican Equivalent on the Phone!)
by Barry Stiglets
You said you wanted something fresh. You were tired of remakes and reboots and of that really cool director doing the same ol’ thing over and over. So here you go. Movies based on kid’s breakfast cereal mascots.
There are two important elements to this story. 1) General Mills is seeking to exploit its vast but underutilized IP catalog of brand mascots, specifically their horror themed breakfast cereal icons, Franken Berry, Boo Berry and Count Chocula. 2) They are overtly reaching out to the general public to develop the mythology and narrative as opposed to throwing money at actual Hollywood and getting, I dunno, the Farrelly Brothers to spend a weekend locked in a hotel paid for by Big Cereal to hammer out some sort of basic three act story followed by harassing Sean Penn to play Count Chocula for a paycheck. By the by, any Monster Cereals movies not including the Fruit Brute or Fruity Yummy Mummy will clearly fail.
General Mills actually has a pretty deep roster of ad company inventions that turned into legitimate pop culture icons. Outside of Betty Crocker (98 years young!) the most cross media fame that these these mascots have enjoyed would be…well, not much. The all-time peak of media visibility for one of its characters would be popular level boss, the Pillsbury Doughboy (aka Poppin’ Fresh) lookalike, Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters 84’.* There would be the occasional GEICO Commercial, something for MasterCard here and there, but by far and large, the actual cereal commercial cover stars have stayed in the the realm of Saturday morning cartoons and weekday syndication.
Looking at it from the business perspective, General Mills has the ability to green light and fund a film. Film, not being their core business, would present its own challenges when it comes to marketing, putting pressers together, making sure people see it when it finally comes out on VOD, et cetera. In that case, you really should go to the pros. Before you pooh-pooh this approach, keep in mind that Night of the Living Dead ’68 was an independent film made by people working in commercials. They also accidentally put their own movie in the Public Domain due to their lack of entertainment law knowledge.
Picking a demographic and sticking with it is going to be tough. Who does this appeal to? When I buy cereal, I’m generally vexed that I’m about to spend over $5 on a box of sugar and corn pulp. And I’m a critic. Kids, on the other hand, may like a show about a ghost, a vampire, and a rebuilt strawberry flavored zombie man becoming roommates and having adventures. I don’t know. I don’t have kids so I’m not the best person to ask.
What kind of story could you possibly write that wouldn’t just look like you’re trying to cash in on that sweet, sweet, Avengers shared Universe IP money? If you go back to the commercials, the vast majority of them were based on this formula: 1) Franken Berry and Count Chocula eating breakfast, 2) they argue about who has the better cereal, and 3) something scares them. I’m here to remind you that some shared universes are going to sputter right out of the gate. The most damning false start of late being the Universal Mummy reboot that you’ve already forgotten about because it happened years ago, way back in the care free year of 2017 (bring up the non chocolate-infused Dracula Untold in prehistorical 2014 if you’d like). A horror universe franchise is not an easy thing to do. It took five Marvel movies before the Avengers came along but it took a combined 17 films before Freddy vs. Jason happened.
Another question: how much money do you need? Are you making one movie? Three movies? Do you see America going nuts over this? Why should I let you date my daughter? Are you willing to take the risk that the Chinese government might ban the film because of the implied supernatural elements and thus not be able to exploit that foreign market? How much of your own skin are you going to put in the game? How confident are you of that idea that you paid some kid back East for? Can you get me to buy a ticket? Why is the sky blue? (Answer: because if it were green, we wouldn’t know where to stop mowing.)
At the end of the day we’re talking cereal boxes as the source material. Listen, I don’t mean to be dismissive. There are a million different ways to approach this project and in tones ranging from pure Lovecraftian horror or embracing Gothic traditions, to the Archie Comics Horror renaissance, to emphasizing the retro culture aspect. You can do a lot with a story about the blueberry flavored ghost of Peter Lorre hanging out with the undead, crawling out of cereal boxes Ringu style, but are you going to do that? You need to make your money back. Then again, do you know what’s cheaper than making a movie?
Not making a movie.
You have read almost a thousand words to this point about three breakfast cereals that you have no real nostalgic connection to (full disclosure, I jumped between Fruit Loops and Fruity Pebbles as a child). You don’t have a Franken Berry ringer tee in your closet, Lucky Charms maybe, but not Franken Berry. You were always a little creeped out by Count Chocula. You’ve never laid eyes on a box of Boo Berry cereal, and you haven’t seen the commercials since you were a kid. But, alas, here we are. You and I. Talking about movies based on breakfast cereals. Not even something classy like Wheaties or Ancient Grains but about parody characters created to cash in on kids who love breakfast and horror movies. As I read that sentence, I’m wonder to myself exactly what slice of the kiddie demo do these undead themed cereals appeal to?
I think next time you walk down the cereal aisle and see them on the waist high shelf, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Also, is Fruity Yummy Mummy someone’s kink?
* Pillsbury was acquired by General Mills in 2001
Writer. Wrestling mark. Dog parent. Halloween enthusiast. Always wondering about the me on Earth 616 and what he/she/it’s up to. Currently residing in Los Angeles.