November 3, 2003 Neil Gaiman Relects on "Princess Mononoke" Dubbing
Slashdot.org held an interview with Neil Gaiman and the very first question asked, "Mr. Gaiman, after the time, effort, and research you put into the dub of Princess Mononoke, were you disappointed by the film's performance at the US box office? Do you feel that the film was mishandled by Miramax, or were US audiences not quite ready to have their expectations of animation stretched that far?"
Not particularly disappointed, but then I've never equated sales, good or bad, with quality, and Princess Mononoke was pretty much the first ever attempt to release something like that into movie theatres in the US. I took much more pleasure in seeing how close we got to 100% at RottenTomatoes.com than I was ever bothered by its box office.
Do I think Miramax could have handled it better? Probably, in a lot of ways -- for example, there was some silliness in the beginning where, once I'd written five drafts of the script, each word having to be approved each time by Ghibli and Miramax, they gave my final draft to someone to make sure that the mouth movements matched the script, and then cut me out of the loop for six months. The person who did the mouth-flap draft didn't like my script, and rewrote it. His version was what was recorded, initially. They screened it. It was a disaster. Then they called me back in and let me work with the director, Jack Fletcher, and he and I went back and put as much of my original dialogue back in as we could, but it all had to be recorded fairly fast at this point. I was proud of the final product, but wished that I'd been included during the period when everything went wrong: it would have made things a lot easier, and we could have been polishing at the end rather than desperately fixing things.
Harvey Weinstein really wanted to trim it. It's a long film. If Ghibli had let him trim, Miramax might have gone much wider with the film, and more movie theatres might have taken a chance on it -- but then, the audience would have been (rightly) complaining about not having been shown the whole film, as it was made, and I'd probably now be answering questions on Slashdot about whether the restoration of the missing minutes on the DVD made up for losing them in the cinemas...
Having said all that, Miramax didn't throw it away: they released it into the "ten major markets", and if the audiences had come out for it, then its theatrical release would have got much wider. Probably best simply to view it as a step on the way to something...