Sometime today, it'll happen.
Sometime today, "Chicken Little" will actually earn $100 million during its initial domestic release. Making this Mark Dindal film the first WDFA production to officially become a blockbuster since "Lilo & Stitch" was first released to theaters back in June of 2002.
Mind you, there are those industry insiders who will scoff at Disney execs for daring to celebrate this milestone. Insisting that -- since it took "Chicken Little" 18 days to make what "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" took in in a single weekend -- that this animated film's performance at the box office is hardly cause for celebration.
Okay. Admittedly there are those at the Mouse House who are somewhat disappointed that "Chicken Little" didn't do better this past weekend. These folks had really been hoping that this Randy Fullmer production would prove to be a lot stronger competitor when this film finally went head-to-head with "Harry Potter."
But "Goblet of Fire" ... Given that this Warner Bros. release was being shown on 3,858 screens nationwide, it seems like anyone who really wanted a ticket to this new Mike Newell movie was then able to purchase one for the film's opening weekend. Which is how the latest "Harry Potter" picture was able to earn over $101 million in just three days time.
So today ... Well, it's kind of a mixed blessing for the folks at Disney Feature Animation. Sure, it'll be great when "Chicken Little" finally officially achieves blockbuster status sometime later this afternoon. But -- that said -- even with a strong performance over the upcoming long Thanksgiving weekend, it's now looking extremely unlikely that this Mark Dindal movie will actually be able to match what Dreamworks Animation's "Shark Tale" made. That Bib Bergeron / Vicky Jensen film sold $160 million worth of tickets during its initial domestic release back in October of last year.
And given that this was the box office bar that Disney insiders had supposedly set for this WDFA project, reportedly telling Wall Street types that " ... If 'Chicken Little' makes as much as 'Shark Tale' made during its domestic run, we'll then consider this film to be a success" ... Well, one wonders what sort of spin Mickey's PR flaks will now try to put on this situation.
By my calculations, it now seems much more likely that "Chicken Little" will only be able to move $120 - $135 million worth of tickets during its initial domestic release. Which means that this Randy Fullmer production will then be able to out-gross Disney's "Mulan" (Which sold over $120 million worth of tickets back in the summer of 1998) as well as 20th Century Fox's most recent CG release, "Robots" (Which pulled in more than $128 million when that Chris Wedge film was rolled into theaters earlier this year).
Which -- admittedly -- will still be quite an achievement. Unfortunately, this box office result wasn't what Disney execs were actually shooting for.
To explain: You see, it isn't enough that "Chicken Little" officially becomes a blockbuster. WDFA officials were looking for a mandate here. Some sort of signal that indicated that the Walt Disney Company had really made the right choice when it shut down its traditional animation unit and opted to go totally CG from here on in.
And if "Chicken Little" had been able to go on and outgross traditionally animated hits like Disney's "Pocahontas" (Which earned $141 million during its domestic release back in the Summer of 1995), "Beauty & the Beast" & "Lilo & Stitch" (Which both earned $145 million during their initial domestic releases) or even "Tarzan" (Which sold over $171 million worth of tickets domestically back in 1999) ... Well, that would send a very clear message to the industry that Disney actually had made the right decision here.
Unfortunately, nowadays, it's looking more and more likely that "Meet the Robinsons" will have to be that picture. That this upcoming Steve Anderson film will have to be the movie that -- by (hopefully) outgrossing many of Disney's traditionally animated hits -- signals to Hollywood that the Mouse Factory is finally back on the right track.
Whereas "Chicken Little" ... Well, based on what I've been hearing today, the Walt Disney Company now intends to keep this Mark Dindal movie in theaters long enough so that it eventually out-grosses "Dinosaur," which earned over $137.7 million during its initial domestic release back in the Summer of 2000. Thereby allowing the Mouse's PR flaks to say " ... 'Chicken Little' is now the most successful computer animated film ever produced by Walt Disney Studios."
Beyond that ... Look for WDFA defenders to try & frame the debate about "Chicken Little" in a whole new way. That -- yes -- this Randy Fullmer production didn't do quite as well as Disney had initially hoped it would, but that the film still achieved blockbuster status. And that while the critics beat on this Mark Dindal movie like it was a pinata, the public still seemed to enjoy the picture.
More importantly, while "Chicken Little" may not be the most compelling motion picture that Walt Disney Feature Animation has ever produced ... When you take into consideration the conditions that this movie was actually made under (I.E. Right in the middle of the shut-down of several of WDFA's satellite studios. During which the Walt Disney Company had to build an entirely new production pipeline in order to handle the creation of CG films. Not to mention successfully train dozens of traditional animators so that they could now work in this new media. Then add to this the distraction of Roy & Stanley's "Save Disney" campaign, the Mouse's relationship with Pixar falling apart, Comcast's takeover bid as well as the company's search for a new CEO) ... It's a wonder that "Chicken Little" turned out as well as it did.
I know, I know. There are film fans out there who will really resist this argument. Who will insist that what went on behind the scenes during a film's production really doesn't matter. That -- in the end -- that all that does matter is the finished film any good?
To my way of thinking anyway, "Chicken Little" really was good. Admittedly, this Mark Dindal movie was no earth-shaker or record-breaker. But it was still a very professionally put-together, solidly entertaining film.
So -- that said -- maybe it's time that traditional animation fans stop treating this Randy Fullmer production like it was Rodney Dangerfield. Maybe it's time to give "Chicken Little" a little respect.