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Toon Tuesday : How will "Ratatouille" fare in Hollywood's Summer 2007 rat race?

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Toon Tuesday : How will "Ratatouille" fare in Hollywood's Summer 2007 rat race?

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How's this for irony? The Walt Disney Company (Whose mascot is a mouse) still hasn't figured out how to properly market "Ratatouille" (Pixar's next release, which stars a rat).

At least that's the word coming out of the Mouse House this week. As Disney gears up for the coming year, making sure that all of its upcoming releases are properly positioned & promoted to insure the greatest possible market share.

"So what exactly is the problem with 'Ratatouille' ?," you ask. Well, to be honest, a lot of the concerns that are currently associated with this Brad Bird film can be traced back to "Cars." Which Disney's marketing department thought that they had put together a terrific promotional campaign for. Only to have that John Lasseter movie miss all of the studio's internal financial projections.

As one studio insider explained it to me last week:

"The feeling now is that we all may have been a little too close to 'Cars.' That we were too in love with this film before it was released. Which is why it's now considered a mistake in-house to buy into the old 'Everyone goes to Pixar movies' idea.

Sure, it seems ridiculous to be complaining about the second highest grossing film of the year. But the fact of the matter is that there are 75 million NASCAR fans out there. And -- before 'Cars' opened -- we had convinced ourselves that every one of those people was going to buy a ticket to Pixar's next movie. Which is why we were really expecting that 'Cars' would rack up 'Finding Nemo' and 'The Incredibles' -sized grosses.

But when that didn't happen ... Well, the first place that we looked was at 'Cars' marketing. We started asking ourselves: 'Did we position this picture properly? Should we have gone with another poster? Or a different set of TV commericials?' You always wind up second-guessing yourself in situations like this."

And all of the second guessing that went on after 'Cars' missed its financial projections is now having a trickle-down effect on "Ratatouille." Given that the folks at Disney PR no longer really buy into the old "Everybody goes to Pixar movies" idea ... Well, they're now trying to decide who exactly they should be marketing this Brad Bird movie to.

But -- as the lackluster grosses for DreamWorks Animation's "Flushed Away" recently proved ( That Aardman co-production only grossed $61 million during its initial domestic release) -- marketing movies that star a rat can be a rather tricky affair.


Copyright 2007 Disney Pixar

Don't believe me? Then just ask the guys who work for Disney Consumer Products. They've had a hell of a time trying to convince Disney's licensees to take a flyer on the "Ratatouille" characters. As a direct result, this coming summer, you'll only see about a third as many "Ratatouille" -related products on store shelves as there were "Cars" -related products during the Summer of 2006.

And without that retail safety cushion to fall back on (Which really made the difference when Wall Street finally passed judgment on "Cars" overall performance. The general perception now is that -- while this John Lasseter movie did not sell nearly as many tickets as it had originally been expected to -- the retail side of "Cars" did make up for that box office shortfall. Which is why Pixar's most recent release is now considered a qualified success. Translation: A worldwide gross of $461 million is nothing to sneeze at. But that's still $400 million less than "Finding Nemo" made. Which is why the investment community is looking for Pixar to do much better the very next time that this animation studio gets up at bat) ... Well, that puts "Ratatouille" in a rather precarious position.

You see, according to Disney's own internal projections, "Ratatouille" is already expected to sell far fewer tickets than "Cars." How many fewer tickets ? ... Well, no one wants to say just yet. But this is why it's doubly important that Disney's PR department put together the best possible marketing campaign for this Brad Bird movie. To not only improve this animated feature's chances at the box office, but also to help with Disney's damage control efforts.

"What damage control efforts ?," you query? Well, should "Ratatouille" only do 2/3rds of the business that "Cars" did domestically ... That downward trend -- coupled with the fact that there's no possible way that the sale of "Ratatouille" -related merchandise could ever make up for this particular film's box office shortfall -- would then re-open the door for discussion about whether or not the Walt Disney Company significantly over-paid when it acquired Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion.

What's that you say? It's a little premature to be discussing the box office prospects for a film that doesn't actually open for another six months? Well, that's the other reason that Disney's marketing department is really sweating the promotional campaign for this Brad Bird movie.

You see, "Ratatouille" is being released during one of the most fiercely competitive summers in box office history ... I mean, just take a look at some of the other movies that Pixar's next release will be going head-to-head with:

Release date
Film Title
Studio
May 4
"Spiderman 3"
Columbia
May 11
"28 Weeks Later"
Fox Atomic
May 18
"Shrek the Third"
DreamWorks
May 25
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End"
Walt Disney Pictures
June 1
"Knocked Up"
Universal Pictures
June 8
"Ocean's 13"
Warner Brothers
"Surf's Up"
Columbia
June 15
"Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer"
20th Century Fox
June 22
"Evan Almighty"
Universal Pictures
June 29th
"Live Free or Die Hard"
20th Century Fox
"Ratatouille"
Walt Disney Pictures
July 4
"Transformers"
DreamWorks
July 13

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

Warner Brothers

Now add to this "Variety" reasoning behind why "Cars" was eventually able to rack up $244 million during its initial domestic release last summer (I.E. This John Lasseter film didn't really face any serious competition for the family-friendly audience during the first six weeks that it was in theaters). Then take a look at what opens on July 4th ("Transformers") and then July 13th ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix").

When you take all of this into consideration ... Well, is it any wonder that Disney's marketing staff is now fretting about how "Ratatouille" will fare during the Summer of 2007?

Which is why they continue to tinker with possible ad campaigns for this new Brad Bird film. As these PR flaks try & thread their way through the marketing minefield that comes with trying to sell an animated feature (Which automatically turns off a certain segment of your potential audience. Given that there are some adults who just won't buy tickets to animated features. Since they consider these sorts of films to be juvenile fare) that stars a rat (Again, another segment of your potential audience gone due to the rodent factor) who wants to be a chef (Just the idea of a rat in the kitchen is enough to turn off a certain number of potential moviegoers).

So will Pixar's next release be able to overcome all of these handicaps and eventually emerge as the top CG film of 2007? Disney certainly doesn't think so. According to the company insiders that I've spoken with, Mouse House officials are already assuming that "Shrek the Third" will be 2007's top grossing animated film. Right now, the studio's main concern is making sure that "Ratatouille" out-grosses Columbia's "Surf's Up." Given how well all of these penguin pictures have been doing lately, Disney's reportedly already worried that Sony Animation's surfer dude penguins could wind up blowing Remy the Rat right out of the water.

Which is why the Mouse's marketing department continues to explore new concepts for the promotional campaign for "Ratatouille." As it tries to give this new Brad Bird its best possible shot at success in the Hollywood rat race of Summer 2007.

Your thoughts?

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  • Ratatouille looks good. but you do have to admit, it faces extreme competition, competition which might lead to its downfall

  • Here's the thing. The trailers for Cars were absolutely terrible. The teaser showed a bunch of generic cars racing around for seemingly no reason, then made me think I would get sick of hearing Mater utter "daggum" all year. Neither of those turned out to be true. Then the actual trailers themselves were poorly edited and gave away the entire story. The basic plot of cars was already predictable, having the trailer give it all away didn't help.

    Ratatouille seems to be on a good start. The teaser introduces the character in an exciting and comical way. We know what his problem is and in a way, we are (or at least I am) somewhat invested in the character. As long as the upcoming trailers don't show vital scenes from the movie that spoil the plot or feature all the best jokes (which ultimately makes viewing the movie flat), Ratatouille should do fine. Already many of my friends and family members have expressed interest in the movie. Hopefully Disney handles in properly.

  • What a terrible time to be releasing it.  I know that this is the summer of the trilogy and that it would be difficult to compete at any time, but geez.  It's already got Flushed Away working against it, just as a stand alone, but to have to deal with Transformers and Harry Potter directly following it...I really hope it does well, because I don't think the Disney/Pixar partnership is a bad one.  I think Disney needed Pixar, but I understand the reality of what Wall Street and analists will take from a bad showing.  Here's hoping.

  • Cars suffered from its greatest strength: its subject.  For all the potential audience that NASCAR fans represent, for all the little boys who are all but guaranteed to want any toy with wheels, there is a huge market of folks who just don't get it.  Just among the people I know, I heard the same mantra...something along the lines of "I like the Pixar films, but I'm not that into cars."

    Looking at the slate that Cars is up against, man, its daunting.  Refelecting back on Incredibles, wasn't that film released in the autumn?  I think that made all the difference, rolling it out when your competition is less noisy and event-driven.  Incredibles was one of those films that audiences needed to "learn"...it was a film that benefited from good word of mouth and had legs to prove it.  If Pixney thinks Ratatouille is a similar film, then dropping it into the sound byte arena of Summer 2007 is a mistake.  Folks just will not have enough time to understand what the film is about.

    PIXAR has such a leg up in this fight.  Their brand is strong and respected, and they have numerous opportunities to pimp their product in venues that the competition lacks access to.   But one of those opportunities is the trailer that preceeded Cars.  That film's inability to become a mainstream juggernaut a la Nemo means less impressions made by the Rat trailer.

    These guys should be looking for every opportunity to introduce folks to to their new characters.  And not just billboards, TV commercials, and all the other ususal routes.  

  • I'm more excited for "Meet the Robinsons" and "Enchanted" this year, but I think that "Ratatouille" looks good, too.  "Cars" is my favorite Pixar film, so I don't know if it'll live up to that film, but I think it's a cute premise and, without the competition at the box office, it would probably do decently.  Couldn't Disney have released it in the fall?  Or, even better, during December (I know it'd be competing with "Enchanted"), when kids are off from school?  There's no need to worry about POTC, but, as far as "Ratatouille" is concerned, I'm worried that it might get buried beneath the competition.  I'll go and see it, though.

  • I agree with blackcauldron85. I'm more excited for the releases of Meet the Robinsons and Enchanted too (just because they're Disney movies). I also think Disney should reconsider the release date. Maybe put it two weeks after the release of Harry Potter? Don't know if it's possible, but it sure would be a better position. Or wait. Moving it two weeks after Harry Potter puts Rat in Robinsons stream doesn't it? Well, hope Disney can figure out a way, 'cause when Rat "flops" Wall Street will sure be saying that Pixar wasn't worth $ 7.4 b.

  • All the second-guessing (if that is what is happening) is more likely to ruin the promotional campaign than improve it. If there are 75 million Nascar fans (which I doubt) then there are 225 million Nascar non-fans, and I'm sure I was not the only one put off by the promos for Cars that made it seem like it was nothing but a racing movie. Fortunately I went to see it anyway, and it was much better than the promotional campaign gave me any reason to believe.

    I think they should just stick with the "Do you like food? So does he." approach used in the current trailer. Sometimes you just have to do your thing and ignore Wall Street. Where is Steve Jobs when we need him?

  • They should push Ratatouille to release after Transformers and Harry Potter to a position where is should be able to compete comfortably with the Simpsons movie.  Nemo was released well after the competition of Early July and...well you know the rest.  Putting it before Transformers and Potter is essentially giving it a quick death and will make the studio heads think they overpaid for Pixar.  The movie looks good though.  I will definitely go see this one in theaters when it comes out...

  • The merchandising for this is a nightmare. Not many kids will want to fall asleep with a stuffed rat. (the mickey mouse version, yes, but he doesnt look like he would be found in your kitchen cabinets) Action figures with cheese props?

    I say Disney's should (like ruining, oops i mean enhancing) other board games, would be to re-do Mouse Trap like theyve re-done battleship and Life. Beyond that, I cant imagine kids begging thier moms for merchandise from this movie.

    I dont have an interest in this film really. Just hasnt appealed to me yet, or made me think Oooo thats a concept I want to see. Rats in a kitchen. I saw a live-action flik that was pretty good, almost the same concept. Only it was about the humans, Mouse Hunt?

    I just think in the past (pre-cars) Pixar movies were cool because it was like looking in this world that you never knew you were interested in, until they told you about it. Toys coming alive when I leave my bedroom? Secret life of monsters? Stuff most people dont wonder about until someone reminds them its a possibility.

    Secret life of rats in france? I see the restaurant end. Kill the rats plz. I dont care what his plight is, he's a rat. And rats are dirty. And im not interested in seeing his nest, and his friends and girlfriend and watching him make rat babies. I dont think im alone.

  • Good points, Jim. Look at the "Charlotte's Web" movie. Now we all know that Nickelodeon, the movie's backer, has built an empire on vulgarity, crudeness, and aiming for the lowest common kiddie denominator (and that's pretty low). But by focusing "Charlotte's" ad campaign on Templeton the rat (thinking, no doubt, that he'd be more appealing to little boys than a cute little piglet), Nick has shot itself in the foot. The movie is a real box office disappointment, and too bad - I hear it's a charmer, but the Nick people made it look like a stupid, loud, Fairly Oddparents-like fartfest. I hope Disney will look both at "Charlotte's Web" and "Flushed Away" as lessons on how NOT to market a film, and good luck to them. As you say, they've already got a problem on their hands thanks to their lead character - although I must say the trailer is amusing.

  • Rats and food.....what's not to love!  If you have ever had a rat in your house you know what joy....what hilarious hijinks ensue...as it contaments everything in your kitchen ;)

    The teaser for Rat looks fun however i think I would have preferred character designs more in the vein of Flushed Away; humanized rats.  The character designs in Flushed Away are very appealing and fun...Mickey Mouse like mice (clothes, shoes etc).......or Pixar could have gone the Jerry the Mouse route and just made their rats really cute.

    But with the realistic looking fur (blue or not)...little pink hands and feet....yes I can't wait to buy a Remi plush for my daughter to cuddle with at night.

  • wow - how impressive. The Wall Street gang finally decided what a bunch of regular internet Disney Co observers said last summer was correct - Cars gross plus merchandise sales were very impressive and by no means a "disappointment." When the internet folks said it, the official responce was that the internet folks just didn't understand big business, but now that "Wall Street" has decided to repeat it, then it must be true. No change in actual facts, just who interprets them and somehow the situation has changed.

    Last summer it was - the sky is falling because Cars is being released too close to Superman. That never actually caused a problem.

    Rat will be fine two weeks after Pirates - if anything, move it up. June 8, 15, and 22 all look just fine, IF the calendar listed remains correct. If the marketing department, with access to the entire ABC network plus another dozen cable channels can't get the word out, the problem is not with the movie.  

    Disney Co still needs someone who will say - "We're not disappointed with our results of having the top two movies of 2006. If you are concerned with overpaying - we overpaid way too much for Fox family channel, and many many other deals. Pixar is actually contributing to the bottom line, unlike the billions we spend purchasing rights to movies that will never be produced. Regardless of what Wall Street analysts tell you, they are not pyschic. We're going to make the best movies we can and try to promote them as best we can, and that's that."

  • The fact is: Cars aren't personable. They aren't cuddly objects that children can cling on to, and that is why this movie was considered lackluster by Disney chiefs. Not to mention, slapping a NASCAR label on something other than beer, cigarettes, hardware, or RV's won't grab a NASCAR fan's attention.

    Ratatouille, I think, will do very well, as I think children will enjoy a cuddly creature and the potential gross out that kid's love (an animated rat eating kid image friendly trash).

  • I think the advantage that Ratatouille will have over Cars is it's worldwide grosses. Cars made it up with merchandise, I think that Ratatouille will make it up in worldwide.

    Cars did less worldwide than it did domestically (mostly because of the subject) whereas  Finding Nemo did twice worldwide what it did domestically. And Ratatouille doesn't have the subject matter issues that Cars does. (Heck the story takes place in France).

    I for one am not too exicted to see Ratatouille, but then I wasn't that interested in Cars and it is one of my favorites.

  • "Since they consider these sorts of films to be juvenile fare"

    With crap like Happily 'N' Ever After & Suf's Up, can you really blame them? HNA looks to be the lamest excuse for a movie I've ever seen & advertising Surf's Up as a "True Story" is equally as lame.  

    And moving to Ratatouille, that is just the same old thing too. It's stereotypical Pixar and doesn't bring anything new to the marketplace.

    With just a few exceptions, Meet the Robinsons looks to be the only 'new' animated film out this year. To me, it has everything going for it (at least trailer wise). For starters, I love how Disney opted not to go for the Movie Trailer Guy, shows they want this film to stand out. I love how it looks like Disney is going for a semi-serious-yet-still-funny story without any fart jokes in it (which it seems every animated film now has). I get the chills when I hear the score from the trailer and see the beginning of it. I hope they put their marketing muscle behind that film.

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