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Toon Tuesday : Is Disney now trying to manage box office expectations for "Ratatouille" ?

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Toon Tuesday : Is Disney now trying to manage box office expectations for "Ratatouille" ?

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Did anyone else find it kind of bizarre that Disney's PR flaks are already out there, trying to spin "Pirates of the Caribbean : At World's End" 's box office results ?

Okay, admittedly this Gore Verbinski film didn't top "Spider-Man 3" 's stateside opening weekend numbers ... But -- that said -- we're still talking about a movie that shattered all previous records for Memorial Day Weekend ticket sales as well as having the biggest world-wide box office opening of all time. Selling over $400 million worth of tickets in just six days time.

So surely when your movie makes an obscene amount of money in such a short period of time, you are then afford to rest on your laurels a bit ... Right ?

Think again, folks. This is Hollywood that we're talking about after all. A place where people get insanely competitive when it comes to how well their motion pictures do. Take -- for example -- the Spring of 1990. When high concept king Don Simpson kept sending then-Disney studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg these faxes, in which Don would then boast about how his next Paramount Pictures production, "Days of Thunder" was going to do so much better at the box office than "Dick Tracy" was.

 Copyright 1990 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

One particularly memorable exchange started off with Simpson sending Katzenberg a message that read:

"You can't outrun the 'Thunder' !"

To which Jeffrey replied :

"Wait 'til you see the size of my 'Dick' ! "

Which pretty much brings us to the real reason that so many of these executives want (No, need) their studio's films to do better over their opening weekends than the competition's pictures do. So that these guys then have a legitimate reason to say:

"Mine's bigger than yours."

And in the case of "Pirates of the Caribbean : At World's End" ... Walt Disney Studios really wanted to have bragging rights over Sony Pictures. But because "Pirates 3" only made an estimated $142 million during its first weekend in domestic release (Versus the $151.1 million that "Spider-Man 3" earned over its own opening weekend in the U.S. ) ... Well, that's why you now have people like Chris LeRoy -- Buena Vista's senior vice president general sales manager -- out there spinning. Trying to make "At World's End" 's already-ridiculously-large box office haul sound even bigger than it actually is.

 Copyright 2007 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. / MARVEL

As Chris explained it to Brandon Gray over at Box Office Mojo on Sunday:

"I think it was hard to expect ('At World's End') to top ('Dead Man's Chest'). Market conditions change so much from one movie to the other. What we wanted to accomplish was to break the Memorial Day weekend record and we're very pleased with that."

Of course, it's kind of ironic that Disney's flaks are out there now, trying to spin "At World's End" 's spectacular box office results. Given that -- in just one month from now -- these guys may have a legitimate PR problem on their hands. Which is explaining "Ratatouille" 's opening weekend numbers.

Look, I know that a lot of JHM readers are still mad at me for having come down so hard on "Cars" last year. For perhaps over-reporting that this John Lasseter film failed to meet its initial financial projections.

But that said ... I still have to tell you folks that I have been hearing some very strange things lately about "Ratatouille." About how Disney's own people are reportedly already out there, whispering about how this Brad Bird movie may not do as well as "Cars" did.

Don't get me wrong, folks. Everyone that I've spoken with starts off by saying that "Ratatouille" is this thoroughily charming little motion picture. That -- from strictly a technological & artistic point of view -- this new animated feature may be the very best thing that Pixar has ever produced. They then go on to say that the film's story is solid and its characters are engaging. Which all sounds very positive.

 Copyright 2007 Pixar / Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But then (You knew that there was a big "But" coming, didn't you ? ) they then go on to describe "Ratatouille" as being this " ... little film with the great big heart." And say how it might have been a mistake for Disney to release this particular Pixar project right in the middle of Summer blockbuster season. Where a rat who longs to a chef may soon get lost in the shuffle as June gives way to July. And all of these transforming robots and boy wizards start crowding in on poor Remy at your local multiplex.

Hollywood actually has a term for a whispering campaign like this. They call it "managing expectations." As in : Getting the word out well in advance that your motion picture may not do as well as your studio had initially hoped it would. So that when your movie actually does manage to meet its opening weekend box office projections (As high or low as they may be) ... The entertainment press then reports this news as if it were something just short of a triumph.

Take -- for example - how Jeffrey Katzenberg just "managed expectations" for "Shrek the Third." In the week just prior to the release of that new PDI / DreamWorks Animation feature, Katzenberg was quoted as saying that ...

"I hope we have a very, very good (opening) weekend, but I don't expect us to set any records."

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

Which indicated to both the financial press as well as the entertainment community that Jeffrey honestly didn't expect that "Shrek the Third" would do all that well. Which is why this news was then widely reported in the days just prior to the theatrical release of the third film in the "ShreK" series.

But then -- when "Shrek the Third" sold $121.6 million worth of tickets over its first three days in domestic release (Which -- the way I hear it -- matched exactly with what DreamWorks' own internal projections said about about how well their new animated feature would initially perform) ... Well, the press then reported the third "Shrek" film's opening weekend numbers as if they were ... Well ... something just short of a triumph.

Pretty clever, that Katzenberg. Don't you think ?

Anyway ... Getting back to "Ratatouille" now ... Given all this behind-the-scenes whispering that's going on, you have to wonder : Is Disney now attempting to do what Jeffrey just did with "Shrek the Third" ? As in : Artificially lowering people's expectations for Pixar's next movie so that -- when those opening weekend's numbers finally do come in -- "Ratatouille" will then seem like a much bigger success than it actually is ? I don't think so.

By that I mean : I've got all of these Disney insiders who keep talking about how Pixar has never made a movie like this before. That "Ratatouille" is a very clever but small film. More importantly, that this Brad Bird movie doesn't feature any brava action sequences like Woody & Buzz chasing after the moving van in "Toy Story" or that chase through the Door Hangar in "Monsters, Inc." Which then may make it really difficult for "Ratatouille" to stand out (And -- more importantly -- develop legs) during Summer blockbuster season.

 Copyright 2001 Pixar / Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Don't get me wrong, folks. I -- like so many other animation fans -- still consider the opening of a brand-new Pixar Film to be an event. Which is why I'll certainly be checking out "Ratatouille" over its opening weekend. And given how much I enjoyed Brad Bird's earlier efforts (I.E. "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles"), I'll undoubtedly be seeing this animated feature a couple of other times while it's still out in theaters.

But -- that said -- I have to admit that it bothers me when I hear Disney insiders saying things like ...

"You know that 'Ratatouille' isn't really a Brad Bird movie, right ? That Brad just did what he could with a Jan Pinkava film that was already going down in flames. But because 'Rats' 's settings had already been chosen and the characters had already been designed, this wasn't so much a movie as it was a rescue mission. And given that 'Ratatouille' still had to be ready to roll into theaters in just 18 months time, there was only so much that Brad could do."

So when you have people inside the company telling you things like that, as well as continually using phrases like "It's a cute little film" or "It's a small but charming movie" ... That doesn't honestly bode well for "Ratatouille" 's chances to make it big in the Summer of 2007.

So as I said at the top of the story ... Perhaps Disney's PR flaks should save their strength. And rather than wasting their time & energy on trying to convince entertainment reporters that Disney Company officials aren't disappointed with "At World's End" 's domestic opening weekend totals (Because -- truth be told here -- Mouse House execs are a little disappointed with the way "Pirates 3" performed. Domestically, anyway. Sure, the film's world-wide box office numbers are great. But those Disney officials still wanted bragging rights over Sony Pictures. Which -- sadly -- they didn't get. Anywho ... ) ... Maybe they should get back to managing expectations on "Ratatouille." Which is increasingly looking like a charming little movie that may get lost in the shuffle.

Your thoughts ?

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  • Can you really blame them for wanting to lower expectations? I mean besides the fact that by the time it comes out, three films including an animated one will (likely) have grossed over $300 million, besides the fact that it will have such films as Evan Almighty on its back, besides the fact that Surf's Up will remind audiences that not all animated movies are good and besides the fact that it will undoubtedly have the common Nemo/Shrek comparisons, it will have to face Transformers (dumb movie imo) and Harry Potter 5 (coinciding with book 7 hype). For a film like Ratatouille, it is best to set expectations low, so even if it only gets to a relatively low number (under Cars, etc) it's not that big of a deal (and if it does well... all the better).

  • Blah, there's no reason to set expectations low, nor high. Just wait and see.

    (I'm just saying from my experience.)

  • My husband & I absolutely love the trailers (and the 9 minute preview on Disney.com), and we'll definitely be seeing it when it opens.  It looks like such a great movie, I think I'll like it better than "Cars" (so far my favorite Pixar movie).  I had never thought that "Ratatouille" wouldn't do well.  It looks so different from other Pixar films, both in story and in the animation.  I hope it does really well...

  • So  Ratatouille could make less than Cars?  In other words it'll probably make over 200 million at the box office and tons more on dvd.  I can't see how that's disappointing.

  • Jim,

    I wonder if Pirates 3 could have beaten Spider-Man 3 had Pirates run only 1 an hour and 50 minutes instead of 2 hours and 50 minutes. Less time equals more showings. Pirates 3 dominated over half the screens in my 12 screen local multi-plex. I saw the movie twice this weekend. It doesn't seem like it takes 2 hours and 50 minutes. I think they maybe could have trimmed it down by an hour and saved the extras for the Dvd. Maybe that would have made the Accountateers happy.

  • "You know that 'Ratatouille' isn't really a Brad Bird movie, right ? That Brad just did what he could with a Jan Pinkava film that was already going down in flames"

    I find such words quite astonishing quite frankly. This is already writing off the movie before it has even been completed. I fear for this movie.

  • I am usually not a fan of Pixar movies, but this movie has my attention! I for one can't wait for the rat to hit the big screen! IMO Transformers and Potter have nothing on this movie.

  • I suspect I'll like Ratatouille a lot, but I wonder if it will really catch on with the all import kiddie demo? My DD normally is on fire to see a new Disney/Pixar film, but she really hasn't said much about this one. I'm sure we'll see it but thus far her attitude seems to be, "A film about a rat? BLECH!"

    All along I've been worried this film would not be nearly as popular as the previous Pixar films (yes, even less popular than that "bomb" of a film Cars!) and now, looking at the competition it's going up against, I think those fears are justified.

  • My only point about this not being a Brad Bird film is that since the comment comes from a "Disney insider", I wouldn't put to much faith in it.  If it had come from a Pixar insider, I'd trust it more.  The fact is, 18 months is a long time in the world of computer animation compared to a live-action film.  Although I'm sure Brad isn't as tied to this film as the ones he himself instigated, I'm also sure he has more than put his stamp on it in the time he has been there.

    And the 9 minutes prove it's going to be great, so if it underperforms at the box office, that's just the audience's loss.  They can waste their time with crap like "Shrek", if that's what they want.

  • Maybe I'm reading between the lines here, but it almost sounds like there are some insiders at Disney who WANT it to flop, or at least not perform very well. Like maybe there are some who are a little sore about the Pixar acquisition and "takeover" of animation? Not that I think this is going to be a "blockbuster" for them, but I think it will do okay, hopefully, at least as good as Cars.

  • I am just wondering why in the world would so many movies want to be squeezed into a 4month time frame with so many other big films.  Think about it.  Does any one here think that if Harry Potter 5 came out in January no one would go see it?  What about when the other Pixar films when they used to come out in the Fall… Everyone went to go see them then.  I just hate the fact that everyone wants to put their big blockbuster only during the summer.  It’s foolish when you have 8 other months of quieter films. I think it was a bad thing for Pixar to move their films to the summer, just because of how The Incredibles did.  Talk about a knee-jerk decision. I also understand that they wanted to be able to sell the DVDs at Christmas time, but once again so will all of the other big DVDS from the summer.  By the way askmike1 about Surf’s Up… Your not being to smart about your opinion about that film. Granted Open Season was not a very good film, and it felt cheep and had a lot of pop culture in it.  But you are making a foolish decision about Surf’s Up.  It will be one of the best animated films of the year next to Ratatouille.  If you like the TV series The Office, or if you like those very funny Mocumentary  films like This is Spinal Tap, then you will really like Surf’s Up. It might not make as much as the other animated films this year, but like the fools who pass up on seeing Ratatouille, you would be a fool by not seeing Surf’s Up. I saw 10 minutes of it, and it was great. And very well done. But don’t take my word for it. Look at these very funny 8 clips over here at


    Give it a chance before you make an ignorant statement and choice.

  • By the way Jim, why aren't you doing a Podcast by yourself? I know you are doing it with those other two guys, but the only good parts, are when you are on it. Just my opinion.

  • Dear Pixar;

    Please just keep making the types of movies that you enjoy, and I will enjoy them too. Thank you for making the kinds of movies that, in 20, 30, or 50 years, we'll be able to see the special triple platinum editions of on Holo-DVD and still enjoy.



  • Releasing Ratatouille against Harry Potter is probably the worst thing that Disney can do for the film - since Harry Potter is going to have a HUGE amount of hype because of the upcoming final book in the series and is an easier sell then "Our movie's about a rat who wants to cook" is...well, as much as I want the movie to succeed, I think that Disney's right this time around.  As soon as Potter comes out, I think Ratatouille is done for.

    That said, Ratatouille does have a few weeks of lead time over Harry Potter.  Since Shrek 3 will be more or less done by the time Ratatouille comes out at the end of June, it's probably going to have a good start at the box office.  Unfortunately, this year's not going to allow it to have the staying power that Nemo had.

  • I agree with GrumpyFan, this insider sounds like he's waiting for Pixar to stumble, this is just typical Disney backstabbing etiquette.

    Pixar will survive because they have a winning formula: They tell a good story, and they put a little heart and feeling below the slick surfaces. This film NEVER had blockbuster written all over it, and if it had been handled by another studio, it would be a guaranteed flop, but this is Pixar, an animation studio with one of the most successful track records in history (in over ten years, NONE of their films have lost money) From what I've seen of the movie so far, it looks like they'll make their money back and then some, in spite of the tough competition.

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