Okay. I admit it. Maybe -- just maybe -- the folks at Walt Disney Studios actually do know what they are doing.
Case in point: "Ratatouille." When this Brad Bird film only sold $47 million worth of tickets over its opening weekend (Which was at least 20% less than the $60 million that industry experts had originally expected this Pixar production to earn over its first three days in theaters) ... It was all too easy for someone like myself -- who trusts in numbers -- to dismiss this new animated feature as a critic's darling that was really struggling to connect with Pixar's usual audience.
Ah, but Chuck Viane -- head of Distribution at Walt Disney Studios -- warned me not to jump to conclusions when it came to "Ratatouille." He said that the Mouse had put an awful lot of thought into the proper positioning of its Rat movie.
"We actually picked our release date about a year ago," Viane explained. "We decided that opening 'Ratatouille' a week after "Evan Almighty' and a week before 'Transformers' would give this picture its very best shot at box office success. And -- as it turns out -- we were right."
Copyright 2007 DreamWorks LLC and Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved
Indeed they were. During the first 10 days that this new Pixar film was in domestic release, "Ratatouille" earned $109.5 million. Which puts this Brad Bird film just a lap or two behind what "Cars" pulled in last year during its first 10 days in U.S. theaters.
Here. Maybe a chart will help illustrate the point that I'm trying to put across here.
So while "Ratatouille" 's opening weekend performance was admittedly less than stellar, this critically acclaimed animated feature quickly made up ground by pulling in some very impressive grosses over last week's extended Fourth of July holiday.
Mind you, Viane attributes "Ratatouille" 's strong performance last week not just to the rave reviews and/or the great word-of-mouth. But -- rather -- because last week's other big earners (i.e. 20th Century Fox's "Live Free or Die Hard" and Paramount / DreamWorks' "Transformers") weren't really in direct competion with this new Brad Bird film.
"We each had our own audiences. Bruce Willis fans turned out for 'Die Hard,' while teens went for 'Transformers.' Which meant that we pretty much had the family audience all to ourselves," Chuck continued. "Then when you factor in that every day is like a Saturday during the summer ... Well, I'm not honestly surprised that 'Ratatouille' did as well as it did."
Of course, the big test comes tomorrow with the release of Warners' "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Which -- you'd think -- would have Viane worried. But again that's where you'd be wrong.
Copyright 2007 Warner Bros. Entertainment. All Rights Reserved
"Look, I know that Harry Potter fans are very devoted. And I'm certain that those people are going to turn out in huge numbers to see 'Phoenix' this week" Viane said. "But that movie isn't going to have all that much impact on how our movie does. We're talking about two very different fan bases here. There's very little overlap between those two audiences. Which is why I think that 'Ratatouille' will continue to do well as we roll into Weekend No. 3."
Me? Again, I'm not entirely sure that I share Chuck's optimism. It would seem to me that "Ratatouille" and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" would have to share an audience. At least a portion of the same audience. Which is why I'll really be interested in seeing by what percentage business for this new Pixar film falls off as it enters its third week in theaters.
I mean, let's be honest here, folks. If you look cold-bloodedly at what "Ratatouille" has earned over its first 10 days in domestic release, this Brad Bird film still lags well behind Pixar's top earners like "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles."
To be fair, when I mentioned this to Mr. Viane, the Head of Distribution at Walt Disney Studios said that he didn't feel that such comparisons were fair at all.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. & Pixar Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved
"You can't really compare how a film that opens over the holidays does to the performance of a picture that opens in summer. Those are two entirely different box office seasons, each with their own unique challenges," Chuck stated. "Plus it's not fair to use 'Nemo' as the performance yardstick for all the Pixar films that followed it. That film was unique. As were all the Pixar movies that followed it."
Me? I'm a numbers guy. Which is why it's hard for me not to stack "The Incredibles" box office performance next to how "Cars" did last year, and then compare how "Ratatouille" has done to date to Pixar's most recent releases. And what I (along with many investment analysts) see there is a trend. The slow-but-steady erosion of how much a new Pixar release typically earns during its initial domestic release.
To hear Mr. Viane talk, there's no such thing as a typical Pixar picture. And as for "Ratatouille" 's domestic earnings ... Again to quote from Chuck:
"If by the end of this summer 'Ratatouille' hasn't earned at least as much as 'Cars,' I'm going to be very surprised."
"If by the end of this summer 'Ratatouille' hasn't earned at least as much as 'Cars,' I'm going to be very surprised."
What about you folks? Were you surprised by how well "Ratatouille" did over the extended Fourth of July holiday? More to the point, what do you think this Brad Bird film will have earned by the time it finishes its domestic run?
Your thoughts / predictions?
Well hopefully the movie will fail soon, so we can bring closure to the discussion. Fingers crossed. (Okay, it didn't fail yet, but just wait till next week...) By early September, box office should be way down, and we can clear the dance floor for the told-ya-so jig.
Unlike previous Pixar releases, this movie had no marketing (cause Disney Co Marketing didn't know how to do it), no grocery store or fast food tie-ins, no books or plush or cooking sets at WalMart, so the numbers look pretty good to me. I'd be hard pressed to find a movie studio that wouldn't want those kind of dismal numbers. Remember, the "purchase" of Pixar was a non-cash stock-only transaction, basically costing Disney Co zippo, especially after how much stock they gave to Eisner.
What a great problem to be faced with: "This movie got great reviews and made buckets of money, but some psychics think it should have made barrels of money - explain yourself."
Give me a break, Jim!
I would think you would have the integrity to honestly admit you were wrong. Seriously, this most recent article is very juvenile.
It is obvious to me that all your Disney sources are with the old guard and in your synchophantic way, you are doing what you can to take down Pixar people and attempt to defend the lousy works of the old executives.
Let's take your beloved Meet the Robinsons, for example. Do you know what that film earned in the first 10 days? Less than $52 million. Chicken Little? $80 million. Talk about a drop off between those two Disney CGI films! Ratatouille has blown those two pictures out of the water. Not bad for what you consider one of the worst Pixar movies ever.
I thought you said you were a numbers guy, Jim. You are letting your own bias cloud your "analysis".
I guarantee that Ratatouille will be remembered (and marketed and sold) for many years to come while Meet the Robinsons and Chicken Little will rest on the ash heap with Atlantis and Treasure Planet.
Imagine if Disney had not bought Pixar. The news headlines would read how Disney animation is floundering and unable to compete with the clear industry leader in Pixar. Now with Ratatouille done, Disney would have no go-to studio for potential hit animated movies. The future of Disney animation would be resting solely on The Frog Princess (or the Frog and the Princess, or whater PC-renaming they've come up with).
So can we put the Pixar bashing to rest and move on? This is really getting tiring.
I'm curious about how the international boxoffice will be. That ought to be big for a talking animal movie set in Paris.
I don't expect Ratatouille will exceed the recent Pixar movies but I think that's more a sign of general market conditions than any drop of in quality. If you want a blockbuster today you just about have to have a number on the end of the title. Toystory 3 will be big.
Not pursuing a fast food tie in, while honorable, probably hasn't helped to get kids demanding to see the film..
I'm glad they continue to do originals stories and I think even their "weak" performers will still be quite profitable. Enough so that they can continue to make more.
If you listen to Chuck you may actually learn something here because guess what, Harry Potter is going for the same audience as Transformers and Die Hard. The film is PG-13...each film gets darker than the previous one....definitely not family fare.
Transformers has more to worry about tomorrow then Ratatouille. And before you say it, yes the Simpsons opens soon and yes it is animated just like Ratatouille but NO they are not going for the same audience.....
So after Rat it makes more then Cars but less then Nemo will we still have to hear about what a disappointment it is or will the retoric shift to how poorly WALL-E is sure to do -yawn-.......
Really it's silly to base this movie's success merely on domestic gross when it's so obvious that it's the BEST film this summer is going to produce and the word of mouth will keep it raking in cash as long as Disney stands by it. I really wish that it had come out in the fall or during a more quiet time so it could get the attention it deserves but Disney did such a shoddy job of marketing it that THEY'RE probably more to blame for how much it makes then Pixar.
Wise up guys. Jim is yanking yer chain here.
OT: I checked out a Disney store this weekend and noted all the forlorn "Fairies" franchise stuff. If the those "creative" executives were looking for something to b*tch about I'd think delaying "Tinkerbell, the Movie" would be high on the list.
And maybe I missed this from earlier Jim, but I understand that Chris Sanders has moved on to Dreamworks and will direct their next movie? How about some background on that?
"when it's so obvious that it's the BEST film this summer is going to produce"
Excuse me, but what?!?
Isn't that jumping the gun a bit?
Especially with Potter out Wed., and The Simpsons on the way.
In any case, Rat... seem successful to me.
This says it all, this weekend while at the supermarket, two young children must have been about 5 years old were asking mom if they could have a ratatouille book they found near the checkstand.
Yes they said ti very clearly Ratatouiee. and who said the name was going to be a problem and that the ick factor was going to lure people away.
So far i have only heard that from two people and that was in a disney podcast for a disney fan site. One of them felt chicken little was a much better and higher qulity film. Goes to show that some people have some pretty strange ideas of quality
Jim, great article...I'm a clear headed, non-crazed, fan of Pixar films. You do a terriffic job of keeping people informed about the industry. I firmly believe you could post the word "Pixar"... nothing else... and still find these lame, oddly desperate, insuting responses. These people don't even take a breath to enjoy these fine Pixar films. As soon as the lights come up in the theater, they dash home to their computers and proceed to bash you...perplexing that these nice, clean, wholesome stories can illicit this sort of rage. Really, just strange. Cheers!
I keep reading about how the marketing for "Ratatouille" isn't good. I've been to the Disney Store and I've seen all the marketing there- plushes, rat-in-a-car action figures, clothing, etc. And, maybe I'm the only one here who watches the Disney Channel, but there has been, since before the movie came out, a bunch of marketing for "Ratatouille" on there...they show different Movie Surfers clips on the movie all the time, and they've shown a substantial number of clips. Not to mention the 9-minute preview on Disney.com, and the other marketing on Disney.com (the other videos and the whole "Ratatouille" page).
I have loathed numbers since I was in Elementary School - I've always been a words and pictures guy - so maybe I'm the wrong one to comment on this. But I will, anyway :) ...
I get the impression that you and Chuck are both spinning this data - Chuck, because he wants Disney to look good, and you, because you want to prove yourself right about Disney paying too much for Pixar. Needless to say, this doesn't do much to change my opinion about numbers ;). I think the truth is probably somewhere in your two opinions.
Perhaps this is because I'm not in the industry, but I fail to understand how a film that's making hundreds of millions of dollars can be viewed as a disappointment. And can't they just, for once, be happy that they made a great film like "Ratatouille"?
Also, isn't the audience for the entire movie industry "slowly but surely eroding?"
And how is "Ratatouille" doing compared to other animated films this year?
I don't know about anybody else, but Pixar is currently the only animation studio whose films I go to see in the theatrer solely because they're Pixar films. Partly because they're quality films, but also because I believe they are made to be seen in theatres (Actually, I thought Nemo was "WOW!" in the theatre, but just OK on DVD).
Although I'll be picking up a copy of "Deathly Hallows" as soon as it comes out, having been sorely disappointed by the film version of "Chamber of Speeches"...er..."Secrets", and only mixed on "Goblet of Fire", I'll probably wait for DVD to see the new film, unless I see some fantastic reviews.
I don't think it's really fair to put "Ratatouille" up against "Harry Potter", which has got to be one of the biggest franchises of all time. The new, original Pixar film will deserve a handicap when you judge how it came out in the battle with the well-established wizard boy. Though I do remember some people predicting doom for that series while looking at some of those *numbers* for "Prisoner of Azkaban" (the best film of the series IMHO).
But, if you're correct and there is something to be concerned about, what do you suggest Pixar do? I hope it isn't sequels, remakes, celebrity name dropping and fart jokes, like at so many other studios...
What I think might help Hollywood in general is re-widening the window between theatrical and DVD releases. When I was a kid, the new Disney film would come out in the Summer and you wouldn't get the video until the following Spring.
Another thing -
I read something to the effect that "Ratatouille" is doing well in other countries - don't know if that's true or not, but it seems to me that it might do better in countries where cuisine is a central part of the culture than it does here.
Uhm.. just wondering which film WON'T be negatively impacted by the Harry Potter release?
Re: The "Harry" and Pixar audiences
All I know is, my sister, who is a huge Potter fan (though she, and I, hated the last one) and a huge Pixar fan, took my niece and nephew to see Ratatouille opening day. (They all enjoyed it.) She will *not* be taking them to see Harry unless and until she sees it first. She will most likely wait for DVD. I expect Harry to do better than Ratatouille, but I have to agree with those who say the audiences for the films, although they started off very close, are diverging fast as the Potter series moves along.
I'm just getting tired of how bad every Disney film does when in actuallity they do pretty well. There is one thing I know about numbers, they really don't tell the whole story since it depends on which numbers you use. Domestic, International, DVD release, PPV, merchandise? Which numbers can you use to drive your point.
These articles that keep questioning the Pixar purchase are stale before they even get on here. My family loved the movie along with the rest of the full theatre that clapped when it was over.
Will Harry Potter have an impact? Duh, yeah since every new film this summer as impacted the last one but what you are going for is a slight decline and a different audience.
Will I see Rataouille again? Yes I will. Will I see Potter again? I usually can only take one showing of the movie for which I expect it to be very good. But that is just me....
Totally agree with animagusurreal .
The problem with Jim is that he can´t define what kind of point he wants to make. He wants to be a storyteller, a animation histrorian, a disney commentator, book reviewer. I'm ok because variety is the spice of life. But when it comes to Pixar it's always about dissapoinment even when the numbers don't add up.