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Monday Mouse Watch : Wanna peek at Bob Iger's vision for the future of the Walt Disney Company? And is "Ratatouille" really starting to fade in the Hollywood rat race?

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Monday Mouse Watch : Wanna peek at Bob Iger's vision for the future of the Walt Disney Company? And is "Ratatouille" really starting to fade in the Hollywood rat race?

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You want to be able to look into the future? Particularly the Walt Disney Company's future?

Okay, then. What you need to start doing then is staying home on Saturday nights and watching ABC's "The Wonderful World of Disney" movie anthology series. During which you should pay particularly close attention to that TV show's title sequence.

"And why should I do that?," you ask. Well, for over 50 years now, Disney has been using the title sequences of its weekly TV series to give viewers a brief glimpse of the future. Beginning with the "Disneyland" series (Which originally began airing on ABC back in October 1954) ...


 Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... which gave the public its first up-close look at the "Happiest Place on Earth."

Given how quickly the public was to embrace Disneyland, Walt and his staff at the studio were quick to recognize the promotional power of television. Which is why they used weekly series like "The Wonderful World of Color" (Which debuted on NBC in September of 1961) to help keep the company's Anaheim theme park in the spotlight. Always making sure that Sleeping Beauty Castle was the first thing (and then the last thing) that viewers would see each week when they tuned in to catch Disney's latest show.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But again, recognizing that TV was a great medium for getting people excited about future projects ...  Once the corporation committed to spending $100 million to build a brand-new Vacation Kingdom down in Central Florida, Mickey not only changed the name of its Sunday night show to "The Wonderful World of Disney," it also swapped out the shots that you saw in that TV program's title sequence. Now -- instead of seeing fireworks behind Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle -- you saw shells exploding over Cinderella Castle at WDW's Magic Kingdom. All with the idea of showing TV viewers where they plan on spending their future vacations.

 
Cinderella castle (right) -- Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

This "glimpse of the future" tradition continued with the next incarnation of Disney's weekly TV series. When this program changed its network, name and night in September of 1981 (Now airing on CBS on Saturday nights, the show was then simply known as "Walt Disney"), its title sequence featured a CG Cinderella Castle which then transformed into this wireframe version of Epcot's Spaceship Earth.


 CG Spaceship Earth (right) -- Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Then -- in the late 1980s, as the Mouse was getting ready to open Disney-MGM Studios -- the title sequence of the company's weekly TV series was changed yet again. This time around (For an ABC-based revival of the show), as the camera zoomed around the world, visiting various Disney resorts, it eventually finds Sorcerer Mickey from "Fantasia" standing high atop Spaceship Earth. With a flick of the wrist, the Sorcerer's Apprentice then sends a magical lightning bolt streaking across the night sky. Which transforms a regular old water tower into Disney-MGM's original icon, the Earfel Tower.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Which bring us to the latest incarnation of "The Wonderful World of Disney." Which continues one of the long standing traditions of a weekly Disney TV show, in that -- as part of this program's "Disney Extra" bonus feature -- ...


 Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... it hypes recently-opened theme park attractions like Disneyland's "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage," Epcot's "The Seas with Nemo & Friends" ride-thru & "Finding Nemo -- The Musical" at Disney's Animal Kingdom and/or promotes upcoming releases like the 2-disc Platinum Edition of "The Jungle Book," which be debuting on DVD on October 2nd.

 
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But you know what I find particularly fascinating about this most recent revival of the "Wonderful World of Disney" TV series? The title sequence for this weekly movie anthology is really our first up-close look at Bob Iger's vision for the future of the Walt Disney Company. Which isn't so much tied to the physical world (i.e. Building new theme parks in Asia). But -- rather -- built on trying to persuade the company's worldwide customer base to go online and enjoy Disney's vaste array of characters there.

Obviously, we're not talking about Walt Disney (or even Michael Eisner) 's version of the Mouse House. Though -- as this TV show's title sequence gets underway -- you do see one tiny little screen that features an image of Steamboat Willie, the images that are shown here (More importantly, the order in which these pictures are presented) suggest a very different agenda is being serviced these days.

Take -- for example -- the first real image that you see in this title sequence for the revived "Wonderful World of Disney" TV series. It's a brief clip from "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" in which Will Turner says "They're coming" to Capt. Jack Sparrow. This (of course) serves as an example of all those family-friendly franchises that Iger and Disney Studio head Dick Cook are so anxious to put into production these days.

Right after that, it's a veritable parade of Pixar characters, with Crush telling Squirt that "You so totally rock" and Mr. Incredibles saying "It's showtime." Then Lightning McQueen winks to the crowd as he soars through the air in slow motion. Which demonstrates Bob's resolve to make the most of Disney's $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios.

   
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, the real giveaway that we're now looking at Bob Iger's vision for the future of the Walt Disney Company comes at the very end of this title sequence. When all of these little computer screens that were previously showing memorable moments from Disney & Pixar films now fly through a starlit sky and form a perfect recreation of the home page for Disney.com.

Iger is really committed to making sure that the Mouse takes advantage of every opportunity to get the Disney.com web address out there. Don't believe me? Then take a closer look at those two photos of the Disney castle that I've posted above. In the bottom third of both of those image captures, you'll notice that the Disney.com/wonderfulworld address has deliberately been positioned for maximum exposure.

Anyway, getting back now to how the title sequence for the "Wonderful World of Disney" ends with a perfect recreaction of the Disney.com home page ...


 Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... Which (appropriately enough for Iger's vision of a perfectly vertically intergrated corporation, where all divisions of the company now work together to help support Disney's latest projects & products) is hyping "Ratatouille." Which -- to be honest -- could actually use a little extra hype right about now.

To explain: What with "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" dominating at the box office this past weekend (That Warner Bros. release took in an estimated $140 million during its first five days in domestic release) and "Transformers" still coming on strong (That Paramount Pictures / DreamWorks release sold $36 million worth of tickets this past weekend) ... Well, that didn't leave a whole lot of elbow room for Brad Bird's latest at your local multiplex.

"Ratatouille" did manage to pull in an estimated $18 million over its three weekend in domestic release. Which normally would be considered a very respectable amount. But then when you compare how this Brad Bird film is doing right now in comparison to how other Pixar productions were doing at this point in their initial domestic run ...

Film Title

Initial Domestic Gross
17 days into theatrical run

"Finding Nemo"
$191.4 million
"The Incredibles"
$177.5 million
"Cars"
$156.6 million
"Monsters, Inc."
$156.3 million
"Ratatouille"
$143.0 million *
"Toy Story 2"
$126.2 million (wide)
"A Bug's Life"
$83.4 million (wide)
"Toy Story"
$72.3 million

* Includes estimated box office totals for this past weekend

... not to mention what's going on with the number of theaters that "Ratatouille" is now being presented in ...

Film Title
Number of theaters film
is playing in during
its first weekend in domestic release
Number of theaters film
is playing in during its third
weekend in domestic release
"Toy Story"
2,281
2,476 (+195)
"A Bug's Life"
2,686
2,748 (+162)
"Toy Story 2"
3,236
3,257 (+21)
"Monsters, Inc."
3,237
3,461 (+224)
"Finding Nemo"
3,374
3,425 (+51)
"The Incredibles"
3,933
3,683 (-250)
"Cars"
3,985
3,949 (-36)
"Ratatouille"
3,940
3,625 (-315)

... We're not exactly talking about conditions that lend themselves to films that then go on to break box office records. Then when you factor in the per-theater averages that other Pixar films saw during their third weekend in domestic release ...

Film Title
Per-theater averages for film's
third weekend in domestic release
"Finding Nemo"
$8,287
"The Incredibles"
$7,201
"Monsters, Inc."
$6,563
"Cars"
$5,896
"Toy Story 2"
$5,603
"Ratatouille"
$4,970 *
"Toy Story"
$4,341
"A Bug's Life"
$4,073

* Includes estimated box office totals for this past weekend

... You have to admit that "Ratatouille" isn't exactly cooking on all burners right now.

The good news is ... The earlier, much bleaker box office estimates for this Brad Bird film (Which suggested that the initial domestic gross for this new Pixar film would top out somewhere between $150 - $170 million) were wrong. Having already sold an estimated $143 million worth of tickets to date, "Ratatouille" should have no problem blowing through the $170 million barrier.

The bad news is ... It's now looking less & less likely that "Ratatouille" will be able to equal "Cars" domestic box office total. In fact, in an interview with Reuters yesterday ...

Disney's domestic distribution chief, Chuck Viane, said the movie now appears on track to top $200 million, overall.

... But how far above $200 million? ... No one at the studio really wants to say at this moment.

Look, let's be honest here, folks. At this point, all that really matters is what "Ratatouille" earns by Labor Day. If this Brad Bird movie can (to borrow a phrase from "Finding Nemo") "just keep swimming" for the next seven weeks and eventually makes almost as much as "Cars" did domestically last year, Wall Street isn't going to raise a fuss. The investment community will be happy to give Pixar a pass, not really question that animation studio's "Eight Hits in a Row" box office record.

If -- on the other hand -- the stubby little legs that "Ratatouille" has developed to date don't actually carry this film past the $200 million point ... Well, this Pixar production started off life by missing its opening weekend box office estimates by 20%. If it ends its domestic run by doing 20% less business than "Cars" did back in 2006 ... There's no way that Wall Street will overlook something that significant. Those are the sorts of numbers will get the investment community asking questions like "Is Pixar spreading itself too thin these days?"

So if you really want this Emeryville-based animation studio to avoid the scrutiny of the investment community ... Now would be a very good time to buy another ticket to "Ratatouille." Otherwise, this Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Pixar Animation Studios film may really have a tough time coming out ahead in this year's version of the Hollywood rat race.

Your thoughts?

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  • Interesting article.

    I won't pass a definative judgement about the new 'Magical World of Disney' credits until I actually see them.....but from those screenshots, they look very unappealing. Floating computer screens? It doesn't exactly scream 'magical'.

  • Jim loooooves ragging on Pixar.

  • That was actually fairly evenhanded. This is the first time I've seen anyone suggest Ratatouille wasn't going to top $200 million, though. Again, Pixar = crazy legs.

  • This TV opening would be the least up-to-date. The Internet revolution - so ten years ago. If technology continues to advance, it will benefit Iger to get people watching the new releases on the internet where Disney Co would keep a much higher % than they do by using the ancient theatre distribution system.

    Sorry, I hate to disappoint, but by any standard, Ratatouille is a hit. Of all the problems an analyst can focus on regarding Disney Co - Pixar is one of the smallest concerns. "Look over here - see it's not doing as good as the others - no wait - look over here - see it's really dismal - it should make even more $$$ or they'll start to talk." Big franchises crashing and burning this summer, Evan Almighty disappearing, but analysts are concerned about Ratatouille? Right.

    Where are all these gloom and doom analyst articles about the Pixar purchase? Wall Street knows the $7bill was a non-cash price, and they also know the movie was woefully undermarketed.  I didn't see any articles from Wall Street when Terabithia didn't do as well as Narnia, or Pirates 3 underperformed Pirates 2. What? The purchase of the Muppets was better? Even the analysts know Disney would be sunk if Pixar was a competitor.

    It's odd how things get spun. Disney Co finally gets creative people back in charge of actual decisions, and the peanut gallery can't wait to tear them apart. Sure it makes $$$, but how much $$$ over a boatload of $$$ - like the Disney Co was much better off before the Pixar purchase. If Enchanted pulls in Ratatouille-type numbers, I fully expect to hear a never-ending stream of "success" "megahit!" and a "return to classic Disney animation," conveniently forgetting that the "Enchanted" animation was out-sourced.

  • What I'm wondering is...what were the REAL expectations for Ratatouille?  I know the Wall Street analysts and the number people were going with the "Well, it has to outperform Cars to not be a failure" angle...but was it EXPECTED to outperform Cars?  If, before the summer began, someone had to make predictions for the weekend box office rankings, would Ratatouille have been expected to open at number 1, ahead of Live Free or Die Hard?  I know that flicks like Spidey, Pirates, Shrek, Transformers, and Potter were surely expected to do big business, but I never really got the vibe that Ratatouille was supposed to be this record-breaking blockbuster.  

    It's an artistic and a critical success, and it's done decent business in a summer chock full of "event" films.  It's not like movies are released in a vacuum, free of competition and other circumstances; they do the business they can, and then in a few years, they're allowed to be what they (hopefully) are intended to be--- a piece of art and entertainment.

    Out of all the flicks I've seen this summer, Ratatouille is my favorite, and that's good enough for me.

  • Jim, are they going to re-release "Ratatouille" with the in-credit bloopers that Pixar movies are renowned for? I remember the blooper reel convincing me to go see "Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2" a second time around. Maybe Disney can do a double-feature promotion around when "Under Dog" comes out?

  • You've got to be kidding.

    Ratatouille is NOT a big summer blockbuster .... Tranformers and Potter are going to wipe the floor with the likes of Ratatouille as far as the money is concerned .... GET OVER IT ALREADY. That doesn't mean these movies are "more successful"

    Anyone on Wall Street who somehow believes that Ratatouille is even in the same category shouldn't even be on Wall Street.

    I would have to look at Pirates as a disappointment to be honest.... you are telling me that this movie is third worldwide behind Spiderman and Shrek? These are possibly the two WORST movies ive seen in the last 3 years... and yet they are killing Pirates.

    I just don't get why the focus here is on Rat.

    Quit comparing RAT to Pixar's other movies. They are all Masterpieces .... if you don't think that RAT is as exciting, childfriendly, marketable, profitable, or themepark-able, as Nemo, Cars, or Monsters Inc.... then by all means take yourself down to Blockbuster and DVD to your hearts content. Ratatouille is about an evolution of an artistic medium and an artistic company. It's something for those who didn't think all that much of Nemo, Cars, or Monsters Inc. What is wrong with a group of artists tryin to cater to a different audience for once? I personally can't wait for WALL-E .... its seems like it may be even more different than the rest. SO WHAT if this new approach doesn't make money the first few years ... it will catch on when the average movie goer re-discoveres what true quality Disney story telling is.

    Compare Rat to movies like "Happy Feet", "Over The Hedge", "Surfs Up", "Meet The Robinsons"....

    It’s hands down better than all of them.... has more critical acclaim than all of them and WILL make more money than all of them. This equals success for Ratatouille. PERIOD.  The only exception would be Shrek .... Which truly doesn't deserve an ounce of the success it’s currently enjoying. But the collapse of civilized society is a debate for another day.

  • "There's no way that Wall Street will overlook something that significant. Those are the sorts of numbers will get the investment community asking questions like "Is Pixar spreading itself too thin these days?"

    Will the Wall Street people put Bob Iger in time out and shake their finger "you paid too much young man".  My God Bob run...run away and hide....Rat will only make $200 million domestic and the Wall Street folks are lighting torches.

    Jim likes to post numbers...lets post some numbers... if you take a gander at the link: http://boxofficemojo.com/showdowns/chart/?id=vs-pixar.htm you will see domestic BO for the last several Pixar films EXCLUDING Toy Story and Bugs Life.  If you average the BO of Incredibles, Monstes, TS 2 and Cars (dont include Nemo) you get a average domestic BO of $250 mil.

    This is Pixar's magic number.  Those 4 films bounce around this number.  Occasionally there will be an exception in either direction...NEMO-$339 or Rat $200something.  What's the problem?  Oh thats right...there isnt one.  It's imaginary like unicorns and pixies..

    http://www.raymation.net

  • "I would have to look at Pirates as a disappointment to be honest.... you are telling me that this movie is third worldwide behind Spiderman and Shrek? These are possibly the two WORST movies ive seen in the last 3 years... and yet they are killing Pirates."

    Actually Pirates 3 is dominating worldwide box office....a good bit in front of Spiderman 3 and way in front of Shrek 3.  Pirates was a bit of a disappointment domestic, most people thought it would do upper $300s, but Disney has got to be happy with the worldwide numbers.

    All time worldwide: http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/world/

    http://www.raymation.net

  • Thanks for the information.... I thought I heard on TV that Pirates was third. They must have been talking domestic and not worldwide.

    That's some juistice at least. Pirates deserves it.

    On another note... I am surprised how Potter is already so much higher than Transformers on this list. We can expect Potter to climb to Pirates levels. I thought Transformers was a shoe in for the top ten.... looks like Potter is going to put a stop to that.

  • I'm pretty sure Wall Street should have nothing but WONDERFUL things to say about Disney at this point of summer.  Pirates didn't make enough for you?  The reality is that Cars would've been decimated under this load of competition.  Yet Remy is holding up rather well.  Jim just sounds like a negative nilly at this point.

  • I think it will be interesting to see how well Ratatouille does worldwide in the end compared to the other Pixar films.  Unfortunately it doesn't open here in the UK until October but that means it will very likely get a much bigger audience because it wont be up against the summer blockbusters that it has as competition in the USA (Potter, Shrek. Transformers, Die Hard, Simpsons) are all already out or come out a full 6 weekd prior to the rats release. Then there's also the fact it's a film set in Europe so it may get a very good reaction over this way.

    Either way I think the film's box office is only half the story. Look at how Cars got criticized for it's box office compared to Nemo, yet I was at my local Disney Store last weekend and there's an entire new range of Cars summer stuff which is selling as opposed to one pair or Nemo swimming shorts. For how long it's been since Cars was released, I have never seen a Disney Store without a pretty big display of Cars merchandise whereas Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons and even some of the Pixar movies like Incredibles, Nemo and Monsters are now reduced to basic merchandise exposure.

  • Jimbo,

    You’re a “numbers guy” right?  Well, Transformers made 36 mil this weekend and that’s all great and everything… except that you “forgot” to mention that it dropped 48.9% (its second week).  Ratatouille only dropped 38.3% in its second week and only 37.9% this week…

    Now, if this was Ratatouille we were talking about here, you’d be totally forgetting the gross and focusing on the percentage drop… right?  Of course you would be, because you’re a “numbers guy”; when the numbers are working for you in order to spin your story that is.  Isn’t that right Jimbo?

    Your thoughts?  

  • jim isn't the only one being "negative" about ratatouille (i don't feel he his, he's just reporting what wall street is thinking). i found another article that reports numbers just to show that jim isn't the only one mentioning numbers...

    http://money.cnn.com/2007/06/30/news/companies/boxoffice.reut/index.htm

  • OH NOES!!!$## What if wall street doesn't approve? What if Disney did actually spend too much for Pixar? So what? It's already happened. Move on. I think, ultimately, Disney is better off with Pixar than without, whether they overpaid or not.

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