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Toon Tuesday: Why "Ratatouille" 's good-but-not-great box office numbers are now causing problems for Disney's marketing department

Toon Tuesday: Why "Ratatouille" 's good-but-not-great box office numbers are now causing problems for Disney's marketing department

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By now, you've probably heard that -- over this past weekend -- "Ratatouille" finally officially achieved really-for-real blockbuster status. Earning over $200 million during its initial domestic run.

Mind you, it did take this new Brad Bird film quite a while to reach that milestone. As you can see by the chart below ...

Film Title
Number of days that it took for this particular Pixar film to reach a domestic gross of $200 million
"Finding Nemo"
20 days
"The Incredibles"
22 days
"Cars"
30 days
"Monsters, Inc."
30 days
"Toy Story 2"
44 days
"Ratatouille"
65 days

... Of the six Pixar films that earned at least $200 million over their initial domestic runs, "Ratatouille" took the longest. In fact, I've been told by several Disney insiders that the studio was so concerned that this animated feature might not achieve blockbuster status before the Labor Day Weekend was over that the Mouse actually increased the number of theaters that "Ratatouille" was being shown in. Bumping up the number of screens that this Pixar picture was being screened on this past Friday from 956 to 1068.

"Ah, but what does that matter how long it took, Jim?," you say. " 'Ratatouille' has finally officially achieved blockbuster status. Isn't that something worth celebrating?"

Well, the Walt Disney Company would certainly like you to think so. Which is why -- over the next few days -- you're going to see the usual self-congratulatory full-page ads in the trades. Not to mention those press releases that talk about how happy the studio supposedly is with the way that "Ratatouille" has performed to date.


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

Of course, were you to ask the people who work in Mickey's marketing department about what Mouse House senior management really thinks about this particular Pixar production's box office performance, you'd hear a very different story. One that involves a lot of finger-pointing as well as people attempting to shift blame to other departments at the studio.

"But why would people want to assign blame when it comes to 'Ratatouille' 's domestic box office performance?," you ask. Well, you have to understand that -- up until this last Brad Bird film -- Pixar productions have always finished in the Top 5 during their initial domestic runs.

Don't believe me? Okay. Let's go to the charts. "Toy Story" was the No. 1 film domestically back in 1995 ...

Top Five Films of 1995
Their Domestic Grosses
"Toy Story"
$191.7 million
"Batman Forever"
$184.0 million
"Apollo 13"
$172.0 million
"Pocahontas"
$141.5 million
"Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls"
$108.3 million

"A Bug's Life" came in fourth in 1998's domestic box office derby ...

Top Five Films of 1998
Their Domestic Grosses
"Saving Private Ryan"
$216.5 million
"Armageddon"
$201.5 million
"There's Something About Mary"
$176.4 million
"A Bug's Life"
$162.7 million
"The Water Boy"
$161.4 million

"Toy Story 2" came in third back in 1999 ...

Top Five Films of 1999
Their Domestic Grosses
"Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace"
$431.0 million
"The Sixth Sense"
$293.5 million
"Toy Story 2"
$245.8 million
"Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me"
$206.0 million
"The Matrix"
$171.4 million

"Monsters, Inc." finished fourth back in 2001 ...

Top Five Films of 2001
Their Domestic Grosses
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
$317.5 million
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"
$313.3 million
"Shrek"
$267.6 million
"Monsters, Inc."
$255.8 million
"Rush Hour 2"
$226.1 million

"Finding Nemo" was No. 2 back in 2003 ...

Top Five Films of 2003
Their Domestic Grosses
"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
$377.0 million
"Finding Nemo"
$339.7 million
"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl"
$305.4 million
The Matrix Reloaded"
$281.5 million
"Bruce Almighty"
$242.8 million

"The Incredibles" came in fifth back in 2004 ...

Top Five Films of 2004
Their Domestic Grosses
"Shrek 2"
$441.2 million
"Spider-Man 2"
$373.5 million
"The Passion of the Christ"
$370.2 million
"Meet the Fockers"
$279.2 million
"The Incredibles"
$261.4 million

While "Cars" grabbed the 3 spot in last year's domestic box office derby.

Top Five Films of 2006
Their Domestic Grosses
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
$423.3 million
"Night at the Museum"
$250.8 million
"Cars"
$244.0 million
"X-Men: The Last Stand"
$234.3 million
"The Da Vinci Code"
$217.5 million

Whereas "Ratatouille" ... Well, as of yesterday, this Pixar production found itself dropping down to No. 8 ...

Top Ten Films of 2007
(As of 9/03/07)
Their Domestic Grosses
(As of 9/03/07)
"Spider-Man 3"
$336.5 million
"Shrek the Third"
$321.0 million
"Transformers"
$310.5 million
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"
$308.2 million
"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"
$286.6 million
"300"
$210.6 million
"The Bourne Ultimatum"
$202.6 million
"Ratatouille"
$201.0 million
"The Simpsons Movie"
$178.4 million
"Wild Hogs"
$168.2 million

... having just been knocked out of the No. 7 berth by "The Bourne Ultimatum."

And given the domestic market is now pretty much tapped out for this particular Pixar production (Just last week, "Ratatouille" was struggling to pull in $120,000 - $130,000 for its stateside weekday performances. And given that most of the kids in the U.S. are headed back to school today, you can now expect this movie's numbers to fall straight through the floor) and given that there are still 17 movie-going weeks left in 2007 ... It is quite possible that -- between now and New Year's Eve -- three more movies that can gross over $200 million domestically will come along. With one of those films most likely being Walt Disney Pictures' "Enchanted."

The way I hear it, the folks up in Emeryville are not happy about this prospect. Not just because "Ratatouille" has already been knocked out of the Top 5. But because -- for the first time ever -- there is the very distinct possibility that this animation studio's latest release will not be in the domestic Top 10 as 2007 draws to a close.

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

This is why there's now a new party line when it comes to discussing "Ratatouille" 's box office performance. Nowadays, Pixar die-hards don't really like to talk about how this Brad Bird film did during its domestic run. They'd much rather prefer to discuss how well this animation studio's latest release is doing overseas.

Of course, the only problem with doing that is that it then opens the window to comparing "Ratatouille" 's grosses to those for "The Simpsons Movie." And while it no longer seems likely that this 20th Century Fox release will be able to eclipse that Pixar picture's domestic earnings, "The Simpsons Movie" is still kicking "Ratatouille" 's butt overseas (i.e. Having earned $291.0 million versus $172.3 million to date).

Then when you factor in that "The Simpsons Movie" allegedly only cost $75 million to produce ... Well, that means that this Fox film will be in the black a whole lot sooner than "Ratatouille" will. Which -- given that this Brad Bird film (due to all of its production problems) reportedly cost $150 million to complete -- is something of a sore point with the suits back in Burbank.


 Copyright 2007 20th Century Fox.
All Rights Reserved

And speaking of people being sore ... Let's get back to all that finger-pointing that's been going on in Burbank. All because the folks up in Emeryville are reportedly blaming the Mouse House's marketing team for "Ratatouille" 's under-performance at the box office.

As the story goes, the people at Pixar are now supposedly saying that this Brad Bird film didn't do as well as it could have domestically because Disney dropped the ball. They insist that Mickey's marketing staff didn't put together a really effective promotional campaign for this particular Pixar production.

As you might imagine, claims like this make the folks who actually work in Disney's marketing department completely crazy. As one studio insider that I recently spoke with put it:


Copyright 2007 Pixar Animation Studios / Imagination Farms.
All Rights Reserved


We put together the best possible campaign that we could for 'Ratatouille.' Sure, this movie got great reviews. But this was a very difficult picture to sell during an incredibly competitive summer. To be honest, we're lucky that this movie did as well as it did.

Pixar is now claiming that we didn't put together a good enough trailer for 'Ratatouille.' They say that this is the main reason that their newest movie didn't do as well domestically as 'Cars' did. Which is why they're now being complete b*stards about the 'WALL-E' trailer. Insisting that only they know the proper way to promote their next picture.

Our counter-argument is that if we didn't put together the campaign that we did for 'Ratatouille,' putting that 9-minute excerpt out there on the Web, holding those sneak previews two weeks out, that there's no other way that we could have built better word-of-mouth for this movie. If we hadn't done that level of promotion, spent that money the way we did, they'd have been lucky if this film had done 2/3rds or 3/4ths of the business that it eventually did stateside.


Copyright 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

But because Pixar never, ever makes mistakes, we're now the ones who have to take the blame. But that's okay. Let them call the shots on "WALL-E" 's marketing campaign. Next year, they'll be the one who'll be taking the fall when that Andrew Stanton film doesn't measure up to expectations.

Because if you thought that it was tough to sell a movie where a rat runs loose in a kitchen, wait 'til you try & come up with an effective marketing campaign for a movie that stars robots who don't talk. Which is set on a version of Planet Earth that's just this abandoned trash heap that's floating in space. Try selling that as a fun summer film for the whole family to see.

I know, I know. This is probably far too downbeat a story for all you dyed-in-the-wool Disney & Pixar fans out there. Who just want to celebrate the fact that "Ratatouille" finally achieved really-for-real blockbuster status during its initial domestic run.


Copyright 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Well, based on what the folks in Disney's marketing department have been telling me ... This time around, it's only the fans who are celebrating. Meanwhile down in Burbank and up in Emeryville, people are still trying to figure out what went wrong with "Ratatouille." They want to find why a film that received such glow-in-the-dark reviews failed to connect with a far larger audience. So that these possibly-promotion-related problems can then cleared up by the time "WALL-E" rolls into theaters during the Summer of 2008.

What do you folks think? Is there something that the Mouse's marketing department could have done differently with "Ratatouille" ? How can Disney improve the promotion that it does for Pixar's animated features?

Your thoughts?

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  • >>> That's why it didn't do that well at the box office ... it was weird.

    Actually, Jim is starting to convert me a little with some of his "Disney overpaid for Pixar" talk ...  <<<

    And here's why Jim's overly-negative spin about Pixar's latest performances irks a lot of us.  Because it potentially "converts" others when the information is spun the way Jim and his contacts want.

    "Didn't do well at the box office?"  $200 million domestic, and most likely $450 million - $500 million overseas is considered "not doing well" at the box office?

    Congratulations, Jim.  You're starting to make people see things your way.

  • You've finally convinced me Jim.

    Pixar is the worst movie studio ever. Bob should be fired immediately for the unforgivable error of purchasing this turkey. In his place, all of Disney marketing should be hired to run the company. Those folks are infallible. I'm actually thinking of starting a new religion that worships them, it will be called "Pointed Fingers".

    All of the Pixar themed rides should be immediately removed, and yes, I know that that is pretty much EVERY new ride that has been put in recently, but who cares? Why promote failures? Where is my Pocohontas Island? My Atlantis Submarine? My Underdog RollerCoaster? My Home on the Range Dark Ride? My Brother Bear Jamboree? My Meet the Robinsons Rocket Rods?

    Pixar.... humph! Who makes a movie about a Rat the cooks? I bet their next movie will be about a Mouse that pilots a steamboat. Idiots!!!

    Now, if you'll excuse me... I have to go. I'm seeing Underdog for the 6th time and I need time to go purchase more Underdog merchandise and apparel. Can anyone tell me where I can pre-order the dvd? I need about 10 to send to friends and family. It's a classic!

  • I wonder if Disney still had their Happy Meal deal with McDonalds if the movie would have done better.  Simpsons had tons of advertising with Burger King.  Shrek had McDonalds.  I think Disney needs some kind of advertising at a restaurant chain.  Meet the Robinsons would have been greatly helped with Happy Meal toys.

  • And why can't Pixar make "weird" movies?

    Does the prospect of making a movie that performs less than stellar stop Lucas? Spielberg? Scorsese? Woody Allen? Heck .... did it stop Walt Disney?

    Is James Cameron a complete failure because the last four movies he has put out were documentaries that combined have probably made .01% the profit that Titanic has?

    Take the second highest grossing movie of the year. Shrek 3 .... there hasn't been a day that goes by where I don't think about or say to someone what an utterly crappy movie I thought that was. I saw "The Last Legion" this past weekend. Someone asked me this morning at work what I thought of it. My answer ... "It was better than Shrek 3". Only slightly less of a disappointment was Spiderman 3 ... the biggest movie of this year .... just awful. I have seen Stardust, Sunshine, Bourne, Die Hard, Rush Hour 3, Fantastic Four etc ... ALL of them are better movies than Spiderman was.  

    The point.... I am not interested in hearing about the marketing stuff. I'm glad someone is sitting in a room somewhere pleased with themselves about how they fooled the majority of the world to invest their $10 just because one could reasonably expect that if parts 1 and 2 were good, that a trend would continue. Fact is ... Spiderman 3 and Shrek 3 SUCKED. ... regardless of how much money they made.

    I guarantee that Spiderman 4 and Shrek 4 will not even come close to that kind of money again ... because of the utter letdown their respective part 3s were. This is the same thing that hurt Star Wars Episode 2 and 3 and why The Phantom Menace, while the worst of the three, still made the most money.

    Fact is .... Ratatouille may not be a super blockbuster... but it is reputation picture. Studios need a movie to get good reviews and win awards .... this is in the end what will bring more people to the NEXT Pixar/Disney film. People will see the DVD and realize they missed something special on the big screen. The Pixar / and now Disney reputation will be preserved.

  • A great story and great marketability are not always the same thing. To me, this was more like a 'The Little Movie that Could' than a big summer spectacle movie, like say the Incredibles. Keep in mind that by referring to it as 'little' I don't mean the quality of the movie. (I personally thought it was good if not quite great, but no matter.)

    I think the sneaks and web preview clip were the right thing to do to build up word-of-mouth, and $200 million for a story about a rat cook is pretty good.

    It's hard enough to create a great, original story, without also simultaneously worrying about its mega-box office potential. When par is hitting $200 million in 30 days or so, that's a pretty high mark to try to hit every time out. OTOH, the price tag for Pixar was pretty high as well. I don't know how Pixar's 'mission' is defined- is it simply to create great stories, and let Disney figure out the marketing? Or are they supposed to deliver great stories that also are clearly big summer event movies, the kind that are clearly on the leader board by the end of the year?

    I'm actually hopeful that Wall*E will have more box office potential. It's a space/sci-fi story, that will hopefully look epic in the trailers (even with the somewhat downbeat setting.) Wall*E looks potentially cuter as a Disney character than Remy, even if Wall*E doesn't talk. But I'm just speculating, since we haven't seen too much about the movie yet.

  • You know if all the people who complain about Jim's articles do not like them there is an easy solution: Do. Not. Read. Them. Jim has the right to write whatever he wants. Even if his manipulating the facts (and I am not saying he does) so what?

    Look guys at the end of the day, and no offense to Jim, this is little website just doing it's own thing. I will be shocked if it turns out anything Jim has ever written has significantly affected any of Pixar box offices one way or the other.

    I love this website and if happen to read something I don't like I shrug my shoulders and move on. If Jim puts up an article I am personally not intrested in (which happens often like the series about B & B on Broadway) I don't complain and knash my teeth. I just don't read. And if I do feel strongly about something I try and post it in a civilized manner once and not go on and on about. Like how I try to defend Jim every six months or so.

    The only bashing I see going on around here is of Jim. If you don't like the job he is doing than by all means start up a we hate Jim site of your own and have at it. Otherwise enough please.

    In case you haven't notice over the last couple years, yours complaints are amounting to white noise and these days. They certaintly are not causing Jim to 'see the light' as it were. Nobody who vists this site has any right to tell Jim how run HIS site. You can complain and suggest all you want but can not demand. I'm talking to you Greenyskp. I try to ignore all this rigamarole but sometimes it just gets to me and I can not hold it in any longer.

    So yes I suppose you can keep complaining till the end of time. That IS your right. But why on earth would you bother. Life is two short. Personally Jim I love this sight and I hope on doing what makes you happy. Thanks for the years of enjoyement and here is looking forward to many more.

  • I've wondered why there hasn't been any mention that Ratatouille broke all the records for an animated movie in France-- it did considerably better than Finding Nemo.

    http://animatedfilms.suite101.com/article.cfm/ratatouille_rocks_france

    I mean, isn't that quite an achievement?  Considering how few European markets in which Rat has opened, it seems to be doing just fine.

    I was underwhelmed by the marketing.  I drove past the dreaded "He'd Dying to be a Chef"  bus advert on my way home from work every day and based on those slapstick heavy trailers and posters I was so surprised and delighted at the elegance and sophistication of the film.  Granted, I may be one of those "elitist intellectuals" mentioned by an earlier poster. :)

  • Back to responsibility of Pixar for the box office of its movies. If Pixar simply needs to create great stories for a wide audience, then I think they did absolutely fine with Ratatouille. The box office was good and not a disaster. But if their mission is to create a summer tentpole movie every time out, the a story about a rat that cooks gets dismissed in the brainstorming stages, and they end up going with something else instead. Something more marketable, and hopefully just as good as well. Who knows.

    Personally, I'd like the see Pixar have the room to be able to experiment a little too, rather than go to the opposite extreme and just crank out safe sequels. Maybe if they increased their production output a bit, they could have a little more room in this regard (with some lower budget releases.) It is evident that Disney is counting on the Pixar magic to give a boost to its box office (both CGI and traditional animated.)

  • I'm not finished....

    The worst part ... all of these "bad" excuses for well made movies that literally everyone and their mothers are tricked ... uh ... "marketed" into seeing?

    THIS is partly what is causing the demise of the industry as a whole. Yes ... it was announced today that this is the best year ever for the industry. Good ... but NO thanks to the top two movies... I’ll tell you that.

    Personally, I'm glad Ratatouille wasn't marketed in a desperate manner (think Meet The Robinsons). I went because I heard that the animation was at the next level ... period. What I got was a great, heartfelt, more "adult" cartoon that actually had charm and reminded of some Disney classics from long ago.

    Fact is ... Disney is on the same bandwagon that Dreamworks, Sony, and everyone else making CGI films is. Zany, Looney tunes type comedy with nothing but pop music and pop culture references throughout. PIXAR is not on this bandwagon. To DreamWorks credit ... the original Shrek defines this type of film... and is still the best. Pixar doesn't need to go there, nor do they want to. They define something else. They are not Katzenberg, they do not feel they need to be Katzenberg, and GOOD for them. The suits still harboring this grudge need to get over it.

    If Enchanted looks and feels like a Disney classic ... it will be one ... if it looks and feels like WB, Dreamworks, or Fox ... it wont be. Its that simple.

  • Frankly, the last Pixar film I really truly loved was "Monsters Inc.". "Cars' was too high-concept and "Ratatouille", while cute, just didn't have enough laughs IMO. Sometimes I wonder if Pixar is getting to be a little...boutique-y, if you get my drift...

  • "You know if all the people who complain about Jim's articles do not like them there is an easy solution: Do. Not. Read. Them. Jim has the right to write whatever he wants."

    You know if all the people who complain about the posts complaining about Jim's articles do not like them there is an easy solution: Do. Not. Read. Them. People posting comments have the right to write whatever they want.

  • In my opinion all the marketing in the world couldn't have helped this movie.  I think the subject matter---a rat who cooks---isn't the easiest thing to market anyway.  They made the rats as cute as possible, but I believe some people just find it gross.  They were really lucky this film received so much praise, because if it weren't for that I really think this movie would have done horrible.    

  • coolbeans - POTC:AWE has not been "out done" by any movie so far. It's current worldwide gross is $959,257,100.00, which makes it the top grossing film of 2007. It didn't break the billion dollar mark like POTC:DMC, but DMC had less competition.

  • Mindbender said

    "You know if all the people who complain about the posts complaining about Jim's articles do not like them there is an easy solution: Do. Not. Read. Them. People posting comments have the right to write whatever they want."

    You know if you actually read my post you would notice I said the exact same thing. Normally I do not read the crap you idiots spouse. My main point was that this has gone beyond just complaining and entered the relm of demanding. And that just pisses me off.  Sorry but I am done being even remotely polite. But hey thanks for the constructive post. Your well thought out and wrtten point certainly put me in my place. Hey whatever. I have got it out of my system and I can now go back to doing what I should have done all along: ignoring the ungrateful and self righteous morons who are posting on this site. After all that certainly seems to be what Jim is doing. If its good enough for him... Thanks for the laughs. I now return to reading the comments of those who have intelligent points to add to a discussion.

    By the way Kimann you raise a great point. I have a good friend who loves everything animation and especially Pixar who has no intention of ever seeing Ratatouille. She is terrified of rats you see and honestly considering even I was little freaked by an early scene in the film (the one where the rats fall through the celing) I can not blaim her.

  • FYI, the imdb daily news is quoting this article.  Not a wise move on their part, methinks.

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