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Could you please have the Rat whip me up some crow?

Jim Hill

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Could you please have the Rat whip me up some crow?

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Everyone out there enjoying the day after Thanksgiving? Particularly all of those delicious leftovers that you've got stashed in the fridge?

Not me. I mean, sure. I'll get to them eventually. But first ... I have to choke down a rather large portion of crow.

By that I mean ... Have you seen the international numbers for "Ratatouille" ? Which just this past weekend slipped past the $600 million mark at the worldwide box office. Which makes this Brad Bird film the second biggest international Disney / Pixar release of all-time. As someone who earlier wrote an awful lot of stories about how "Ratatouille" was under-performing domestically, I have to admit that even I am impressed with the way that this animated feature has been performing overseas.

That said, I think it's important to keep in mind that -- according to what studio insiders have told me -- "Ratatouille" still isn't in the black. That -- due to this animated feature's enormous production costs (A reported $150 million. Which was allegedly racked up because Pixar management insisted that "Ratatouille" had to make its previously locked-in June 29th release date) as well as that $180 million that Disney supposedly spent on stateside & international promotion of this picture minus the exhibitors' cut of ticket sales -- this Brad Bird film will have to be a top selling DVD title well into 2008 before Disney's accountants can then finally officially move this movie into the "Win" column.

Though -- to be fair -- I guess I should mention that this same sort of news applies to Walt Disney Pictures' top grossing release for the year, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." Due to the very interesting way that math works these days in Hollywood, a picture that has -- to date -- earned $961 million worldwide is still deeply in the red. Which is reportedly due mostly to the ridiculous amount of money that the Mouse had to throw at various FX houses around town in order to make sure that all of this movie's effects shots were actually in place by the time this Gore Verbinski film debuted at Disneyland on May 19th.

In fact, to hear the suits inside the Michael Eisner building talk ... You want to know which 2007 Walt Disney Pictures release was the first to officially make it into the black? More importantly, which picture released this year has had the best profit margins to date? Would you believe "Wild Hogs" ? Which is why the studio is already hard at work developing "Wild Hogs 2."

Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But none of that stuff matters. Or so says the unnamed Disney exec that I spoke with earlier this week. As he explained it to me:

"When it comes to big ticket items like 'At World's End' and 'Ratatouille,' you can't just focus exclusively on how these titles are going to do domestically. That's being old fashioned and short sighted. When it comes to the projects that Disney produces nowadays, you always have to consider what this picture's long term profit potential might be. How many tickets will this film sell overseas? How many units will Disney Home Entertainment ultimately be able to ship? Where does the sale of character-based merch for this movie factor into this equation?

You have to understand that -- when it comes to making the most off of each individual motion picture -- no one's better at doing this than the Walt Disney Company. We have years of experience when it comes to the long term nurturing of individual characters as well as our film franchises. We know how to take a successful movie and then turn that into an evergreen title. Something that will make money for this company for decades yet to come.

Trust me, Jim. Long after the two of us are dead and gone, the Walt Disney Company will still be making money off of "Ratatouille." That Pixar picture is a classic in the very best sense of the word.

So were we disappointed that 'Ratatouille' didn't earn more during its initial domestic run? Sure. But you know what? We got over it. And you should too."

Just so you folks know, though: I'm not the only reporter who's been hearing this "You really need to rethink the way you report on the Walt Disney Company" spiel from senior Mouse House officials. Truth be told, Mickey has devoted an awfully lot of time & energy recently towards trying to convince us folks who regularly write about the entertainment industry that we need to let go of our obsession with domestic box office numbers and/or the Nielsen ratings.

 Disney CEO Robert Iger speaking at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

Take -- for example -- that speech Robert Iger gave last month. Where he took the Hollywood Reporter and Variety to task for their old-school thinking when comes to reporting on how individual films & TV shows are doing. That -- by taking the short-term approach and only talking about a movie's domestic box office and/or a television program's ratings in the U.S. -- this sort of reportage is "rooted in the past."

As for me ... I have to admit that I'm not all that comfortable with the idea of overlooking how individual Disney projects are doing today and only focusing on what their long term profit potential might be. That -- to me, anyway -- smacks of "Magic 8 Ball" -style reporting. In that I'm supposed to overlook the hard numbers that I have right here in front of me and then make some sort of wild-assed guess about what an individual motion picture or TV show might make a year, two years, five years, a decade or more further on down the line.

Plus it's hard for me to swallow the Mouse House's new "What-we-earn-domestically-doesn't-really-matter" mantra when Walt Disney Pictures still buys full page ads in the trades to boast about how "The Game Plan" was the No. 1 movie in the U.S. for two weekends in a row. When I see something like that ... It seems like Mickey is talking out of both sides of his mouth. That the Mouse now wants to have his cake (i.e. Insist that no one's better at strip-mining long term profits out of their studio's motion pictures) and eat it too (i.e. Have Disney execs still able to brag about their opening weekend grosses while dining at the Ivy).

But, look ... That ultimately isn't what today's story is actually about. Today's story is about "Ratatouille." And how, me personally, I have to acknowledge that -- in spite of what I may have written earlier about this Brad Bird film's domestic performance -- this picture has done very well internationally.

Copyright 2007 Disney/Pixar. All rights reserved.

So let's just cut to the chase, shall we? When you take into consideration the overall worldwide box office performance of Pixar's latest, there's really no other way to say it: "Ratatouille" has been successful.

Very successful.

Mind you, "The Best Reviewed Film of the Year" still reportedly has yet to recover its initial production & promotional costs. But -- as I now begrudgingly attempt to embrace Disney's new "Don't-think-short-term-but-focus-on-long-term-profitability" mantra -- I guess I can try & say that this ultimately doesn't matter.

So there. I said it.

Now -- if you'll excuse me -- I have some feathers that I have to try & floss out from between my teeth.

Tis the season, folks. So if you'd like to show your appreciation for all the great stories that you regularly read here on this website, then why not start out your next Amazon shopping spree by clicking on the banner above? That way, JHM gets a tiny chunk of what you spend.

Happy Holidays!

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  • Gee, I never thought I'd see the day that Jim Hill would admit he was wrong about anything negative he said about Pixar. Thanks, Jim. I now have to revise my opinion of you.

  • Don't worry, Mr. Hill.  There's still plenty of time for Pixar to start their inevetable downward spiral.  Just not this time.  

    I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving!

  • Jim...talk about trying to have it both ways, you spend 85% of the article talking about how you really aren't that wrong, that Disney is getting tricky with their numbers. But oh, by the way, the movie is doing good. At least you tried Jim, we have to give you that. I just don't think you have eaten enough crow in your life to know how this is supposed to work.

  • CGI or CGI-heavy films racing to meet a release date are trouble. I think these films shouldn't have locked release dates too early in the process. It's just asking for budget inflation during the last months of production... and few films can recoup it during their original release.

  • You have to be enjoying the eggnog to believe Pirates and Rat are not profitable. That's why Disney Co greenlit Enchanted - big budget and ad campaign - no chance of making any money off that either. There's a reason the term "Hollywood Accounting" was coined. If Rat got $180 mill in marketing, and I couldn't find any evidence of it even after looking for it, then Enchanted is easily over $800 million in marketing by now, cause it's everywhere as Disney Co buys some opening weekend grosses.

    Gather round the fire boys and girls, and I'll tell another holiday story. It's one about profit participation. You see some times those pesky creative people that actually make the movies want to participate in the riches that the studio executives and beancounters get when one of the movies is successful. The studio head kindly tells them they will receive net profit points - they'll get some bonus $$$ once the movie shows a "net profit." Then the fun begins. Just like crazy elves working overtime, the studio accountants throw every conceivable expense into the production and/or marketing budget. Did Iger think about Enchanted today? Better tack a fraction of his salary onto the budget. The movie can be a phenomenal success, yet fortunately for the miserly beancounters, conveniently never show a profit. That's why your great uncle Eddie Murphy coined the term "monkey points" to refer to net profit points.

    Now your parents might tell you that this is just a crazy holiday story. Some nutty codger doesn't believe that Rat cost anywhere close to $150 mill to make, nor did they spend $180 mill to market it. That's fine. You just have to ask yourself, if you take those numbers as truth, all the movie studios would be bankrupt many times over. Then tell your parents to Google(TM) "Buchwald v Paramount" sometime. Seems the courts determined that the studio accounting formulas practically ensure never showing a profit on any movie. Yet oddly, the studios continue to make movies.....  

  • It's funny how Jim Hill's Disney insiders always write just like Jim Hill.

    Happy post-turkey day.

  • So wait....

    150 million in production costs.... 180 million in promotional costs.... that sounds like 330 million in expenses.... and they made 600 million dollars revenue....

    So..... how are they not in the black?

  • cookedart - I read on one of the box office tracking sites that a studio gets approximately 55% of the ticket sales revenue. If that is true, then Ratatouille could still be in the red.

  • Jim, any word on how Ratatouille's DVD sales have been going? Such a gourmet-focused feast of a movie MUST be a popular draw around the holidays. Mmm.... Turkey and Rat, the perfect Thanksgiving evening!

  • "Which is why the studio is already hard at work developing "Wild Hogs 2.""

    Good God ... when will studios learn that not EVERY movie needs a freakin' sequel???? Sometimes movies just hit at the right time and find an audience, but really ... is there anyone out there thinking, "DAMN! I can't wait to see Wild Hogs 2 and find out what those crazy guys are up this time!"???

    I think not ...

  • Wow, what does a film have to earn these days to be considered a success?  

  • la resistance28 - Ratatouille was #1 on the DVD sales chart last week, but dropped to #2 this week with the release of Shrek the Third. It has been #1 on the Blu-Ray sales chart for two weeks in a row. On the DVD rental charts, it was #3 last week, and dropped to #5 this week.

  • It's not just a matter of earning but of cost... The lower the production cost, the quicker it'll get in the black. I doubt any Wild Hogs movie would outgross a POTC one. But since it was notably cheaper, it's easier to pull together a sequel. High School Musical works the same way. As does Power Rangers. PR is not the big hit it once was but it's bound to go on for years as long as there's Japanese stock footage to buy and cheap places to shoot English-language scenes.

    I think it's likely Rat cost a bit more than originally intended, as a reworked project that made its release date. But I doubt it would get a sequel anyway.

  • Thanks, Jack4Me. I know Jim had a lot of material on "Enchanted" a while back, but I'm surprised he hasn't given it much mention at all leading up to this weekend's debut. Any idea what Disney's expectations are for this one? They've sure marketed the heck out of it, and looking at a ~$50 million 5-day weekend.

  • Speaking of Jim being wrong and following up on la_resistance28's comment about Enchanted... where was the Goofy short "How to Install your Home Theatre" you said would be attatched to Enchanted?!  I just got home from Enchanted and it wasn't there.

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