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Monday Mouse Watch: Will "Bolt" 's box office rebound over the long Thanksgiving weekend?

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Monday Mouse Watch: Will "Bolt" 's box office rebound over the long Thanksgiving weekend?

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Twilight is traditionally a time of shadows. But from what I hear, no one at Walt Disney Pictures dreamed that "Bolt" would be so totally overshadowed by “Twilight” at the box office this past weekend.

As recently as 10 days ago, Mouse House marketing types were quietly putting out the word that they expected the company's newest animated feature to make almost $50 million over its opening weekend. Which admittedly isn't as much as that $63.1 million worth of tickets that "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" sold just two weeks ago, but still significantly higher than the $40 million that "Chicken Little " (i.e. Disney's top CG earner to date) pulled in over its opening weekend back in April of 2006.

Copyright 2008 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved

But then -- as word became creeping in about those near-riots that were occurring during "Twilight" 's promotional mall tour and those hundreds of girls who were camped outside of of their local theaters, just so that they could then be among the first to see this Summit Entertainment release -- Disney began revising its box office projections downward for "Bolt." First placing this picture's opening grosses in the low 40s. And then in the mid 30s.

And now that it's been revealed that this new animated feature only earned $27 million over its first three days in domestic release, Disney execs are trying to figure out how their initial box office projections for "Bolt" could have been so far off.

Miley Cyrus (L) with ASPCA Officer Annemarie Lucas
& ASPCA spokesdog DaVinci at a "Bolt Across
America" promotional event this past July

Right now, the prevailing theory seems to be that tween girls (i.e. the very demographic that Disney thought would turn out in drives to see / hear Miley Cyrus make her animated feature debut) blew off "Bolt" so that they could then go see "Twilight." Which explains the $70.5 million that the big screen version of Stephanie Meyer's best-selling novel took in.

Mind you, Disney's hoping that -- as the long holiday weekend approaches -- that this sizable audience segment will then circle back around to "Bolt." After all, given the largely positive reviews this new animated feature has received to date (Current Rotten Tomatoes listings show this new Mouse House production as having a 84% freshness rating), it's not like there's a lot of bad buzz floating around about "Bolt." It's just that there were other films -- chief among them "Twilight" and the new James Bond, "Quantum of Solace" -- that people wanted to see first.

Copyright 2008 Danjaq, LLC. United Artists Corporation

Which is why Disney PR types were making the rounds on Sunday afternoon. With Chuck Viane talking with the Los Angeles Times about the "... tsunami in the marketplace called 'Twilight,' " and Heidi Trotta telling the New York Times that "... Word of mouth should bode well over the Thanksgiving holiday and beyond."

That said, given how "Bolt" under-performed this past weekend, you should expect industry insiders to be paying extra close attention to how this Walt Disney Animation Studios production does over the next seven days. And if the box office for this new animated feature doesn't actually rebound ... Well, that may then bring into question John Lasseter & Ed Catmull's ability to revive Feature Animation at The Walt Disney Company.

Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Me personally? I say that it's far too early to write off "Bolt." Especially given what I just told by someone associated with the Disney Stores. It seems that the Stores are finding it tough to keep the 12" Bolt Plush Toy in stock. From the very moment that this stuffed canine toy came into the Disney Stores a few weeks back, people began snatching Bolt up. They seemed downright eager to bring this new Disney dog home.

So clearly there are some fans out there for this new Disney animated film. But what do you folks think? Can "Bolt" possibly make a comeback at the box office over the Thanksgiving Weekend? Or will the "Twilight" phenomenon just prove to be too much?

Your thoughts?

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  • Twilight has always been awful. It's a boring, awkward film that sends all the wrong themes. Bolt was at least ten times as enjoyable and heartfelt.

    But Disney shouldn't have underestimated those sparkly vampires.

  • Ah good, back to normal. Once again, something did not meet projections. One time it's Pirates, the next time it's any Pixar movie, this time it's Bolt. It's odd how these movies never make projections, but the studio somehow keeps churning them out, and manages to make money in the process.

    "that may then bring into question John Lasseter & Ed Catmull's ability to revive Feature Animation at The Walt Disney Company." This might be true IF the movie was unwatchable, but as stated in the article, it's getting very positive reviews. Lasseter & Catmull upheld their end of the bargain.

    So, if you've got a good movie that's making less money than it should be making, that lies directly at the feet of marketing and even Iger himself. One of the first rules of marketing is to study the competition. Madegascar and Bolt are two very similar audiences. James Bond and Bolt are two different audiences. Twilight and Bolt are two very similar audiences. This Wednesday with Australia, Transporter, and Milk, only Four Christmases is even getting close to Bolt's audience.  So - if you want Bolt to do better during its opening week, it needs to be scheduled against Bond or during the Thanksgiving holiday, which Disney Co used to own (see live action Dalmatians - mediocre movie released at the right time). For anyone to suggest that Twilight somehow "snuck up" or "surprised" everyone, isn't admitting to the #'s that Iger was shown when the book was being shopped around, or the #'s that the movie was tracking at prior to opening.

  • Disney's got to start having some modesty about its place in the market.  Long gone are the days when Disney would dominate with every animated film.  Dreamworks Animation, formerly its chief rival, has become the acknowledged leader of "mass" animated entertainment, while Pixar is for the more "discerning" audiences.  And although Dreamworks started with Katzenberg, fresh off of his hits at Disney, and Pixar started by having its films distribute through Disney ... neither one of them has Disney roots, and it shows.

    "Disney proper" has become so mired in politics, backstabbing, petty bickering, celebrity executives and an inflated sense of self worth that it has forgotten two important facts:

    1) Jeffrey Katzenberg, more than anyone, was responsible for understanding what audiences wanted -- and, combined with the sentimentality of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, understood the "formula" better than anyone since.

    2) Pixar got its start as a wholly independent company motivated solely by creativity and storytelling, and no amount of money can "buy" its pedigree for Disney.

    Disney management would be wise to publicly admit that it has NO IDEA how to create an animated hit anymore.  Nor, it seems, does it understand what makes its theme parks tick (wait until "It's a Small World" officially reopens after the holidays -- there's a PR time bomb waiting to go off!).  Nor does it really understand its consumer products audience, betting more and more on fickle teenage and pre-teen girls, who couldn't care less whether the "next big thing" is brought to them by Disney or Fox or Sony or Universal or NBC or CBS or Nickelodeon or whatnot -- they just want what's hot.  They'll drop Disney like a ton of bricks as soon as the next hot thing ISN'T from Disney.

    So, we're left with an arrogant Disney perhaps getting its comeuppance with "Bolt."  Could it perform better over the Thanksgiving holiday?  Sure -- but it doesn't seem very likely.  There's precious little buzz over "Bolt," and that may in part be because of the cookie-cutter marketing initiatives behind it, which make it look like just about every other Disney "marketing-driven" movie of late.

    Disney is not as slick or as accomplished as its high-paid executives want us to believe, and "Bolt" may well be a quite visible, important chink in the formerly unassailable protective armor.

    I could well be wrong.  But it just seems that Disney may have finally reached the point where it genuinely can't get by on its "good name" anymore, having sullied that good name one too many times with sub-par films, un-themed parks, increasing prices and middling merchandise.

  • I think that Bolt will probably do fine over Thanksgiving week. OK so it didn't make what the marketing whizzes said it would on opening weekend. So what. That's life and it's not really important in the scheme of things. As for Mr. Lasseter and Mr. Catmull, their positions are safe. Besides, I think most movie marketing people really don't have any idea how well any movie is going to do.

  • WEC, I hate to say it, but these numbers were very easy to see by anyone who was willing to acknowledge the massive success "Twilight" had already had going into the movie -- but Disney went into this with blinders on.  This number was incredibly predictable.  Every studio has an entire "research department," and one of their primary functions is to track movies so that there will be no surprises.  Something went terribly wrong with "Bolt," as Jim pointed out, and the result speaks to the poor marketing efforts and the lack of responsiveness to the "Twilight" threat.

    "Movie marketing people" are supposed to know, with a high degree of accuracy, EXACTLY how the movie will do at least a week or so prior to its release (after weeks and months of polling and tracking).  They should have known better this time around.

  • Here's what went wrong:

    (1) Of the good reviews I read--and there were many generally good reviews--they all said something to the tune of: this is a good, entertaining movie in the style of Pixar, but of course nowhere near as entertaining/artistic/accomplished as the recent Pixar films.    

    (2) The film may be entertaining, but boy, the marketing job was terrible.  

    (3) Tween girls would rather see Twlight (duh!) than Miley, and most everyone else would rather not see Miley at all anymore.  And so once you get rid of the Tween girls with Twlight, who'se left to see an animated film voiced by Miley other than animation geeks?

  • "Chicken Little" premiered in November 2005, not April 2006, just FYI!

    I think that, if "Bolt" isn't as successful as Disney would like in its theatrical run, surely it will more than make up for it when it gets on DVD.  "Twilight" can definitely be blamed for taking some of "Bolt"'s audience away, but also with the economy, some families don't want to spend $30-$40 dollars to see a movie that they can buy for $15.99 in a few months and watch as many times as they want.

    I'm guessing that "Harry Potter" still has a bigger fanbase than "Twilight".  I guess we and Disney can be grateful that "Bolt" wasn't up against HP (does HP come out in December?  I don't even know)...at least now it has a small window to reach more people and make more money.

    I know that Disney usually doesn't highly market its voice actors (like DreamWorks and other companies always do)...Miley voicing a character shouldn't make people not want to go see the movie.  I mean, her character is an important one, but her voice isn't a distraction from the rest of the movie.  Saying the first sentence in this paragraph, I do know that the public would know who the voices were, but that wasn't the main selling point of the movie.  John Travolta & Miley Cyrus did a great job, but I could kind of care less who voices a character as long as they do a great job.  I wonder, had Disney not aggressively marketed the fact that John & Miley were the "stars", would people's perceptions of the film be any different?

  • I think there are a number of issues here, several of which have already been touched on.  I do think that studio execs put too much emphasis on opening weekend box office in general, especially in an era when ticket sales say far less about a movie's ultimate success than DVD sales do.  Disney may be talking about a "Bolt" rebound and with the Thanksgiving weekend right around the corner, the film could well draw in families with young children who need something to do aside from scarf down leftover turkey.  But I really don't think Hollywood believes in slow builds and sleeper hits anymore.  Execs are probably writing off "Bolt" as we speak and looking to Disney's next big project to save the day.

    As nearly everyone else - including Jim - has pointed out, Disney horrendously underestimated the draw of "Twilight" and how hugely that film would cut into the audience they had hoped would turn out to see "Bolt."  I think Disney also overestimated the power of Miley Cyrus's voice to pull in the tween girl audience.  My impression from the trailers is that her character, while important, does not get as much screentime as the cute animals.  Reliance on celebrity voices to sell an animated film is a horribly overused gimmick which signals to me that the studio is not confident that their film can woo audiences without the added "star power."  I don't think big name live action actors really do all that much to lure in audiences though; many a film sporting the voices of A-list acting talent has underperformed as audiences opted to watch live-action stars in a live-action film.

    Disney's CG films in general seem to suffer from a lack of identity in the current marketplace.  The Disney brand has become sadly diluted in recent years between the numerous direct-to-DVD efforts and attempts to shift focus at times when the studio should have been playing to its strengths.  Pixar has claimed the artistic high ground in theatrical CG, making films with solid story, a lot of visual punch, and plenty of family appeal without alienating older audiences.  DreamWorks tends to go for the easy laugh, the fart joke, the trailer crammed with audience pleasing humor and catchphrases.  Despite their decades of dominance in the 2D animation world, Disney seems adrift in 3D, lacking both the smart stories of Pixar and the hip edge of DreamWorks.  Even the visuals of Disney CG seem to lack direction.  "Chicken Little" came close to having a unique style, but faltered by populating its world with some horribly generic background characters.  I've seen animation fans oooh and ahhh over the 2D renditions of Bolt and his pals, but I haven't heard nearly as much enthusiasm for the finished product.

    And I wouldn't look at the sales of plush Bolt toys as a real silver lining in this story.  The buyers may well be devoted Disneyana collectors or relatives certain that the kid in their family will want a doggie toy for Christmas, only to find their gifts tossed aside in favor of whatever "Twilight" branded mechandise is under the tree.

  • Did you notice that none of the people commenting here said they rushed out to the a theatre and saw the movie over the weekend?

    I saw Twilight (with the teenage daughter) and Bolt (with the 7 year old).  They were both just "ok."   Sadly, both had the potential to be a lot better than they were.  Overall, it was disappointing to spend that much on movie tickets and not be wow-ed.

    But I think Disney is crazy if they think "Twilight" stole their audience.  Anyone old enough to be reading Twilight gave up Miley/Hannah a long time ago!

    Sue in Texas

  • I rushed out an saw "Bolt" over the weekend.  I thought that it was great!  And I'm sure that there are a lot of tweens and teens who are Miley fans and who read "Twilight".  And Miley isn't the reason to see "Bolt"!  Sure, her fans will want to see it because she's in it, but a lot of them would go see it anyway.  

  • I cant help but ask what Disney was expecting. People were expecting Twilight to be huge! I even went to see it. The books were pretty good and sold well. But take twilight out of the picture for a minute. Bolt SHOULD have been up against Harry Potter. As big as Twilight was HP would have been even bigger!!!! Disney cant just announce a movie weekend and expect their movie control the weekend. Disney has to look at what else is coming out!

  • I saw Bolt in 3D and really enjoyed it. My own personal opinion is that is was as strong as some of the lesser Pixar movies, and much better than Madagascar Escape 2 the Exit. If you have a choice, choose 3D, it is very well done.

    If you look at the dailies for the box office, Bolt actually finished 2nd on Sunday, and had the smallest drop-off in the top 9 movies. That is usally an indicator that word of mouth is pretty good for a movie.

    I would expect a huge drop-off for twilight (think High Scool Musical 3 here), since everyone rushed to see it opening weekend. Family films usually do very well over Thanksgiving, and with the exception of Four Christmases (rated PG-13), there isn't much in the way of competition.

    And yes, both my kids want their Bolt plush!

  • Bolt is the first Disney animated movie I may not bother seeing in the theater in a loooong time.  Which leads me to the following question.

    How many people here would have been more interested in this movie had it stayed with it''s original "American Dog" storyline and concept?

    Yes, I know we'll never know exactly how that movie would have turned out, and it supposedly had lots of problems.  But I found that concept, character design, and general tone much more interesting and would have gone to see that movie on opening weekend.

  • Sue in Texas's comment strikes a chord with me.  Had you told me 10 years ago that I would be OK with waiting a few weeks or a month or even longer to see a new Disney film, I would have been surprised.  Fifteen years or so and I probably wouldn't have believed you.  But these days, the only animated films I regularly rush to see on opening weekend are Pixar's movies.  I waited for DVD to see "Home on the Range" and I still haven't seen "Meet the Robinsons."  I do want to see "Bolt," but I don't feel like I'm in any rush.  Every trailer I've seen makes me feel like it will be a nice film, probably better than "Chicken Little," but nothing really special.  The visual look nice enough, but not groundbreaking.  The story seems largely predictable.  My hopes that Disney would up the emotional ante from the incredibly similar Buzz Lightyear arc in "Toy Story" by having Bolt discover that his young co-star may think he's OK as dogs go, but certainly doesn't love him the way her character on the show does and is perfectly happy to work the any replacement dog the studio might bring in to keep the TV series going have come to naught.  And in case anyone was at all worried that things might no turn out OK, the recent trailers have the cat assuring Bolt that his little girl loves him, even he's not a space ranger, err...superdog.  (Not to belabor the comparison, but Pixar tends to be very good about making trailers that entice audiences without spoiling the plot for them.  Many recent Disney trailers seem content to give the whole movie away, except for "Meet the Robinsons" which has the same problem as the "Madagascar 2" trailer in that I haven't the faintest idea what's going on.)

    Super Grover, I can't say too much about the story, but I do feel that maybe sticking with the Chris Sanders character design aesthetic from "American Dog" could have given "Bolt" a visual identity which I feel is lacking in the final film.  Then again, the 2D designs for "Bolt" had a lot of charm and character which just ended up feeling kind of generic when translated to 3D, so maybe the Stitch-esque cast of "American Dog" would have felt similarly bland in three dimensions.

  • My 2 cents worth...

    Had it not been for seeing Rhino, the hamster (who in my opinion is worth seeing the movie for all by himself), in the trailers I probably would not have been in the theater to see it opening weekend. But at 8 o'clock on Sunday evening I sat in the theater with 6 other adults and around 10 kids (all 10 and under). There were only 2 other people in the theater with us, so we basically had it to ourselves... but EVERYONE loved it. A few parents commented how they can actually see themselves enjoying it down the road once they've watched it 1,000 times on dvd. My fiance wants to go see it again with some other friends next weekend. I really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

    Was it perfect? Nope. But name me a movie that is.

    If you are holding off on seeing it because it wasn't the original concepts (which I loved too)... well, you are making a big mistake. Let it go and enjoy this movie.

    I think word of mouth will give this movie legs and it will do fine.

    And I also think the people who set the finacial projections and release dates for Disney need to be shot! Labotomy patients could do a better job.

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