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Monday Mouse Watch : Disney says it's far too early to write off "Ratatouille"

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Monday Mouse Watch : Disney says it's far too early to write off "Ratatouille"

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If you go strictly by the numbers, there aren't really a whole lot of reasons to be happy with the way "Ratatouille" performed this past weekend.

Were you to compare how this new Brad Bird film opened versus how other earlier Pixar movies did over their opening weekends ...

Title of Movie
Year Released
Opening Weekend Gross
"The Incredibles"
$70.4 million
"Finding Nemo"
$70.2 million
"Monsters, Inc."
$62.5 million
$60.1 million
"Toy Story 2"
$57.3 million
$47.2 million
"A Bug's Life"
$33.2 million
"Toy Story"
$29.1 million

... You'd quickly see that this is the worst opening weekend performance by a new Pixar Animation Studios film in nearly a decade.

Then -- if you go by the per-theater-average numbers -- the news gets even worse ...

Title of Movie
Number of Theaters
Per-Theater Average
"Finding Nemo"
"Monsters, Inc."
"The Incredibles"
"Toy Story 2"
"A Bug's Life"
"Toy Story"

... With "Ratatouille" just barely managing to do as well as "Toy Story" did back when that John Lasseter film was first released to theaters in November of 1995. And then when you factor in what a dollar was worth back in 1995 versus what a dollar is worth today ... You quickly realize that "Ratatouille" actually is Pixar's worst earner to date.

So -- harkening back to last Monday's story -- we now have "Ratatouille" (Which failed to meet its projected $60 million opening weekend gross by 20%) coming on the heels of "Cars" (Which also failed to meet its projected $75 million opening weekend gross by 20%). Which -- in Wall Street's eyes, anyway -- is going to be seen as the start of a downward trend for the Emeryville-based animation studio.

And given that the Walt Disney Company is now pinning so many of its hopes for the future on Pixar's ability to creatively revitalize that corporation ... Well, you'd think that it would be safe to assume that Mouse House officials would be severely depressed by how poorly "Ratatouille" performed this past weekend.

Well, think again.

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

To explain: I just got off the phone with Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Walt Disney Studios. Who basically told me that it wouldn't be wise to label "Ratatouille" Pixar's first real disappointment. Not yet, anyway.

"You have to understand that we chose this particular opening date for a reason," Viane explained. "What with July 4th being right in the middle of the week this year, we've now got people taking off for vacation in the days just prior to the holiday as well as people taking vacation time after the Fourth. Then when you factor in that 90% of the kids in the country are now out of school ... Well, that's a huge audience pool for us to draw from."

"We've now got the best reviewed film in the country which people just love once they actually get to see it," Chuck continued. "So you can bet that -- when people sit down at the picnic table over the Fourth of July and talk about what movies they've just seen -- 'Ratatouille' is going to come up. And it's that word-of-mouth that's going to make all the difference here."

Viane argued (quite convincingly, I might add) that the best indicator of how well this Brad Bird film is ultimately going to do isn't going to be its opening weekend grosses. But -- rather -- what "Ratatouille" manages to rake in domestically over the 10 days between June 29th and July 9th. When the whole country will basically be on an extended 4th of July holiday.

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

"We know that this is an extremely competitive summer. But we also know that 'Ratatouille' is a great little movie," Viane said. "That's why we held that sneak preview two weeks ago. The best advertisement for 'Ratatouille' really is the movie itself."

Given "Ratatouille" 's great reviews and strong word-of-mouth, Chuck seemed supremely confident that Pixar's latest production will develop legs. "I'm going to be extremely surprised if this picture isn't still in theaters come Labor Day," he added.

Me personally, I have to admit that I don't share Viane's optimism. In a summer where virtually every major studio release has seen ticket sales fall off by more than 55 - 65 % over its second weekend in release, I find it extremely hard to believe that "Ratatouille" going to be the one movie that bucks that trend. Becoming the very first film of the summer to actually develop some legs.

But since I am so often accused of being far too downbeat when it comes to Pixar, with JHM readers claiming that I always look for the worst whenever I write about this Emeryville-based animation studio's releases ... I guess it wouldn't hurt to follow Mr. Viane's suggestion and hold off on any further discussion / dissection of "Ratatouille" 's box office performance until we actually see how well this Brad Bird movie does over its second weekend in release.

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

So what do you folks make of how well "Ratatouille" did (or didn't do) at the box office this past weekend? More to the point, do you think that Chuck Viane's claim is valid? That -- even during this extremely competitive summer when people's movie-going habits are so rapidly changing -- that this Brad Bird movie is actually going to develop such long legs that this animated feature will still be in theaters come Labor Day?

Your thoughts?

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  • No major surprise, really.

    As I said in an earlier article, we've become a Paris Hilton-Britney Spears nation, and Shrek caters to that. Pixar doesn't. No cross-dressing jokes, no farts and burps simply for the sake of farting and burping. No endless pop-culture referencing.

    It's not what draws the 15-35 year olds in.

    On the other hand, Disney is showing quite a bit of confidence now, and regardless it should make an absolute killing on DVD.

  • Well. I am a little surprised...looking back, we can see that "Ratatouille" has just cleared the "Chicken Little" opening weekend by about seven million! If memory serves me, "Chicken" was mocked for its non Pixar-like, pedestrian numbers. Huh...very interesting.

  • "Me personally, I have to admit that I don't share Viane's optimism. In a summer where virtually every major studio release has seen ticket sales fall off by more than 55 - 65 % over its second weekend in release, I find it extremely hard to believe that "Ratatouille" going to be the one movie that bucks that trend. Becoming the very first film of the summer to actually develop some legs."

    Really Jim, how about a little movie called "Knocked Up".  Some pretty darn good legs there.

    And Jim if you know how Brad Bird made a movie critic proof maybe you ought to go into film making because not to many movies get 95% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes movie reviews.

    I think Ratatouille will do good numbers and have good legs during a very competitive summer.  It probably won't break 200 million but will probably reach somewhere in the $175 Million range and should do fairly well overseas and will probably become Disney's second biggest movie of the year.  This great movie will also be a shoe in for the Best Animated Oscar unless Bee Movie really knocks peoples socks off but from what I've seen so far I doubt it.

    If you haven't seen this movie go see it.  It's beautifully animated and extremely well crafted.  You just don't get many movies like this anymore.  Sadly we only hear about the money end of things for the first weekend and quality movies just don't matter anymore to most people.  However, these are the movies that people watch for generations and bring the long time memories and long term profits.

  • Jim, I actually quite like your site and (unlike many commenters here) feel your criticisms and observations of Disney -- and Pixar -- are usually quite valid and surprisingly insightful.  May I ask one favor, though?  Could you start using commas?  Your half-clauses are amusing at first, but they get a little wearying.  I offer this as constructive, friendly criticism, not as a "slam."  You've got a lot of great things to say, but it is very possible to write them in a way that is a little more gramatically correct ... and, perhaps, even easier to read.  I know, I know -- it's your style.  But it can be overbearing!

    Congrats on getting Viane on the phone, by the way.  Clearly, he's a guy who's working overtime to put SOME sort of positive spin on this!  It's not as if he's wholly unaware that a teenaged wizard is about to storm movie screens with a movie that's getting very positive early reviews ...

  • Oh, yeah, there's that robot movie, too.  Nah, kids won't like that one.

  • Seriously. I think this film has the potential to get some good legs.

    I don't really mind how it does in theaters, even though I'm sure Disney is pretty interested.

    Honestly. This is now my favorite movie EVER. It was amazing, inspiring, I loved every bit of it. I seriously cannot wait for it to come out on DVD.

    When it comes to classics, Pixar can make em! As for Shrek, it might make the company money at the moment, but in a few years, it'll all be forgotten, it won't be a timeless tale like that of RAtatouille, which is an amazing film.

    I can see my kids watching it 15 years from now, just as I watched Pinochio and all the other great Disney classics.

    I thank Pixar, for making another Classic film, to last forever, because they seriously did make it.

    and I lvoe it! wooooo!

  • Well I have to say, after having seen the movie, if it doesn't do well,

    then that says almost nothing about Pixar's quality declining.

    It's an incredibly fun movie, brilliant in just about EVERY way, and it advances

    their art to new heights. It just may not be the first or second choice of

    the young crowd. It might, but it might not. Hard to know. Do I care?

    Yes, but only in how it's interpreted by the likes of The Wall Street Journal

    and JHM, etc. Opening numbers are important, and great and all. Yes, I agree.

    But let's face it, if any studio released Citizen Kane, or Gone with the Wind,

    and didn't meet opening numbers, would it really mean that the film

    (and, more to the point, the filmMAKERS) were off their game? No, of course not.

    Numbers mean a lot, but they don't tell a complete story about the value of

    the company (and the people) who make the movies, nor do they say anything

    valuable about the movies themselves. They tell tales of corporations, stock prices,

    huge egos, etc., but nothing about art or beauty, or craftsmanship or real long lasting

    value. They are necessary evils, in this very costly business, and the only positive

    thing huge opening weekend numbers do is help the people who made the film

    actually make another one.

  • Opening weekend numbers are the responsibility of the marketing department.

    Marketing for this movie was very weak. The theory we got was marketing wasn't in on approving the movie before it started production, so they just couldn't explain to the producers not to make this "unmarketable" movie.

    As much as I dislike the modern movie-going experience, I went on Saturday to see it. As in, "if you only see one movie this summer..." Here's my review - "wow". Here's my spoiler - the kids were ok with hoardes of rats streaming across the screen, but if Peter O'Toole spoke a few lines - start the waterworks.  By Sunday night, I formulated my own rough marketing campaign:

    "It's the Year of a Million Dreams at Disney Parks worldwide" (yes, I agree it's annoying but hang on) "What's your dream? An unlimited fastpass? A night in the castle?  Meet Remy. He has a dream. Remy wants to be a master chef. Only problem is - Remy is a rat. See Remy make his dream come true in Disney Pixar's newest film, Ratatouille - now only in theaters. And make your dreams come true at a Disney theme park. Who knows? You and Remy might have more in common than you think." cue the music

    Perfect? no.  Does it explain what the movie's about and tie in to a current marketing theme? well, um yeah. That was less than 24 hours after seeing the movie. Maybe I could come up with something better if I had a year and a half, and I don't know - was getting Paid!!!

    Marketing heads should roll. There was a lot of $$$ spent this year having Beyonce roll around in a tea cup, and Scarlett Johansen sprint in a ballgown with little or no return to show for it. Sme of that money could have been used to advertise Remy if they really wanted bigger opening numbers. Problem is, I don't think the suits want Pixar to do all that well. Maybe Pixar can get some marketing guys from Apple - they seemed to cause a little stir this past weekend over a product that's also hard to describe.

  • I saw Ratatouille on Friday and absolutely LOVED LOVED LOVED it like no other movie I've seen this summer. So much charm, so much heart! For the life of me, I still don't understand why this wasn't a holiday release. I would think any movie that features good cooking and gourmet food would be a natural fit for the holidays. When I think of summer cooking, I think of barbecues, and that just isn't what Ratatouille has in mind.

  • ratatouille has got to be the best reviewed movie of the year and the word of mouth should help it.

    with that sid according to news outlets and wallstreet, they have declared that Pixar has another hit in there hand with an 8 out of 8.   That is all that matters.  The movie still needs to open overseas and strangely enough the movie is the highest seller in pirated dvd's internationally.  So will see whether that will hurt it or help it since according to news media the dvd's are of very low quality and all they have done is spread good word about the movie.

  • The first FIFTEEN reviews on metacritic gave this 100 out of 100.  I have NEVER seen this before.  And these are not quote  whores (New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Salon, etc.).  

    Major studios often accept that movies slated to win Best Picture at the Oscars may or may not make $300M.  Sure, they want them to do good... but if a decent profit is turned and you can say you produced "a film for the ages" that also counts for something.  I suspect Disney may be thinking this with Ratatouille... they've made a profitable movie that average folks and film students will still be watching 30 years from now.  Can anyone say the same for the Transformers?

  • "See Remy make his dream come true in Disney Pixar's newest film, Ratatouille - now only in theaters. And make your dreams come true at a Disney theme park. Who knows? You and Remy might have more in common than you think."

    I think some of the posters at JHM like Curmedgeon have come up with better ideas than those Disney marketing "whizzes"!!

    I know someone else brought this up before, but since Steve Jobs is involved with both Pixar AND Apple, couldnt he do some tie-ins? After all, "Ratatouille" came out the same Friday as the iPhone. Couldn't the two companies have gotten "Ratatouille" clips on during iPhone commercials, demonstrating its multimedia capabilities like trailer-downloading? They had a commercial showing a dog skateboarding to showcase YouTube on iPhone, why not movies? Or better yet, include that 9-minute clip on every iPhone as a marketing gimmick. Sony included a copy of "Spider-Man 2" with all their initial PSP sales, why couldn't iPhone do that to show off their video features? EGAD, Disney totally dropped the ball on marketing this amazing flick! Shame on you!

  • I'm actually quite happy that the movie is #1, regardless if its Pixar's "worst box office earner". Even "Live Free or Die Hard" couldn't stop Pixar from making another film that would reach #1.

  • We all knew this was coming ... oh, well.

    Yes, the opening box office figures are important and the story that the tally didn't meet lowered projections is one that several parties will pursue -- some with more vigor than others.

    Still, I wonder how many will examine in depth the big picture? How many will talk about the huge box office plunges most films are taking in their subsequent weeks? How many films have failed to live up to their hype in the first week. And, in this case, was it a lack of hype that hurt "Ratatouille" in its first week? How many of those number-crunchers questioning the idea that Disney's purchase of Pixar was a mistake will have seen "Ratatouille" before writing their analysis?

    Jim can be skeptical of the notion that this film will have legs -- but I have a little more faith in the marketplace, positive word of mouth and that 95 percent or so "fresh" rating at rotten tomatoes. Still, when you're talking about box office, there's one heck of a lot of variables in the mix -- including the quality of the film, the date of its release, its marketing campaign, the pre-release buzz and on and on.

    In addition, part of the problem "Ratatouille" may be facing comes from the fact that Brad Bird and team worked their butts off to meet the original release date. The film wasn't in the can and ready to be screened to critics,  the media and corporate marketing partners until a bit later than the folks at Buena Vista publicity might have liked.

    I decided to call my local theater to get a sense of the situation here. "Ratatouille" is playing on two screens as is "Live Free or Die" while "Evan Almighty" is still playing on three. The other top releases -- "Sicko," "Fantastic 4," "A Mighty Heart," "Nancy Drew," "Surf's Up," "Knocked Up," "Oceans 13," "Knocked Up" "PotC 3" and "Shrek the Third" were all playing on single screens.

    Of the total of 16 chances to see "Ratatouille" on Friday and Saturday ... 14 played to houses at least 75 percent full and 8 were considered sold out. Those figures paint a fairly positive story -- and I know this is one film parents and adults will be talking about.

    Who knows how all this is going to change with "Transformers" and "Harry Potter" hit the megaplexes? ... But I do believe -- in the long haul -- "Ratatouille" will easily recoup its costs and earn a rightful position as a COMMERCIAL and CRITICAL hit. I think it will do well in North America and might ever surpass the international box office of "Cars."

    Ironically, I don't think it's going to become the financial success of "Cars," because I'm simply having too much trouble finding some of those dang Mattel "Cars" diecast characters! "Cars" licensing probably will make Disney/Pixar more money than any other property/character licensing except for the soon-to-be "Toy Story" trilogy.

    Finally, to all of you who have seen and enjoyed the film, talk it up. Tell your extended family members, your friends, neighbors and coworkers what a great time you had at "Ratatouille." Hollywood, not just Disney, needs to be making more movies of this quality -- movies with strong stories and beautiful pictures.

    Getting one film right is awfully hard. Doing it eight times in a row is pretty damn amazing. Don't let some suits or people rooting for John Lasseter and Co. gain any ground. After that last, dark decade of Eisner's rule, it's important to see creativity reign again at the Disney empire.

  • No surprise, but legs or not, I'm not expecting "Ratatouille" to do blockbuster numbers.

    Oh, and "best reviewed movie of the year"? Obviously you mean "best reviewed wide release movie of the year" :) Because there are better reviewed movies out there now (not a lot, I admit).

    (Oh, and I think nothing can beat "Away From Her" as being the best movie of the year, but I haven't seen "Rat" yet.)

    @ la_resistance28:

    They actually did in a slim version. Even in all the instruction videos there are hints towards "Ratatouille." There has been subtle marketing on Apple.com and all.

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