Monday Morning Quarterback: Part One

By BOP Staff

November 14, 2005

Raisin the roof

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The sky is apparently *not* falling for Disney

Kim Hollis: After opening to $40.0 million last weekend, Chicken Little dropped only 20% this weekend. Its $32 million total easily won the weekend, and the film now has a running total of $80.8 million. How surprised are you by this performance?

David Mumpower: I wasn't surprised by the opening weekend at all. That's right in line with other non-Pixar/Shrek CGI animated performances. The second weekend holdover, on the other hand, is stunning. Chicken Little is performing like a 2001 release instead of a 2005 title.

Kim Hollis: It's certainly good box office news in a year that has been grim. I expect huge drop-off next weekend. Even Monsters, Inc. fell heavily in the face of a Harry Potter film, and we've seen that sort of trending with the sequels as well.

David Mumpower: With $80 million in ten days, Chicken Little appears likely to cross $135 million, possibly even $150 million. Like Madagascar, it merited disappointing reviews but managed to lure customers in anyway. That Disney marketing machine is really something.

Joel Corcoran: I'm rather surprised actually. I wasn't sure that Disney could pull off a CGI animated film on its own without Pixar, but they've more than proven that they can. I never expected it to bomb, but to do this well over a couple weeks ... it's very impressive.

Reagen Sulewski: That opening weekend result is something of a weak result for a Disney branded entry in CGI animation, but this second weekend is well above its potential. Also, I don't agree that Disney couldn't do CGI without Pixar. CGI isn't a genre, although it sometimes behaves like one. What Pixar has done is craft clever stories and characters.

Joel Corcoran: Oh, I know - I wasn't talking strictly about the technology. I think Pixar defined the CGI genre, not just for the technology, but for the reasons you described, Reagen.


Mike Myers loved the pop culture quips in Chicken Little

David Mumpower: Chicken Little does deserve quite a bit of credit for its marketing, too. Like Shrek, it has a focus on pop culture quips and focusing on those in the commercials was the right play.

Joel Corcoran: Very good point, David. Disney may not have the nimbleness and courage to take risks like Pixar did in the early days, but they sure know how to learn from the successes of others.

Reagen Sulewski: The pop-culture thing is somewhat self-limiting though. Only Shrek has been able to get into big bucks with this strategy, and that's because it got in relatively early to the game.

David Mumpower: You're preaching to the choir there, Reagen. I think that Shrek 2 was a huge disappointment in terms of quality since pop culture jokes immediately shorten the shelf life of the humor.

Kim Hollis: Another point is that a lot of the other non-Pixar CGI films have been able to push the star power of their voice actors. All Chicken Little really had was Zach Braff, who's popular with a certain segment, but not really well known. It's sort of impressive that they were able to succeed in that capacity, too.

David Mumpower: It's certainly a lesson Disney learned from their Pixar brethren. Like Craig T. Nelson, Braff might not be an A-list actor, but he was the perfect choice.

Joel Corcoran: And there are some actors in Chicken Little that people just recognize as "that voice" - Patrick Stewart and Harry Shearer for example. But it's still not like having Tom Hanks or Mike Myers at top billing.

Chicken > Dinosaur

Kim Hollis: DreamWorks and Pixar have been the two CGI juggernauts. Does Chicken Little allow Disney to put the Dinosaurs fiasco behind them and stake a claim to regaining their animation throne?

David Mumpower: It's a baby step in the right direction. Dinosaurs was a novel attempt that lost enough money to make Enron blush. Chicken Little is a cash cow in the making, but its quality is indicative of sub-par DreamWorks stuff rather than the upper reaches of Pixar. The money is there but the movie itself doesn't have that extra oomph.

Reagen Sulewski: It's a stepping stone, anyway. I hope they look at the difference between this and an Pixar's box office and learn the right lessons.

Joel Corcoran: It'll take a follow-up success for me put Disney back on the animation throne, but they've definitely heralded their right to succession. If Disney can put out a film with a great story and crisp directing next time, they could arguably surpass Pixar.

Kim Hollis: I honestly think that they renew ties with Pixar and render this question moot. They don't really have much planned by way of animated films at the moment, anyway. There's a few projects that are in production, but have been delayed. I really think you'll see them focus on live action a la the upcoming Shaggy Dog and safe sequels like Pirates of the Caribbean and Santa Clause.

Joel Corcoran: Or, in a worst case scenario, if Cars has a weak run next June, Pixar could take a tumble and the three of 'em (Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks) could end up in the equivalent of a mud-wrestling bout over who's the best among them.

David Mumpower: Do you honestly think Disney willingly cedes the field of animation to anyone else, Kim? To my mind, that would be like urinating on their mission statement.

Reagen Sulewski: Well, it's not like Hollywood is run by ego, David.

We're in a movie! Brother Bear!

Kim Hollis: Well, I'm as surprised as you are, but they've closed several studios and have all but declared the traditional animation that was their wheelhouse a dead genre (though Home on the Range and Brother Bear probably didn't help much in that regard).

Joel Corcoran: Please ... let's not mention Home on the Range again. Please.

Kim Hollis: But perhaps they can learn some lessons from Chicken Little and lure over some up-and-comers from Pixar and establish themselves as the trendsetters at some point.

David Mumpower: That's what I think we're seeing, Kim. Rather than give up on animation, they are laying low and plotting their new strategy in an evolving marketplace. A significant portion of Disney's overall revenue stems from addicting children to their products. They can't just write that source of income off as the area of dominance for Pixar and DreamWorks Animation.

Kim Hollis: The problem with such a strategy, though, is the amount of time it takes to develop a CGI animated film. By the time they have it finished, all their pop culture references will be sad and out of date.

This subliminal message says buy Apple!

David Mumpower: For what it's worth, I will be indescribably surprised if Pixar signs with anyone else. Steve Jobs is a smart man, and he knows that this match makes the most sense for them. It would be in his company's best interest to get a deal worked out then move on to where his focus should be as an iPod guru, on-demand video.

Joel Corcoran: I think Kim has the best-case scenario in mind, though. Splintering Disney and Pixar has damaged both companies, and I hope they can repair that damaged relationship. They could both get back to doing what each does best, respectively. Pixar has great storytellers who make fantastic movies, but they're weak in distribution. As we've discussed, Disney is a distributing and marketing machine. I hate the term "synergy" as an over-used, business-speak slang term, but I think the Disney-Pixar relationship presents the ideal model.

David Mumpower: I think that's a strong point, Joel. Pixar and Disney are perfectly complementary.

Reagen Sulewski: It wasn't a horrible move to hold out and let Disney fall on its face a little.

David Mumpower: I agree with that, Reagen, but the flaw is that they waited too long. Now, they've lost some momentum after The Incredibles while Disney has gained quite a bit with Chicken Little. Pixar had a stronger hand a month ago.



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