Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Okay, this article has very little, if anything, to do with actual politics (Hollywood politics, yes, but not in the way many of you might be thinking it as) but I thought since this is my first post after being absent from the political rant/soap-box/blog scene for several months now I would start off slow and steady.

With that said, let’s move on. In spite of the large amount of time I spent over the summer either at work or in school I was able to see a fair number of movies, though significantly less then I had anticipated. Ratatouille, the latest computer-animated marvel from Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, however stood out as my personal favorite for the summer season, if not the entire year so far. At first I wasn’t as enthusiastic for it as the rest of my family was – I still thought as good as it was it was still behind the quality of The Incredibles and Toy Story 2 – but after another viewing I recanted on my original judgment and considered it to be the best feature film the computer animation studio had produced to date. It is one of those rare films, animated or otherwise, that improves, at least in your mind, after each successful viewing. It is even more amazing to see how well put together this production is considering it has been in the pipeline since 2000 and that its original director Jan Pinkava, who directed the Pixar animated short, Gerri’s Game, was replaced very late in the game by Brad Bird who scrapped practically the entire original storyline for the one seen in the film today.

So what does this have to do with anything? As Stewie from Family Guy would say, “Hey ……. Shut-up” … kidding, I’m getting there kids.

There’s a gossip-ragger Jim Hill who primarily focuses on the house that Walt built. He likes to think he knows a lot more then most Disney insiders, that he is able to predict what Disney is going to do in terms of theme park attractions, movies, etc., and that he has ‘inside’ sources at the Mouse House. He has gotten on the nerves of me and every other Pixar defender ever Disney purchased Pixar back in January 2006. He riled on and on last summer about how Cars was (at the time) Pixar’s lowest grossing film to date (ignoring all the while that Cars ended up not only being the highest grossing animated film of the year but the third highest domestic grossing film of the year as well and continuing to remain blind to the fact that merchandise for the film still flies off the shelf more then a year after it was released) and that Disney paid too much for Pixar. All this of course after the fact and after he had been hammering then-Chairman/CEO Michael Eisner for not purchasing Pixar in the first place, prior or immediately after the release of Toy Story in 1995. This summer he has been beating the same tired ol’ drum, only this time it involves Ratatouille.

First things first, Jim. Numbers, in particular box office numbers, aren’t everything. Ratatouille is one of, if not THE, best reviewed film of the year so far. Out of a possible one-hundred and sixty-eight reviews, one-hundred and sixty-one were positive leading to a ninety-six percent fresh rating. Chances are Ratatouille will be nominated for Best Animated Film of the Year at the Academy Awards and will likely win, unless by chance the Academy decides to get political (again) and give the award to an undeserving competitor. Yes, I am still peeved that Cars was robbed last year.

Yes, Ratatouille is now ranked fifth in the list of slowest movies to reach the two-hundred million dollar mark. But, as the Disney Enquirer correctly points out, that category isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just look at the list itself. Back to the Future is number one (two sequels were produced), Home Alone, and Superman Returns (which already has a sequel in the works).

Second, while Ratatouille has been ranked fifteenth in the list of slowest movies to reach the two-hundred million dollar mark, the category is a bit deceiving, as the Disney Enquirer correctly points out. Just look at the list itself. Back to the Future is number one (two sequels were produced), Home Alone, and Superman Returns (which already has a sequel in the works). Far be it a list of losers.

Let’s examine the articles themselves, shall we?

As one Jim Hill Media reader points out, Jim in an earlier article stated without hesitation that he believed The Simpsons Movie seemed poised to surpass Ratatouille in terms of domestic receipts which at the time of this article’s publication stood at $188.2 million. Not only has The Simpsons Movie failed to achieve this task within Mr. Hill’s specified time-frame (three weeks), it seems now that the 20th Century Fox animated film will likely never accomplish this task having been knocked out of the Top 10 as of this past Labor Day weekend. There are other idiosyncrasies in this article to consider as well. For one the fact that executives at Disney would be naïve enough to assume that just because The Simpsons Movie in spite of the handicap of being hand-drawn rather then computer-animated was successful means The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s first real attempt to return to the field of traditional animation, will have a better chance of succeeding at the box office when it is released in 2009. The Simpsons has been on television for nineteen years and has a tremendous built-in audience. The only real surprise for analysts during its opening weekend was how many would show up given the dramatic erosion of the program’s target audience following 1997, the year many fans consider to be the beginning of the decline in the quality of the show. Or how about the fact that Mr. Hill while lavishing praise on The Simpsons Movie for beating out Ratatouille in terms of opening weekend numbers while conveniently failing to mention that The Simpsons dropped sixty-six percent vs. the thirty-eight percent drop Ratatouille had in its second frame. Further more, while The Simpsons Movie has a considerable head-start vs. the ‘Rat’ in the area of international receipts, the Brad Bird-directed flick has yet to open in major territories such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany and while it may not seem probable for Ratatouille to beat out The Simpsons in this particular field it is certainly far from impossible.

And isn’t it amazing (if I were speaking this of course would be the place where the emphasis on sarcasm would be) that for as much as Jim Hill has riled on and on about how Ratatouille has failed to meet “Wall Street’s expectations”, as if those are now the standards from which we should all base our way of life on, he never once, not once, notes how Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End failed miserably to meet expectations set not only by Spider-Man 3’s returns earlier in the summer but by the franchise’s predecessor, Dead Man’s Chest, last year. Furthermore, while most analysts were predicting Pirates 3 to take the silver medal this box office season, with the final numbers tallied it has failed to achieve even bronze status, losing out to Michael Bay/Steven Spielberg’s Transformers.

And while Pixar has been far from perfect, let alone consistent in terms of the box office receipts their feature films bring in, you can’t argue with their success – eight-for-eight. As another Jim Hill Media reader pointed out that in terms of Disney’s own recent animated film history (traditional and other-wise) you’d have to go back as far as 1994 (The Lion King) to find a single film of their that grossed over, let alone close to, two-hundred million dollars. Not even Walt Disney himself enjoyed this level of success in the early hey-days of his animation studio. Not even close. Following the tremendous success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Disney had a string of box office failures – Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi – and while World War II could be blamed for the international numbers, that still doesn’t speak entirely for their underperformance domestically, particularly since the United States wasn’t actively, or at least publically, involved in the war until December 1941. It took till Cinderella in 1950 for animation studio at Disney to get out of their funk and even then they were sacrificing quality for quantity.

More importantly, in a year in which (so far) nineteen films have grossed over one-hundred million dollars (the Universal comedy-flop Evan Almighty and the low-budget Superbad are the most likely candidates to join this club), eight have brought in two-hundred million, and four have made three-hundred million with only two out of those nineteen films being truly original productions without a built-in fan base (300 and Ratatouille), executives at Disney should be estatic it did as well as it did in spite of the saturated market and piss-poor marketing job they did.

Did Disney pay too much for Pixar? To quote Rev. Lovejoy from The Simpsons, “Oh, short answer Yes with maybe, long answer No, with a but”. Yes, Disney did overpay for Pixar considering they could have gotten them much cheaper back in 1995 if Eisner had had a brain and picked them up instead of signing them to an extension of their picture contract. BUT the question you have to ask is whether Pixar would have been as successful as they were had they been picked up right away by Disney. Would Michael Eisner have been micro-managing Pixar as he did everything else at Disney and driven it into the ground as he did traditional animation or would Steve Job’s presence on the board have forced the company’s hand to oust Michael Eisner out earlier then he was? Rick Aristotle Munarriz at The Motley Fool argues that neither side really needed each other. I disagree with that. Disney clearly needed Pixar, if not John Lasseter, more then Pixar needed Disney. It is still a little early but Lasseter has re-energized Disney’s role in traditional animation (two or three 2-D animated films are in the works and there has been talk about putting new Mickey Mouse/Goofy/Donald shorts like in the ol’ days) as well as the theme parks (critics of Disney’s California Adventure will be particularly happy with the plans Uncle John has in store to revamp the fledgling California counterpart). Did Pixar save Disney? Far from, Disney would have survived without Pixar, though they would not be enjoying as much success as they are now. To all the Jim Hills of the world, shut-up! This isn’t about short-term gains, especially considering that the short-term gains they argue about aren’t as bad as they make them out to be, but long term ones and in the end Disney and fans of both Disney and Pixar are better off for it.