Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dino Panic: Breaking 'Good Dinosaur' Hyperbole

The last couple of days have been rather frustrating... Sites everywhere are now suggesting that The Good Dinosaur will indeed become that very film. The very first Pixar film to lose money at the box office...

These articles were written before the movie turned two weeks old. Two weeks...


The Good Dinosaur is a Thanksgiving release. You know what happens to most animated family films the weekend after Thanksgiving? They drop. Hard.

Tangled dropped 56%, Frozen dropped 53%, Bolt dropped 63%. Like I said in an earlier article, these films all went on to make over 4x their opening weekend grosses. The Good Dinosaur's 60% drop last weekend is no indicator of what its word-of-mouth is like, plus the film does have a strong A CinemaScore grade.

This is the weekend before Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes in like a sea storm. I'll give others credit here, for that film has me worried about Good Dinosaur's box office prospects. This weekend, I believe, will be the very weekend where Good Dinosaur proves what it's made of. If it drops a decent 30-40%, it'll indicate that word-of-mouth is and will be fine. After Star Wars, it's got to pick back up, right? It can co-exist with competition like Daddy's Home and... Alvin and the Hipmunks 4.

I can understand why some are worried. The Star Wars issue is a big one.

But the articles, I think, are going to hyperbole.

Variety suggested that the film was pretty much doomed from the start because it was a troubled production. Well guess what? Toy Story 2 was shut down less than a year before it came out, and was vigorously retooled until the story was great. Ratatouille was halted and redone midstream. Both films were runaway box office hits. Several Disney animated films? You get the picture. Troubled productions are nothing new in the world of film - animated and live-action.

Then the other writers out there come up with various reasons as to why that 60% drop occurred, forgetting that - again - drops this size usually happen to animated films the week after Thanksgiving. The analysts say it's not resonating or this or that. Shouldn't they know what happens at the box office the week after Thanksgiving???

There's also people saying that Pixar releasing two movies a year was what hurt it... Why would that hurt it? Marvel has made two movies every calendar year, DreamWorks for a long time was scoring two a year, it only blew up in their faces when marketing and timing wasn't done right. I highly doubt it was because of them releasing two movies this year. This is the first time they've ever done it, and they sat last year out. First time they did that since 2005.

They bring up the critical reception. 76% on Rotten Tomatoes is something most animated films, and films in general, would kill to have. Cars has a lower RT score and that was a big hit. Their point? Critical reception and box office usually don't go hand in hand, and a lot of not-so-well-received animated films have made lots of money at the box office. Lots of poor-quality live-action films did very well at the box office. Moot point.

Though some ask, are audiences specifically asking for more from Pixar?

I don't think audiences care as much as the Internet folk do. The Internet collective will tell you that Cars is a Pixar misstep and that it's such a bad movie, but it opened big and made over 4x its opening weekend gross, and moved over 10 million home media units. And don't say "But it's just kids." If it was just kids, Good Dinosaur would be a hit as well. Kids love dinosaurs. Obviously a good chunk of adult audiences liked or loved Pixar's anthro autos... Well, the first time around, that is. Brave's another one. It's so bad, says the Internet, but... $66 million opening and a 3.5x multiplier!

As far as I'm concerned, a good chunk of the American audiences who went to the theater had a good time with Good Dinosaur. There are several animated films out there that skew the kids more than the adults, and they open just fine and have good-to-great legs. If they can score good legs, so can this. I don't agree with the reviewers saying the film is more child-oriented than Pixar's previous films. Just because its story isn't some intricate, complex pocket-watch marvel doesn't mean it's more for kids. Why can't a story just be straightforward? Execution is key, here.

One side of the coin will say that Pixar shouldn't make pictures like Good Dinosaur, and that truly adult-skewing animated family films are complex and grandiose and this and that. On the other side of the coin, which I'm on, they say "plot shmot, give me characters I care about and a sincere story." Good Dinosaur, to me, was just that. Sure, the plot didn't attempt to move mountains, but it's got a beating heart and characters that were memorable, some out-there oddball stuff, plus it didn't shy away from harsher things. I'm actually seeing quite a few people talking about how dark the movie is for young children.

I don't know about that, personally. What I saw was pretty much a "90s G" movie, with its peril - while intense - being no worse than the incinerator sequence from Toy Story 3. Maybe because it involves a human child, it's much harsher? I don't know.

Back to the main point, though...

The Good Dinosaur is only two weeks into its run. After Star Wars temporarily halts every movie in its tracks, it'll pick back up and perhaps garner more fans. Why did it open so low in the first place? Crap marketing, I'll say it. Crap marketing. The trailers did nothing for many audiences and film fans alike, and you know something is wrong when film fans are saying a Pixar movie looks like a skip from the trailers. Others are saying they didn't even know it was out! Disney barely gave it a push, probably focusing entirely on the galaxy far, far away. Did they just assume that the Pixar name and dinosaurs would sell it? Probably.

International numbers... It's way too early to tell because The Good Dinosaur hasn't opened in key territories like Australia, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, and several others.

I say give it time, before determining the fate of the movie already. I know, this is the movie press at its best. I'm not disappointed, I knew they'd react this way. I'm not trying to make them change, because trying to do that would be foolish. No... I want to help readers feel better about the situation for the time being. Once it shows signs of collapsing, then we can start getting concerned.

Even if it does lose money... So what? Pixar's first flop. They're human. Walt Disney saw his first flop with Pinocchio, that was his second film, coming off of the titan that was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I know a lot of people have been waiting like hungry wolves for this very moment, the moment the high-almighty Pixar finally sees a stumble and gets what's coming to them. Yeah! Bring down the overrated Pixar and show them that they are like the rest of us!

I don't do that. Wishing failure on movies is kind of a crappy thing to do, especially well-made films like this one. There are several movies I don't like or have no desire to see, but I don't wish they will fail. Whether you love this movie or hate it, a lot of care went into it, visually and narratively. Tons of animators worked their collective rears off getting this movie made. The studio was so concerned about the story, they pushed the project back and in the process pushed back a highly anticipated sequel of theirs. Yes, had nothing gone wrong with the apatosaur adventure, Finding Dory would've been playing in the multiplexes right now, not this movie. This movie would already be on Blu-ray, it would be on Starz by this point.

You know, another company would've put the original version out anyway and release the big sequel as early as they could, but Pixar did not do this. They didn't delay Good Dinosaur because they didn't have any faith in it, they delayed it because they wanted to fix it. I think they turned out a great film, and I have no idea if the original Bob Peterson version is better or not. I haven't seen it, it wasn't even made, so there's no way to really tell...

Originally, I was a bit concerned that the possibility of it flopping could lead to Disney telling Pixar to cease making original films, or at least have them make more sequels instead. Disney is very trigger-happy these days. If something isn't working, they don't fix it, they just get rid of it altogether... Muppets movies, live-action movies that aren't remakes of animated classics, and traditionally animated films...

Sometimes my mind runs to scenarios like this, but I took a step back...

Disney Animation was forced to sacrifice traditional animation, not because two films - The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh - didn't do that well, but because of the stigma 2D has in general. If we leave out The Simpsons Movie and Sponge out of Water (despite being a mostly 2D film, it was marketed as an all-CG film) for a second, the highest grossing 2D film released in the last 15 years was Lilo & Stitch. $141 million domestic, $273 million worldwide. Kinda minuscule when you stack that up against... Shrek, Toy Story, Despicable Me, Inside Out, The Croods, Hotel Transylvania, etc. Even though there's been a ton of CG flops, the successful films are hugely successful. For every down, there's a humungous up in the world of computer animation.

Executives don't look past these things. Executives are thinking the way they did in 2005. So all of that was against traditional animation, and that's why it once again ceased to be at the studio. We're perhaps lucky that WDAS was even able to give it one last shot. Princess and the Frog and Winnie performing below expectations were the nails in the coffin, and it'll take someone with major guts to bring it back. Not sure who that's going to be, but that's a debate for another day.

Disney Live-Action stopped with the non-remakey stuff because... Well... They had a whole string of films that bombed or lost money: Prince Caspian, G-Force, Prince of Persia, TRON: Legacy, John Carter of Mars, The Lone Ranger, and Tomorrowland. The Finest Hours doesn't look like it'll be a break-even film at this point, I'm not sure about The BFG at the moment. If that Spielberg film is a hit, I doubt it turns things around. In-between all of those bombs were a few hits... Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and Cinderella.

Pixar on the other hand... They have a plethora of originals on their side. One original not making its money back doesn't spell doom for future Pixar originals, plus Coco is far along in pre-production and will indeed happen. The studio's previous original made over $850 million at the domestic box office. No Pixar original since 2001 has missed $450 million at the worldwide box office, even the pretty American Cars had some considerable traction overseas. Inside Out is the studio's third highest-grossing feature, behind a sequel (Toy Story 3) and an original (Finding Nemo).

So I don't think originals are quite doomed at Pixar. It would have to take 5 more flops, maybe even more. The only thing I can see possibly happening is Disney pushing for more sequels, but again... A lot of the originals outgrossed Cars 2, and a couple of them outgrossed Monsters University. I think all is going to be well at Emeryville, and I can't imagine John Lasseter being thrilled with even more sequel-pushing. Say what you will about the guy, but Pixar still intends to make original movies, not like he wants to phase them out.

But all of this talk will be moot if The Good Dinosaur doubles its hefty budget. I hope it does, for the sake of Pixar, good animated movies, and original animated movies. If it falls, so what? I'm not going to freak out, and I'm not going to make fun either.

That all being said... Please, let's give it some time to breathe. Ignore the hyperbole, see the film if you haven't. You may say "But reviews aren't all that good." How about this... See it for yourself, because you never know, you might be glad that you did.

Over and out.


  1. I think if The Good Dinosaur flops, that will make Disney tell Pixar to put Coco on hold.

    1. Do you think we'll ever see another original movie from Pixar again?

    2. Did some research. Right now, Pixar's upcoming schedule looks like this:
      Finding Dory (June 17th, 2016)
      Cars 3 (June 16th, 2017)
      Coco (November 22nd, 2017)
      Toy Story 4 (June 18th 2018)
      The Incredibles II (June 21st 2019)
      Aside from these, March 13th 2020 and June 19th 2020 are also provisionally reserved for Pixar movies. If Coco is cancelled or moved, we would have to wait until 2020 to see another original movie from Pixar.

  2. Well, as for 2D, there's nothing in the world that can make the purists accept reality. That's unfortunately a big problem with modern economics. No matter what proof, no matter what the numbers reveal, there's going to be people who deny reality... that the hand-drawn animation art form as a mainstream way to make theatrical films - outside of films based on recent children's TV shows - is no-longer viable in the marketplace. No matter what you present, they're not going to accept it.

    1. Plenty of CGI movies bomb and bomb hard. Remember FOODFIGHT? Remember LEGENDS OF OZ? And now NORM OF THE NORTH can join their ranks. Nobody suggested gutting the whole form over those.

  3. Thanks for this article. It reassures me as a Pixar fan. I was worried. I saw Good Dino 2 times in the theater. I really hope they make back its budget though. Sadly, I believe it's the critics and how society follows it nowadays. Seriously what annoys me about my roommates is they base all their movie going experience based on rotten tomatoes. I always get a "Yeah. I HEARD it's bad." or "Critics said it's not very I'm not going to see it."

  4. Thanks for such an informative, rational post! Not sure why some people are resorting to hyperbole in the comments tho...

  5. This sounds too pessimistic. I'm VERY sure there's some hope for it to become mainstream again. All it takes is a studio with the right guts and attitude for it. Don't lose hope on it, ever!

    1. Well, bear in mind that besides its $200 million production budget, The Good Dinosaur cost a further $150 million in marketing. Its break-even point was estimated at $500 million. It doesn't look like it's even going to get there. We may well be looking at the first-ever Pixar flop.