Pixar’s latest animated offering ‘Elemental’ has flopped in its opening weekend, marking a record-low result for the revered studio.
Despite generating favourable reviews, the movie tanked in the US and Canada, generating a dismal $US29.6 million in ticket sales, making it the worst three-day weekend debut in the company’s history.
To put into context how poor the result is for Pixar, the figure puts it below the studio’s first ever release, and eventual franchise powerhouse, Toy Story, which was released in 1995 where it made $US29.1 million on its opening weekend. That figure was considered promising at the time, and is more like $US50 million when adjusted for inflation.
Closer to home, Elemental had a weak response in Australian cinemas, making $1.59m at the weekend, where it was edged out by both The Flash – which topped local earnings with $3.85m on its opening weekend – and Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse, which generated $2.99m in its third weekend in theatres.
It comes after the Toy Story spin-off Lightyear marked a rare failure for Pixar upon its release in June last year, and was reported to have lost the studio around $US106 million. It debuted in its opening weekend to$US50.6 million in the US, before going on to earn a worldwide gross of $US226.4 million.
Much like Elemental, Lightyear received promising reviews but wasn’t able to break-even with ticket sales.
Pixar – which is owned by Disney – has developed a reputation for producing stirring stories in the children’s genre, appeasing all demographics with the likes of Ratatouille, A Bug’s Life, Soul, Coco and Inside Out, just to name a handful.
But the Covid-19 pandemic – and how studios adapted to it – changed the cinema landscape and ultimately, people’s viewing habits.
Streaming platforms became a means for production companies to distribute developed projects when no one could leave the house, with viewers turning to streamers to tune into shiny new releases.
And after a 2022 box office that was dominated by sequels, with the likes of Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: Way of Water both soaring over the $1 billion benchmark, industry pundits believe familiarity is the leading factor to get bums on seats in a post-Covid world.
That trend is continuing this year, with Super Mario Bros – an adaptation of the beloved ‘80s game – becoming the first 2023 film to net over $1b.
The blame on Pixar’s back-to-back box office bombs has landed on former Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who decided to launch three Pixar films on Disney+ during the pandemic – Soul, Turning Red and Luca – in a bid to boost subscribers. (Chapek was ultimately sacked from the position in November and succeeded by his predecessor, Bob Iger.)
Pixar’s Chief Creative Office Pete Docter recently told Variety the move “trained” viewers into thinking that the studio’s films weren’t must-see theatrical experiences.
“We made Soul for the big screen. We looked at every frame. There’s so much detail and gorgeous imagery and work that was done that you can’t quite appreciate on a smaller screen,” Docter said.
“However, there was a pandemic going on. On one hand, we were so thankful that there was Disney+ so that we could release the film and people could see it. Otherwise, it would just sit on a shelf for a year and a half.
“In the long run, there’s been a bit of a mixed blessing because we’ve trained audiences that these films will be available for you on Disney+. And it’s more expensive for a family of four to go to a theatre when they know they can wait and it’ll come out on the platform.”
He added, “We’re trying to make sure people realise there’s a great deal you’re missing by not seeing it on the big screen. In the case of Elemental, it’s a beautiful spectacle, there’s detail everywhere. I think you feel it more and it’s a better experience.”
Elemental, co-written and directed by Peter Sohn, is at its core a tribute to the sacrifices parents make for their children.
The story is set in Element City, a vivid metropolis inspired by Sohn’s childhood in New York City.
The fictional city is a place where characters of the four elements of nature – fire, earth, wind and water – live among each other, despite their differences.
It follows the story of Ember (Leah Lewis) a young fire woman, and her parents Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi).