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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
It’s fair to say that Pixar has a pretty incredible track record. In terms of both gaudy box office numbers and critic adoration, Pixar is at the absolute pinnacle of the filmmaking world. The Disney-owned company regularly brings home the golden Oscar statuette for Best Animated Film, and has also been nominated for the grand overall Best Picture prize on a number of occasions as well. Their films play well at home and abroad, to the point where their biggest films regularly gross near record levels of money and sell billions more in merchandise. Even their perceived lesser films, such as Cars 2 and Monsters University, made big enough money and spawned even bigger merchandising machines in their wake.
What Pixar hadn’t had in twenty years of theatrical releases was an outright flop. Until now, that is. The long-delayed Pixar film The Good Dinosaur will close in theaters soon, having grossed less than $120 million dollars domestically, ranking as Pixar’s lowest-grossing film since 1998’s A Bug’s Life, a film released in an era not particularly known for its smash hit CGI-animated features (and a film featuring a fraction of the budget of Dinosaur). The Good Dinosaur even failed overseas, grossing a paltry $148 million, or less than half of what Inside Out grossed just months previously. With an estimated production budget of around $175 million, The Good Dinosaur would need to gross at least $350 million simply to break even and perhaps gross more like $500 million after funny Hollywood accounting practices are considered. That obviously did not happen. And you’ll barely hear a peep about this. So what exactly went wrong?
Part of the reason why The Good Dinosaur failed was due to Pixar’s previous release, Inside Out. Inside Out garnered extreme critical acclaim and debuted to a $90 million dollar opening weekend, eventually closing as one of the highest grossing Pixar films yet released, and one of the highest grossing films of 2015 overall. Due to a lack of solid kid-friendly competition (Minions was big, but lacked the critical acclaim given Inside Out), the film went on to have enormous legs, playing in theaters strongly throughout the summer. Critics heaped praise onto the film, and audiences clearly reacted positively as well. Conversely, The Good Dinosaur opened with a noticeable lack of hype behind it. It seemed people were Pixared-out, and there just wasn’t much buzz over Dinosaur’s release. The film opened with a thud, grossing $39 million, or around forty percent of what Inside Out did on its opening weekend back in June. The Good Dinosaur showed little legs as well, despite opening during the lucrative holiday season. And yet, very little was said about it’s failure.
That’s what really bothers me about this enormous flop (and it is just that – an enormous flop). It bothers me how little attention it received in entertainment news cycles on the whole. When Keanu Reeves’ 47 Ronin famously failed two years ago after a lengthy post-production period, there seemed to be an overwhelming feeling of embarrassment and derision lobbed towards both Universal and actor Reeves (who it should be reminded was merely a supporting player and not the main character). When The Good Dinosaur failed spectacularly, no one even seemed to bat an eye. Every Nicolas Cage feature film is met with eye-rolls, no matter that Cage always brings a level of interest to any film role he takes (unlike some actors, Bruce Willis anyone?) that is almost unparalleled amongst his peers. Even the oft-mocked Sylvester Stallone outdid himself once again for his recent film Creed, a film that many mocked until it smashed the box office and wowed critics last holiday season. So why the pass for Pixar?
Full disclosure: I don’t like Pixar very much. I haven’t really enjoyed one of their films since 2009’s Up, and even then I really only liked the first 10 minutes of that movie. I never find Pixar features to be entirely satisfying. They seem to teeter between being for kids and being for adults. I don’t like any Dreamworks Animated feature either, but at least they pretty much strictly know who they’re for. But audiences and critics are seemingly wont to give Pixar a pass for every film they crap out, despite the company featuring a heavily rumored dark side. Take for example 2012’s Brave, a film lauded for featuring Pixar’s first female protagonist (Great job, Pixar! It only took you 17 years!). Pixar execs essentially fired that films female director, Brenda Chapman, quietly before replacing her with a male co-worker. Why was this not more heavily publicized? That film later even won the Best Animated Film Oscar (despite Wreck-It Ralph being a more complete, more charming film), and there was little a word about how the female-centric film featured a female-fired director.
Even the original director of The Good Dinosaur, Bob Petersen, was replaced by Peter Sohn after “creative differences” arose in production. Once again, this barely made a blip on the entertainment news cycle. The Good Dinosaur faced an incredibly interesting production cycle, particularly in its story structure. In fact, one might say the production of The Good Dinosaur might end up a more entertaining film than Dinosaur itself. The entire film at one point was essentially roughly completed and then thrown in the trash basically. New voice actors were cast, new roles were written while old roles were cut entirely, and the themes of the film itself were either enhanced somewhat or changed completely after Pixar bigwigs were unhappy with the near finished product. So after a long production delay and several re-writes and re-casts, it is no surprise that the film ended up a mess. But it’s still surprising to me that it ultimately failed, as Pixar never seems to fail.
And that is the rub, in and of itself. Had The Good Dinosaur debuted last year and flopped similarly, there may have been more than just a handful of words written about Pixar’s continued lack of creativity (Disney’s own animated films like the aforementioned Wreck-It Ralph and 2013’s Frozen have been kicking their ass creatively, and last year’s Big Hero 6, while not great, won the Oscar). But the delay may have actually helped save Pixar’s reputation, as Inside Out was a huge hit and basically masked the pain of The Good Dinosaur’s failure. Their next release is another sequel, Finding Dory, which comes 13 years after Finding Nemo launched in 2003. After that is the long-awaited Mexican culture-themed Pixar film, titled Coco. And then we get more sequels, as Cars 3 and The Incredibles 2 are somewhere in the cards for release. For a filmmaking company that has created so many beloved original franchises, this seems kind of a creative cop-out to me.