'Elemental' steps into the ring as a major box office test for Pixar

‘Elemental’ steps into the ring as a major box office test for Pixar

Logo text

After one of the most impressive winning streaks in Hollywood history, Pixar has seen its fortunes reversed in recent years, with last year’s flop Light year and a pandemic-era policy of sending its features directly to stream on Disney+. Now, Pixar faces a major brand showdown as it prepares to unveil Elementaryhis first original theatrical feature since the arrival of COVID-19.

Directed by Peter Sohn, the film is based on an original story set in a world where the inhabitants of fire, water, earth and air coexist. Among early reviews, the title holds a disappointing 64% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a low number for Pixar. Additionally, the film is pulling in low numbers, dropping from just $37 million to $38 million in its June 16-18 opening weekend, which it shares with Warner Bros.’ The flash. Only a handful of Disney releases have debuted under $50 million. (There were a lot of negative headlines when 2007’s Ratatouille opened to $47 million, but naysayers were wrong when the film turned into a box office sensation.)

Related stories

Before the pandemic, such an opening for a new Pixar title would have been hard to imagine. The Incredibles 2 (2019) e Story of the toy 4 (2020) both eventually surpassed one billion dollars. Then, just as the crisis hit overseas and in the US, Pixar and Disney jumped in After you in theaters in early March 2020. The film achieved a global gross of $133.4 million as theaters began to close en masse. The next three Pixar films: the Oscar winner in 2020 Soul2021 Luca and 2022 Turning red — were sent directly to Disney+ in the US and other select major markets, even though the box office was currently in catch-up mode Turning red He came out.

Many have criticized Disney’s former Bob Chapek regime for training families to watch Pixar movies in the comfort of their own living rooms instead of promoting the theatrical experience. Light year it was in fact released on the big screen in June 2022, several months later Turning red. Although it was based on one of the studio’s most iconic History of the toy characters, only managed to make $218.8 million, an alarmingly low number for one of Pixar’s films, believed to cost around $200 million to produce.

Elementary himself spanned the studio’s previous and current creative regimes, with Sohn conceiving the idea for the story after directing the 2015 film The good dinosaur, and was asked to speak at an event in the Bronx, where he was born. Seeing his immigrant parents in the audience “it hit me very emotionally and I broke down in tears,” he recalls. “That gesture of appreciating their situation and what they had given up and risked for me, really struck me. When I got back to Pixar, some friends and my bosses at the time were like, ‘This is your next movie.'”

Observers point to not only the challenges of the pandemic but also a generational shift in its leaders, particularly following the 2018 exit of longtime creative director John Lasseter, who departed after acknowledging the “missteps” workplace that have left some employees, as he wrote, “disrespected or uncomfortable.” (He now runs Skydance Animation.) Much has been made of Pixar’s “brain trust” that provides creative guidance on every film, and that too has seen changes. “Many of the original Pixar brain trusts that started the company are gone: Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, Steve Jobs, Brad Bird, head of story Joe Ranft (died 2005), and others,” notes Tom Sito, alumnus of Disney and DreamWorks Animation and professor of animation at USC.

Suggests an animation exec: “Their films bring a variety of filmmakers, but the richness and depth, which John brought, is just not there anymore.”

After Lasseter’s departure, veteran Pete Docter – who joined Pixar to work History of the toy and, as director of On, Inside out AND Soul, is the only director to have won three Academy Awards for animated films — he has been named the studio’s chief creative officer and enjoys widespread support. “People love and respect Pete. No one questions his talent,” says an animation source with past ties to Pixar. “Animation is a long game. You can’t put too much weight on the success or failure of a film.” However, in June, Pixar – which maintains its campus in Emeryville outside San Francisco – was hit by layoffs from Disney, affecting 75 employees including Light year director Angus MacLane and producer Galyn Susman.

According to Sohn, ElementaryThe Brain Trust’s included Docter and Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E), along with Dan Scanlon (After you), Dome Shi (Turning red), Julia Cho (d Turning red screenwriter) and Brian Larsen (story head of the Academy Award-winning short film Piper).

As Pixar’s next chapter is being written, the world of animation itself is becoming more competitive and crowded. This year alone, Illumination Entertainment, the home of the Minions franchise led by Chris Meledandri, has had a huge success in The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which exceeded $1.2 billion worldwide. Sony Pictures Animation Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the sequel to its Oscar-winning In the Spider-Verse, has already claimed $208.6 million worldwide since its May 30 release.

Netflix – which has become a force in animation, with Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature earlier this year – boasts a 2023 slate that includes the anticipated Nimonabased on the graphic novels of the same name, e Chicken Run: Nugget Dawnthe long-awaited sequel to Wallace & Gromit studio Aardman’s Chicken run.

Pixar’s sister company, Walt Disney Animation Studios, is due out soon Wish (the story of the star that Disney characters yearn for) in November. But Disney Animation has also had an erratic record lately, following the release of 2022 Strange world, which grossed just $73.6 million. Further down the road, Pixar is planning a mix of what they hope will be reliable sequels and original fare. A Inside out sequel and an original alien tale titled helium are expected by 2024. One-fifth History of the toy the film was also announced.

Observers note that part of Pixar’s success — which includes 11 Academy Awards for best animated feature — has been a result of being left to its own devices, with a management team separate from the rest of Disney. Says Sito, “Since the History of the toy days, there were executives in Burbank envious of their autonomy, but no one dared question that when the results were so good.

Pamela McClintock and Borys Kit contributed to this report.

A version of this story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to register now.