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What's Up at Pixar? Elemental's Opening Weekend and Its Possible Path to Box Office Sucess
On Friday, Pixar released its 27th movie, Elemental. I already wrote that I loved the movie in my review on Monorail News, and if Rotton Tomatoes is to be believed, others did too (the movie currently has a 92% fresh rating from audiences).
So what's the deal? Why did Elemental have the second-worst opening weekend in Pixar history, behind only the original Toy Story, which became a box office smash and a seminal work in the pantheon of moviemaking? Is Elemental going to follow in the footsteps of Pixar's first feature film?
It's unlikely that Elemental will have the impact on filmmaking that Toy Story did, but few movies do. I think one of two things will happen, either Elemental will gain steam next weekend and continue strong, or it will underperform and affirm the questions many nay-sayers are asking about the future of the Pixar model and, indeed, of Pixar itself.
A lot has been written and said about what might happen if the movie continues to underperform in publications as diverse as The New York Times and Puck, so I'm instead going to focus on why this weekend was a disappointment and the path I see for success in the coming weeks.
The first possible explanation that came to my mind was the damper Father's Day could have had on moviegoing this past weekend. And that theory at first seems to hold water; after all, Flash also released this weekend, and while it did marginally better than Elemental, it still underperformed. So then I did some Googling and remembered that Father's Day is always the third week in June and traditionally, the third weekend in June is when Pixar releases its biggest movies. So that theory is dead in the water.
So then I was left thinking that the NYTimes and Puck are right, Bob Chapek cheapened the Pixar brand by releasing Soul, Luca, and Turning Red direct to Disney+ without adding a premium surcharge, thereby conditioning audiences to expect Pixar movies for 'free' on streaming, not as the event films they were thought of pre-Covid.
Pixar's Chief Creative Officer, famed director Pete Doctor even confirmed this in an interview with Variety, saying, "We’ve trained audiences that these films will be available for you on Disney+."
But Elemental can recover from this and break the perception. Word of mouth can save this movie and indeed can save big-budget original concept films at Pixar and Disney Animation. After all, word of mouth launched Pus and Boots: The Last Wish to the highest of highs and made The Greatest Showman one of the most remembered movie musicals in recent years.
So, if you like original ideas in cinemas, if you like seeing Disney and Pixar take big swings, go see Elemental and tell your friends to do the same.