Saturday, August 28, 2010

Disney's record-setting year

Yesterday, as Disney announced that Toy Story 3 had become the first animated film to cross the $1 billion mark in global box office, it also trumpeted another significant milestone, becoming the first movie studio to have two films released in the same year gross over $1 billion worldwide.  It's a remarkable achievement, as both Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3 have easily surpassed whatever high expectations anyone might have set for them.  When you add in the success of Iron Man 2, which was distributed by Paramount but produced by Disney-owned Marvel Studios, it's been an unprecedented year of success at the box office for Disney.

Well, almost.  After all, there were those two high-profile releases from Disney's resident hit-maker, Jerry Bruckheimer.  First it was Prince of Persia, which kicked off the summer with designs to be the next big Disney franchise in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean.  Next came The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which reunited the director, producer and star of the National Treasure films for another attempt at a new franchise.  Both have been pretty big busts.  With combined budgets of over $350 million, plus marketing and release costs that likely exceed $200 million, the two films together have brought in about $480 million worldwide.  In other words, they've lost a lot of money.  In hindsight, it seems pretty clear that Disney would have been better off continuing the Narnia series instead of trying to build a new fantasy franchise from scratch.  And it seems equally clear that Bruckheimer, Nicolas Cage, and Jon Turteltaub should focus their energies on National Treasure 3.  Then again, what's a loss of a few hundred million dollars when you are raking in over $2 billion?

Looking at the rest of the year, Disney still has two big releases yet to come.  The first is Rapunzel Tangled, the latest animated princess film for the holidays.  The marketers at Disney have no idea what to do with this film and American audiences.  They are so paralyzed by the relatively disappointing performance of The Princess and the Frog that they are completely scared of selling this film for what it is, which is a slightly new twist on a classic fairy tale told in the Disney style.  As a result, audiences are going to have no idea what this movie is and they aren't going to go see it.  Just compare one of the international posters, which still uses the original title, with the domestic poster.  Which one makes more sense and is more appealing?  I'm afraid Disney animation may have another disappointment on their hands.

Finally, there's Tron: Legacy.  In contrast to Tangled, Disney has been marketing this film brilliantly.  if the film is anywhere close to as good as what we've been shown so far, it should be a solid hit for the studio.  Hopefully, when 2010 comes to a close, Disney will still have plenty to cheer about.