Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gnomeo is Bleeding

Disney has a solid hit on its hands heading into spring.  Gnomeo & Juliet debuted to a solid $25.3 million and has held up well, even against new animated competition from Rango.  Going into its fifth weekend, Gnomeo had grossed $85 million and looks to have enough momentum to eventually become a $100 million success.  But it does have more competition coming this weekend...from Disney.

Disney is releasing one of it's major 2011 tentpoles this weekend, Mars Needs Moms.  The impact on Gnomeo is significant, beyond the obvious increase in the number of pictures vying for the family audience.  Gnomeo & Juliet is also losing nearly 400 screens to make room for the new wide release.  And perhaps most importantly, Gnomeo has lost marketing support.  Almost as soon as Gnomeo opened, Disney had to shift all of its marketing and media attention to Mars Needs Moms.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time that Disney has stepped on its own toes and in the process limited the full potential of an unexpected success.  Back in February of 2006, Disney released Eight Below.  The movie was a kind of throwback to the live-action animal adventure films that Disney used to specialize in, was quite well received by audiences, and became an unlikely sleeper hit.  But just three weeks later, Disney released The Shaggy Dog, a high-profile release starring Tim Allen that benefited from a major marketing push.  Eight Below ultimately grossed $81.6 million to Shaggy Dog's disappointing $61.1 million.  Had Disney given Eight Below a little more breathing room and support, it's very possible that it could have become an even bigger hit.  The weekend that Shaggy Dog debuted, Eight Below's box office dropped 45% after holding well the previous two weekends.

A similar scenario played out a few years earlier in 2003.  In early November 2003, Disney released Brother Bear, one of its last announced traditionally animated films at that time.  Disney clearly didn't have high expectations for the film because just four weeks later came The Haunted Mansion, a major holiday release timed for the Thanksgiving weekend and starring Eddie Murphy.  But once again, the big release underperformed against the sleeper that was overlooked by the studio.  Brother Bear ended up grossing $85.3 million versus only $75.8 million for the costly Haunted Mansion.

You want me to keep going?  In 2008, Disney released Beverly Hills Chihuahua and High School Musical 3 just three weeks apart, likely cannibalizing itself in the process as both films stalled at the box office before reaching the symbolic $100 million mark.

It's an interesting case study in the importance of properly managing release schedules.  Disney didn't have any faith in films like Eight Below and Brother Bear and didn't expect them to have any legs at the box office.  But audiences found these movies and liked them even more than the big alternative movie that Disney was pushing just a few weeks later.  In the case of Gnomeo, Disney didn't even want to call it a Disney movie.  The poor thing bounced around in development for years and was ultimately released under the Touchstone banner.  What will audiences choose this time around?  Unfortunately, it looks like Mars Needs Moms is on its way to becoming one of Disney's costliest bombs.  Wherefore art thou, Gnomeo?

1 comment:

  1. I agree totally!

    According to the TV ads, Gnomeo looks like a very family-friendly movie. However, I found it difficult to even tell who the studio was!

    I also take interest in this because Brother Bear holds a special place in my heart. Not only the subject matter of the film (forgiveness and reconciliation), but also the fact that I was down at WDW at the time the film’s artwork was being ‘produced’ (for lack of a better term).

    It also was being lamented as the last – or one of the last - hand-drawn features to be produced at Walt Disney Animation. I do know it was the last feature to be drawn at the working animation studio at Disney-MGM Studios.