Pixar vs. Disney: Discuss

The opening of Chicken Little this past weekend — Disney’s first fully computer-generated full length  animated film — had a little something for each of these companies.

On the one hand, Chicken Little sold an estimated $40.1 million of tickets in theaters across North America in its opening weekend, beating Gulf War movie Jarhead, and low budget horror flick Saw II.

While that’s an "encouraging debut," its not nearly as well as Pixar’s openings do — "The Incredibles" grossed over $70 million opening weekend. Chicken Little compares with such also ran (but money-making) animated films like 20th Century Fox’s "Robots" ($36 million) and DreamWorks’ "Shark Tale" ($47.6 million).

More than anything, in the weekend’s box office, Disney was fortunate not to be competing against other kid friendly flix.

But that’s just the opening weekend gross comparos. Where the difference becomes more acute is in the reviews and word of mouth, which will significantly impact subsequent weekend traffic.

It appears that Chicken Little may not have much in the way of have legs:

"For those of us who were rooting for Disney’s "Chicken Little" to give Pixar and DreamWorks a run for their money, the studio’s first fully computer-animated feature is a deep disappointment. For those of us who grew up on the magical splendors of Disney animation, this magic-free film is heartbreaking. If I could find some facet to praise, I’d be glad to do so, but the production’s mediocrity is all-pervasive — story, character, graphic design, even music — and it all points to a failure of corporate imagination, or maybe just nerve. Instead of staking out its own territory, "Chicken Little" recycles jokes and tired themes from the attic of popular culture. Instead of falling, the film’s pretty blue sky rains pieces of other movies . . .

Why did Disney settle for such banality? Why does a movie made for little kids include a Barbra Streisand joke? Or earnest talk about the need for closure in Chicken Little’s troubled relationship with his widowed father (who is voiced, with show-bizzy Bronx inflections, by Garry Marshall)? Closure? That’s not comprehensible to children. Still, the use of the word, like those pseudo-hip homages to Steven Spielberg, hints at the anxiety that must have driven the production process. There’s a sense of filmmakers desperate to entertain, yet unsure how to go about it in a swiftly changing culture. Disney resisted embracing the computer revolution for a dangerously long time, but the crucial issue here isn’t animation technology. It’s storytelling, an art — and an endlessly exacting discipline — at which the Mouse House, as Variety likes to call the studio, once excelled.

In the best animated features from DreamWorks, and in every production thus far from the peerless entertainers at Pixar (whose films have been distributed by Disney), the stories revel in their inventiveness, sing with joyous humor, play to a wide range of ages and shine with hard-won clarity. Faced with such formidable competition, "Chicken Little" doesn’t fly, even though little kids may be glad to sit still for its bright, peppy pictures and frenetic pace. The frenzy, which is almost palpable, recalls the chronic hyperactivity of Disney’s live-action monstrosity "Inspector Gadget." From a studio that needs an animated hit comes a cartoon that needs a hit of Ritalin."

Disney didn’t hurt themselves with this flick — but they didn’t force Pixar back to the table in a weakened postion, either. Should be interesting once the serious negotiations between Disney and Pixar Animation Studios ramp up.


UPDATE: November 8, 2005 6:49am

Pixar reports bang up earnings: 

Pixar Stock soars, Disney talks intensify


With Frenzied ‘Chicken Little,’ Disney Hits Us Over the Head
WSJ, November 4, 2005; Page W1

Disney’s latest offering proves pundits wrong
Christopher Parkes in Los Angeles
FT.com, 3:40 a.m. ET Nov. 7, 2005

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