Friday, June 24, 2011

Pooh First

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the trailers or commercials for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It’s likely the most anticipated film in the last decade, since perhaps The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. As such, most analysts and film critics expect Harry Potter to bring in lots and lots of money when it opens on July 15.

What you might have missed, even if you’re a Disney fan, is that the all new hand drawn animated film from Walt Disney Animation Studios comes out that same day. Yes, a brand new version of Winnie the Pooh arrives in theatres on July 15, the exact same day as Harry Potter. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

The last Disney hand drawn film was The Princess and the Frog. Some love it (me) and some hate it, but it was a moderate financial success, grossing $104 million dollars during release in the United States. That did not accomplish the task of recouping its production costs. Consider a marketing push and various other tie-ins, and you can see how people viewed the film as a failure.

Going back to Winnie the Pooh was considered a safe bet for Disney. Hand drawn tales of everyone’s favorite stuffed bear should be money in the bank, right? Not if you are going up against the boy wizard. Harry Potter will be a financial juggernaut, and we should not pretend otherwise. But what are the consequences if Winnie the Pooh does not do well at the box office?

Consider this – there are no other hand drawn films that have been announced by Disney. Andreas Deja, one of the key animators at the studio for the last two decades, has left the studio, for reasons he has not stated. No other animation house is doing hand drawn animation anymore. Is it possible that the reason Disney has put Pooh at this release date that they want to kill hand drawn films?

To be sure, there’s no love of tradition in today’s Walt Disney Company. There’s no Roy Disney there fighting to keep animation alive. Pixar has replaced hand drawn animation in being able to churn out viable characters. But I have to say that putting Winnie the Pooh out on the same day as Harry Potter seems like malpractice.

So, here’s what I propose we do about it. I know we’re all Harry Potter fans out there. All I will ask of you, my Disney loving friends, is to go and see Winnie the Pooh first. Weekend box office can make or break a film. When the Friday numbers for July 15 come out, Harry Potter will crush Pooh. But if all of us, as Disney fans, make a vow to go to see Winnie the Pooh first, perhaps we can make a difference.

I’m not saying that you should not go to see Harry Potter, just go to see Pooh first. If you can put Potter off until Monday, even better. If we want more hand drawn films, we have to demonstrate to Disney that hand drawn is still viable. If Pooh fails, they will have the excuse they need to shut it down. Let’s not give them that opportunity.



  1. It could merely be that Disney thinks Pooh will attract a younger crowd who'd be traumatized by Harry Potter. They have been marketing him (Disney marketing Pooh, I mean, not Warner Bros. marketing Potter) to preschoolers for some time now, at least since the series "My Friends Tigger And Pooh" came to Playhouse Disney.

  2. "The last Disney hand drawn film was The Princess and the Frog. Some love it (me) and some hate it, but it was a moderate financial success, grossing $104 million dollars during release in the United States. That did not accomplish the task of recouping its production costs."

    But remember that domestic box-office is only one piece of the pie. The combined domestic and foreign theatrical box-office gross was $267,045,765 , plus $72,986,390 in domestic (U.S.) DVD/BluRay sales. That's a total of $340,032,155 combined theatrical and home video , balanced against a reported production budget of $105 million.

    And that doesn't even being to account for the loads of PATF merchandise that Dis Corp sold. Overall PATF did ok. It didn't lose money in the end.

    As for Winnie the Pooh, it was made for a reported $35 million, so the stakes are not as high. It could make less money at the box-office and still turn a profit.

    Sadly, it seems as if the Disney Co. is not putting any faith in the Pooh movie , releasing it against Harry Potter almost guarantees it will sink without a trace. And they're not advertising it very heavily. I don't think this bodes well. They already released Pooh in many of the foreign markets (mostly in Europe so far) and to date it's only made about $6,460,000 worldwide. Not a good indicator of things to come in the North American release. On the other hand if the Pooh movie is viewed as simply an extended advertising piece for the rebooted Pooh merchandise franchise then it doesn't really have to turn a profit at the box-office to have served it's purpose.

    Unfortunately the lackluster box-office performance of Pooh will be used by the "2D is dead" naysayers as more evidence that hand-drawn animation no longer has any viability for mainstream Hollywood theatrical releases, thereby relegating hand-drawn animation to kids' television shows , or edgier "adult swim" limited tv animation , and the occasional direct-to-video project , or even more occasional high-end independent film project ("The Secret of Kells" or "The Illusionist" come to mind) .

    At the moment it seems that the Disney Co. has (again) abandoned their legacy of hand-drawn animation after an attempt by John Lasseter at trying to revive it from 2006 - 2010. I think the writing is on the wall. The company merely released Pooh theatrically because it was already finished , but I don't see them sinking any major money into advertising it. It was an odd choice to follow-up Princess & the Frog anyway. I liked PATF very much , although I think it could have been more innovative. But Pooh seems like a bigger step backwards. In retrospect I think it's going to be viewed as a major blunder . They should have followed-up PATF with something much more ambitious to reignite the public's interest in seeing hand-drawn animation . Instead they made a "kiddie film" ... a nice, pleasant, well-animated kiddie film for sure, but a kiddie film. That's not the way to grab the interest of the larger movie-going public.

  3. Winnie-the-Pooh was released here in the UK at Easter time, and although I enjoyed it very much, it is aimed very squarely at a much younger audience than any of the fifty animated features that precede it. The gags are cute, the voice work is outstanding and there's great work from Deja on Tigger and Dale Baer on Owl in particular. But by coupling it with an entire episode of Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Disney set its stall out early: this whole thing is aimed at the Disney Junior/Playhouse Disney demographic. It's honestly the first time that I've ever felt slightly awkward about not having a young child with me at a Disney film.

    More concerning to me, though, is the lack of marketing on the film. There were posters in multiplexes and the odd product tie-in, but nothing like the huge efforts we've seen for Tangled or The Princess and the Frog. My fiancé and I were the only people in the cinema when it screened. It was Easter weekend - it should have been rammed.

    Although I can't say what marketing work is being done stateside, Ryan's observation that it's going to share an opening weekend with HP7b concerns me... There's just something I find worrying about Disney's attitude to this film. It almost feels like shame, somehow... Whatever it is, it'll be financially motivated (perhaps they recognise that the profits are to be had in merchandise, not in the cinema. Perhaps they've written it off financially and aren't prepared to throw marketing money after it). I really hope that's not the case.

    I'll support Ryan's call-to-arms to the hilt, although I fear the damage may already have been done by the Disney execs.


  4. Sorry I'm late to the game here (as usual). But it seems that Disney is proceeding with another 2D film, just that it will be a while. Musker & Clements have another 2D in the works.

    And David, while I understand about the global box office and merchandise, it's the domestic box office that shapes the view of these films in the company. It's the wrong view, but I've had people tell me that MANY times. For whatever reason, consumer products and home video sometimes don't factor into it. They definitely should, though. Take Pirates 4.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.