This weekend, Disney is releasing the next animated film from Pixar, called “Elemental” in cinemas, which is an all-new, original feature film set in Element City, where fire-,water-, land- and air-residents live together. The story introduces Ember, a tough, quick-witted and fiery young woman, whose friendship with a fun, sappy, go-with-the-flow guy named Wade challenges her beliefs about the world they live in.

The film has been directed by Peter Sohn (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Partly Cloudy” short), produced by Denise Ream (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Cars 2”), and features the voices of Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie as Ember and Wade.

Unfortunately, the early box office reports for the film indicate that it may only pull in around $35 million for its opening weekend, which is lower than “The Good Dinosaur” and “Onward”, making it the lowest opening weekend for a Pixar film.  While the film has been getting rave reviews from audiences and critics, it seems that people just aren’t interested in seeing the film in cinemas this weekend.

There are lots of reasons why this might be the case, such as going up against a lot of competition, including the new DC superhero movie, “The Flash”, Sony’s “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse”, the latest in the Transformers franchise and even Disney’s own “The Little Mermaid”.  If you’re heading to the cinema this weekend, there is a lot on offer, and they generally all appear to a mass audience, which means they are all undercutting one another.   There is also a portion of the mainstream audience that isn’t as interested in Disney products right now due to the political situation that Disney, in general has been caught up in.

Some point to Disney’s lack of promotion for the film, with many fans saying they didn’t know the film was out or that the trailer didn’t make them want to see it.  But it’s also likely, that Disney has scaled back advertising in general, since its also spending money advertising its other films featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy, The Little Mermaid, and Indiana Jones.

But another major reason why some believe fans are rushing to see “Elemental” in cinemas, is because audiences have become trained to wait for a Disney+ release, after films like “Luca”, “Turning Red”, and “Soul” went straight to Disney+.  And with the current economic climate and a cost of living crisis going on, it’s often too expensive for families to go to the cinema, and with so many other films out for the summer, there isn’t just one issue for Disney to overcome.

During a recent interview by Variety with Pixar’s head Pete Docter, was asked about the decision to release the last three Pixar films directly onto Disney+, to which he replied:

We made “Soul” for the big screen. We looked at every frame. There’s so much detail and gorgeous imagery and work that was done that you can’t quite appreciate on a smaller screen. However, there was a pandemic going on. On one hand, we were so thankful that there was Disney+ so that we could release the film and people could see it. Otherwise, it would just sit on a shelf for a year and a half.

In the long run, there’s been a bit of a mixed blessing because we’ve trained audiences that these films will be available for you on Disney+. And it’s more expensive for a family of four to go to a theater when they know they can wait and it’ll come out on the platform.

We’re trying to make sure people realize there’s a great deal you’re missing by not seeing it on the big screen. In the case of “Elemental,” it’s a beautiful spectacle, there’s detail everywhere. I think you feel it more and it’s a better experience. There’s the shared experience as well, that you get to see it in a room with strangers, and there’s something about the energy that comes from other people that makes the whole experience more vibrant and interesting.

One of the interesting aspects of the interview, is that Pete is asked about how audiences prefer to watch things from established franchises, rather than original creations.  It’s very noticeable how when a live-action remake or sequel is announced, people will often complain about the lack of originality, but yet when Disney does release something new, it is much less supported, to begin with.  Pete explained:

My dad was a musician. He always talks about music as a combination of the comfort of familiarity and surprise. If it tips in either direction, it doesn’t work. If you can tell where every next note is going to fall, you’re like, “hmmm.” But if every note is a surprise, and you don’t know where it’s going, and it’s so foreign, it doesn’t work either. So, most people generally gravitate towards music which is a sweet spot, somewhere in the middle.

Right now, the world seems to want the comfort of what they know, which is sequels, and movies based on things like comic books or video games. But all of these things were original at one point. I think it’s essential for us to develop new original stories, which are harder to publicize, harder to get people excited to go see them. But I think audiences deserve it. They want to find that surprise, along with the comfort of the expectation. We have our share of sequels in the works. We’re doing a sequel to “Inside Out,” so you get to go back inside the mind of Joy and Sadness. We have another “Toy Story,” so Woody and Buzz are back. And we have a few other projects, but it’s always a balance.

When asked how Disney can encourage audiences back to cinemas to see films like “Elemental”, Pete explained:

It does seem like certain audience members are more likely to go back, from what the research has shown. First of all, when you’re young, you feel like you’re immortal and danger is not for you. It does seem that audiences are going back. I think families with kids are more reluctant. It’s not just health, it’s the cost. It’s not a cheap outing to go to the theater and buy popcorn. It’s a great time, but they really are very selective about what they’re going to go see. That’s where it is tougher to have original films because if you’re going to bet on something, you’re probably going to say, “I’ve seen that before. I know I like it and let’s go with the sequel.”

We do have a balance of those. But right now, with “Elemental,” it’s an original. What we’re trying to do is to lean on the spectacle, the scope, the scale and all those things that just make for a different and more impactful experience. Yes, you can see it on your small screen, and it’ll be cool there too. But there is something about being in the dark and seeing it on the big screen with the sound and music. The music by Thomas Newman is great. He knocked it out of the park. When you go to the theater, it’s this rich immersive experience, and you feel like you’re in the middle of the score. So, those would be the reasons I would think people would want to go see it in a theater.

There are many reasons why “Elemental” has struggled out of the gate with regard to its initial box office success, but over time , with word of mouth, this film might have longer legs and it’s also likely that Disney is going to resist the temptation to rush the film to Disney+ to quickly, as it did with “Strange World” and “Lightyear”, which arrived within six weeks of their initial release, since that is no doubt impacting on audiences deciding to wait.

Are you going to see “Elemental” in cinemas or wait for it to be released on Disney+?  Let us know on social media!

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Roger Palmer

Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom. Email: Twitter: Facebook:

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