Last Friday, Disney released the latest Pixar film, “Elemental”, in cinemas in over 17 countries around the world, including the US and Canada. The film is 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.
Unfortunately, the film pulled in just $29.6 million dollars at the domestic box office, and within the first four days, the film has pulled in $49.2 million globally. The low opening weekend box office means the film is on par with the first-ever release from Pixar, “Toy Story” in 1994, to be the lowest three-day weekend start for any film from Pixar. And when adjusted for inflation, it’s the lowest-performing film from the studio.
It’s important to note that the film is still to be released in many countries since it’s getting a stretched-out release schedule over the summer to fit in with localised school holidays. So the film will continue to pull in money over the next few months, and as one of the few animated films out this summer, it’s likely to be able to pull in more money.
However, the low box office results, may put some people off going to the cinema to watch the film, as no doubt, headlines, like the one for this article, may sway people into thinking this is a flop. Even though, the film has been getting good reviews from critics and audiences, so this good response, may encourage more people to go see the film.
There is no one reason why “Elemental” has failed to get people to go see it at the cinema. There isn’t just a single reason that you can point too, there are many issues the film has been hit by:
Too Much Competition
The summer season is typically one of the most popular times to go to the cinema, which is why we have summer blockbuster season, and all the big massive films tend to get released at this time of the year. But this summer has been packed with a major new release every single week. We’ve had “Fast X”, “Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol 3”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Flash”, “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse”, and “Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts”. The reason for this flood of new films is that many of these were delayed from during the pandemic, pushed back to a time when the studios thought things would be back to normal. But cinema-going hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. And all of these major releases have been cutting into each other’s box office numbers. If you go to the cinema today, you’ve got a huge selection of films to watch.
Plus, there is extra competition from other things; it’s summer, and so fewer people want to sit in front of a screen, when they can be outside enjoying other activities. It’s why we don’t tend to see as many new shows released on TV during this time of the year, because viewership is generally down when compared to the winter months.
One of the many complaints I’ve seen online about “Elemental” is how Disney has marketed this film with two major issues. First, the initial trailer and posters have made out that this film is similar to “Inside Out” or “Zootopia”, so fans haven’t really connected with the topic, as the film, is more of a romantic comedy. The initial premise of the film just hasn’t clicked with people.
“I didn’t know it was out!” is one of the most common comments I’ve seen about the film. Disney just hasn’t promoted the film enough outside of its usual bubble. There’s been a lack of promotion through traditional media, like posters, tv spots, product tie-ins, etc. There’s been some, but it’s been drowned out by other films, including Disney’s own. Just this month alone, Disney has been promoting “The Little Mermaid”, the 20th Century Studios horror film, “The Boogeyman”, the upcoming Marvel series, “Secret Invasion”, and the new “Indiana Jones” film, plus other projects. They all compete for attention, and “Elemental” got lost in the shuffle. Plus, I suspect, once Disney got wind of how poorly the box office was tracking and interest in the film was lower, the marketing campaign was pulled back, to save money on something they knew wasn’t going to hit.
Over the past few years, Disney has become entangled in a political situation, even more so since the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis started a culture war with the company after Disney publically responded to the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” after its employees demanded it. Since then, Disney has been locked in legal battles with the state of Flordia and has come under scrutiny over its content by many parents, who want political issues to be left out of their entertainment, such as not having gay characters or having a general theme about climate change or racism. This culture war has damaged the Disney brand, which has put off many families from going to see their films, and this is unlikely to change until the primary stage of the next US election is over.
Waiting For Disney+
Perhaps one of the biggest issues Disney has created for its animated theatrical releases, are the decisions it has made over the past few years. First off, releasing the last three Pixar films, “Turning Red”, “Soul”, and “Luca”, directly onto Disney+, plus “Onward” also barely had a week in cinemas before the world was plunged into chaos. Throw in that Disney’s other animated films, “Strange World” and “Encanto” both were available on Disney+ within 30 days, “Raya And The Last Dragon” had premiere access release on Disney+ and “Lightyear” was available on Disney+ within six weeks. Disney animated fans have had the luxury of getting the latest animated films on their screens at home within weeks of release.
This has, without doubt, changed habits and created a “wait” culture for the films to arrive on Disney+. Unfortunately, the only way Disney is going to break this habit, is to let its films stay at cinemas longer and push back a Disney+ release, especially with “Elemental”. Some movie fans argue that if a film doesn’t do well at the cinema, it should get rushed to digital/Disney+ quicker, but this just continues to encourage waiting. We’ve already seen Disney extending how long a film takes to arrive on Disney+ this year, and I suspect this will continue. For us Disney+ subscribers, it’s not great, but you can see why Disney is going to change its habits.
With many of us now having large screens at home, the ability to start and pause a film at will (especially with kids at home or if you want to use the bathroom). Plus, with the cost savings of not having to pay to see the film and expensive snacks, it’s no wonder more people have gotten used to waiting. Because of the pandemic, some kids never got to experience going to a cinema for years. My brother regularly decorates the living room up like a cinema, brings out a small popcorn machine and gives my nephews tickets for entry. It’s much cheaper than taking the whole family to the cinema and is something they’ve continued even now.
Even Pete Docter, who runs Pixar, has said that they’ve trained audiences to wait for new films, which will no doubt see some changes moving forward:
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.
Universal Studios has been having lots of success with releasing its latest films onto digital platforms to buy quicker, pulling in over a billion dollars this year, which is something Disney has been experimenting with for its last two major releases, “Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania” and “Avatar: The Way Of Water”, so it’s likely we will see the digital releases happening before a Disney+ release more regularly, which is a half-way gap between going cinema and watching on Disney+. The studios make more money out of a digital release, while providing those at home a quicker release, but at a premium price.
It’s Expensive To Make
Another big issue for Pixar is that it is simply spending too much money on making films. When compared to this year’s other big animated blockbusters, “Super Mario Bros” or “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse”, which both cost $100 million dollars to create, “Elemental” has cost double that. In a world where Disney’s films aren’t automatically hitting a billion-dollar box office as they did before the pandemic, Disney is constantly looking to reduce costs and no doubt, there is going to be a drastic review of how much Pixar is spending developing its films. The new films may look stunning and push the boundaries of technology, but it does seem like Pixar’s budgets need reigning back in.
Cost Of Living Crisis
Going to the cinema has always been a treat, but over the last few years, the cost of going to cinemas has gone up. The price of a ticket is more expensive, especially if you’re taking the whole family. Throw in the added cost of car parking and snacks. Suddenly, going to the cinema is no longer a cheap treat. Especially when everything else has increased in price too, meaning there is less disposable income.
The big problem for Pixar is that this trend can’t continue indefinitely. Disney simply isn’t going to keep funding expensive animated films, if they keep failing at the box office. Unfortunately for Disney, it has had a perfect storm of multiple issues it needs to try to fix, some of which it can control, some of which it can’t.
Did you go see “Elemental” in cinemas this weekend? Or are you waiting for it to arrive on Disney+? Let us know on social media!
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.