Disney Never Learns: Another Expensive, Woke Animated Film from Studio Flops Hard

It’s just like “Groundhog Day” for Disney — albeit without the positive box-office numbers to show for it. Once again, the company, through its Pixar subsidiary, is releasing a woke animated film aimed at kids — the third in roughly a year’s time. Once again, there were high expectations for it, so much so that the studio debuted it at the Cannes Film Festival. And once again, Disney looks to have a bomb on its hands. According to a Saturday report from The Hollywood Reporter, “Elemental” — a Pixar-produced film with a thoroughly unsubtle message about social inequality in urban America — will only take home between $28 million and $32 million at the box office on its opening weekend. This is even lower than the flop that had already been predicted for the film. Last week, the entertainment news site The Wrap noted that projections for the film were in the $35 to $40 million range on opening weekend, which was still astoundingly low for a Pixar product. This is despite the fact “Elemental” also shared roughly the same exorbitant budget level as “Lightyear” — another expensive Pixar disaster, although one that didn’t flop as hard as “Elemental” is expected to in its first week at the box office. The current numbers, if they end up on the low end of estimates, could make it the worst Pixar debut ever, even in non-inflation adjusted dollars. (The original “Toy Story” debuted at $29 million in 1995, long before Disney purchased the studio in 2005. In 2023 dollars, that calculates to $58 million in 2023.) And no, let’s be clear: It’s not just because people are used to streaming movies now, they don’t want to go back into the theater, blah blah blah. Even another film with wokeness issues, superhero movie “The Flash,” was on track to generate $58 to $60 million over the weekend, according to The Hollywood Reporter — although this too was below estimates. (While the legal issues facing the nonbinary star of “The Flash,” Ezra Miller, may have had something to do with it, both critics and audiences seemed to be confused and put off by the film, according to metrics cited by THR.) Furthermore, Disney had put in an all-out effort to ensure audiences went to the theater to see “Elemental” in person. “The studio has invested heavily in marketing campaigns, positioning Elemental as a must-see event for families in theaters. It’s one of the first films Disney has been trying to recruit theater-watching individuals for following the end of the pandemic,” geek-centric outlet Giant Freakin Robot noted. “Premiering Elemental on the closing day of the Cannes Film Festival was another attempt by Disney to create buzz around the film. However, the movie received lukewarm reviews from the few critics who saw it at Cannes, failing to generate the desired audience excitement.” So, why the flop? This time, critics and other box-office watchers seem willing to admit that pushing social messaging in viewers’ faces doesn’t make for good art. “Set in a world where natural elements — earth, fire, water, air — coexist in a New York-style metropolis, each representing different social classes, the film—directed by Peter Sohn, from a screenplay by John Hoberh, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh — aims high with that central metaphor but is set immediately off-balance by its unwieldiness as racial allegory, an issue compounded by haphazard pacing and writing so flatly predictable it suggests a Pixar film authored by an AI algorithm,” wrote Isaac Feldberg in a two-star review at RogerEbert.com. “At times bordering on the nonsensical, the film feels under-developed rather than universal, a colorful missed opportunity.” Or, as a writer at DecentFilms put it: “When a significant part of the conflict in a cartoon about talking elemental beings turns on urban infrastructure problems, building code violations, and city bureaucracy, something has gone off the rails.” Maybe the missed opportunity Mr. Feldberg was talking about was the lack of a cameo from Pete Buttigieg as a bureaucrat talking about how racist highways in the “Elemental” universe needed to be torn down. The official trailer of the movie is here:
Again, you may be noticing a pattern here — and Disney certainly can’t ignore it, either. Flash back to last June, when all of this began. As part of the company’s defiance of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education Act — the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill — Disney re-inserted footage of a same-sex kiss in the Pixar film “Lightyear.” The film opened with a lower-than-expected $51 million box office take — a veritable blockbuster compared to “Elemental” but still well below analysts’ estimates. That failure was blamed on anything but the lesbian kiss controversy; box-office watchers blamed the failure on everything from streaming alternatives to sequel-itis to confusion over where the prequel fell in the “Toy Story” universe. Then came “Strange World,” touted as the first Disney kids’ film to feature a teen LGBT lead character. As Variety noted, that film flopped even harder, taking home $11.9 million in its opening weekend and $18.6 million over a five-day Thanksgiving weekend frame. Expectations were for a $30 to $40 million opening. Those two films alone ended up losing Disney over a quarter of a billion dollars. And now we have “Elemental,” a lovely tale of racial inequality, building permits and infrastructure woes — which inexplicably didn’t catch on with kiddies or their parents. Who would have guessed? I mean, except everyone who witnessed what happened the last two times the House of Mouse tried to shove leftist values down Americans’ throats, and America collectively coughed it back up. I’m sure Disney will come to its senses and realize parents (and kids) don’t want politics in the cinema. Or maybe they’ll sign the nonbinary Ezra Miller to voice a nonbinary version of Mickey Mouse. One of the two. Given Disney’s penchant for never learning from these things, my money’s on the second option — provided Miller stays out of jail, of course. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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