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While Disney’s Latest Animated Failures Surprised Some, Years of Movie Data Reveals A Traceable Downward Trend

Photo by Maciej Ruminkiewicz via Unsplash

While Disney’s Latest Animated Failures Surprised Some, Years of Movie Data Reveals A Traceable Downward Trend

By Movieguide® Staff

A recent dive into the past three years of animated releases revealed that Universal Pictures dethroned Disney as the paramount distributor for family entertainment years before the studio’s box-office bomb, STRANGE WORLD.

After Walt Disney Animation Studios’ STRANGE WORLD and Disney Pixar’s LIGHTYEAR failed to draw expected numbers at the box office, many fans wondered how the one-time undisputed leader in animated family films could fall so far, so fast.

STRANGE WORLD earned just over $25M despite its estimated $180M budget, while the TOY STORY spinoff failed to impress with only a $50M opening weekend and a slew of negative reviews from mainstream outlets.

The one consistency between the two movies? Their focus on a progressive agenda over a creative story, uplifting and moral lessons, and compelling characters.

The Wrap looked back at animated movies released from 2020 to 2022, noting that Disney’s total gross for animated movies was “just over $1 billion worldwide,” while Universal Pictures earned $2.06 billion in the same timeframe.

“I honestly think that not only are we challenging Disney Animation, but I would take our animation business over theirs right now,” NBC Universal CEO Jeff Shell said on a recent conference call according to The Wrap. “We have an animation system now that rivals if not surpasses Disney.”

Universal Pictures is responsible for family-friendly movies such as SING 2, MINIONS: RISE OF GRU, THE BAD GUYS, and THE CROODS: A NEW AGE.

Audiences have not only spoken with their wallets, but Universal Pictures movies’ also outperformed Disney for ratings on the industry’s most popular review sites, like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

A side-by-side comparison shows that with each release in 2020, 2021, and 2022, Universal Pictures is the clear winner.

The Wrap reported:

The contrast in box office performance has been stark. Disney’s “Encanto” ($256 million) earned one-third less in late 2021/early 2022 than Universal’s “Sing 2” ($407 million), while Disney/Pixar’s “Lightyear” ($226 million) eventually earned less than both of Universal animated films from this spring and summer: Illumination’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru” ($937 million) and DreamWorks Animations’ “The Bad Guys” ($250 million).

And Disney can’t even blame pandemic conditions for the deficit since every studio faced the same issues with families reluctant to return to theaters and hybrid theatrical/streaming releases.

Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” grossed under $160 million in early 2021 amid a hybrid release (in theaters and also on Disney+ for an extra $30) months after Universal and DreamWorks’ “The Croods: A New Era” legged out to $216 million under similar circumstances.

The report revealed that another possible part of the problem was former Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s focus on Disney’s streaming platform Disney+.

“Universal animated titles are all theatrical propositions and that’s really clear to the consumer,” an industry source told The Wrap. “Disney has muddied the brand so the consumer doesn’t know what film is going where.

“When Wall Street was judging these companies based on streaming subscriptions, it made sense to drop top movies on the services,” ScreenMedia founder and chief analyst Colin Dixon told TheWrap. “But now that Wall Street has reverted to judging the bottom line, there’s no such incentive to undercut theatrical and considerable post-theatrical revenue opportunities for the sake of subscription gains.”

However, Chapek’s focus on streaming is not solely to blame, as Disney still boasts one of the largest catalogs of successful IP in the industry.

In previous years, Disney built off their success with sequels like 2019’s FROZEN II, which made over $1.4 billion worldwide.

While Josh Spiegel, the author of Pixar and the Infinite Past: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation, speculates that Disney “were already running out of IP which might justify that nostalgia” in 2020, Movieguide® notes that Disney’s recent failures show that they have lost the confidence of their main audience, families.

Movieguide® added that LIGHTYEAR’s failure was not due to a lack of nostalgia, but its focus on sexuality over story:

Disney Pixar’s LIGHTYEAR became the first mission into uncharted space for the studio, with an on-screen kiss between two lesbian characters.

However, based on early critic reviews, LIGHTYEAR is falling short of expectations based on its subpar story alone.

Discerning parents should stick to the original TOY STORY franchise movies, which uphold biblical, moral worldviews and values.

While STRANGE WORLD is an original animated movie from Disney, it suffers from the same ideological misstep.

“STRANGE WORLD sacrifices a compelling story for its intensely progressive agenda, and proves that Disney is out of touch with its main audience; children and families,” Movieguide® wrote. “If the movie’s many ideological issues were not enough, many of the action scenes and monsters are a lot more frightening than what families have grown accustomed to with Disney movies.”

While Walt Disney Co. has yet to produce an original animated movie that breaks $300M at the global box office since 2017’s COCO ($808M), relying on LGBTQ and other progressive agendas is likely to ostracize audiences further.

Moreover, it is unlikely that Disney is close to exhausting its established franchises, as other studios continue to pump out movies that rely on nostalgia and existing IP; like MINIONS: RISE OF GRU, SING 2, and THE CROODS: A NEW AGE, as well as upcoming family blockbusters like DESPICABLE ME 4, THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE, and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

Despite Disney’s past success, it is not the first time Disney has played second fiddle to a competing studio. In 1998, DreamWorks burst onto the scene with ANTZ and the Academy Award-winning PRINCE OF EGYPT.

In the past, Disney always relied on their morally uplifting, pro-family formula to take back the crown—dominating in the 2000s with movies like FINDING NEMO (2003), THE INCREDIBLES (2004), RATATOUILLE (2007), WALL-E (2008), and UP (2009).

While DreamWorks fought back with family favorites such as SHREK (2001), MADAGASCAR (2005), KUNG FU PANDA (2008) and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010), Disney’s moves, especially Pixar, were often commended for their ability to appeal to all audiences, not just children.

Unfortunately, Disney has not trusted their box office numbers of the past, and have opted to try to be more inclusive to the LGBTQ crowd—which has only caused their audience to decrease.

Disney’s recent fall from glory may be a shock to some, but Movieguide® and audience’s wallets show that it was both predictable and avoidable; had they stuck to their focus on families.

“The important thing is the family. If you can keep the family together- and that’s the backbone of our whole business, catering to families- that’s what we hope to do.” – Walt Disney

Read More: Disney’s Interest in the LGBT Agenda Will Ostracize Majority Crowd