‘Elemental’ transforms from failure to success, raising questions along the way | ET REALITY


The headlines were killers.

Pixar, once incapable of doing anything wrong in the eyes of film critics and ticket buyers, had failed so immensely at the box office that its future as a cultural force was in doubt. Pixar’s creative spark had seemingly gone out… poof!

Since then, “Elemental,” the film in question, has made those instant obituaries look pretty silly.

A love story where opposites attract and a parable about following your dreams, “Elemental” grossed $29.6 million in domestic ticket sales in June, the worst opening in Pixar history, with difference. However, little by little, the $200 million film became a hit and grossed almost half a billion dollars worldwide. So far this year, “Elemental” is No. 9 on the list of highest-grossing films, ahead of Marvel’s latest sequel “Ant-Man.”

In addition, “Elemental” has provided the Walt Disney Company, owner of Pixar, with one of the biggest streaming successes in its history. The film arrived on Disney+ on September 13 and had garnered 60 million views as of Sunday, far surpassing the results of Disney films like “The Little Mermaid” and “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3” for the same viewing periods. availability, depending on the company.

“I had no idea what ‘Elemental’ was about, but we decided to watch it as a family because I kept hearing good things,” said Rahela Nayebzadah, who lives in the suburbs of Vancouver, Canada, and has two children, ages 7 and 4. “The kids have been watching it non-stop ever since.”

Disney also expects to sell about 800,000 DVDs of “Elemental” worldwide. About 1.7 million people will purchase a digital copy through iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and other online stores.

As expected, Pixar executives are doing cartwheels. But the change of direction of “Elemental” does not eliminate questions about the study but rather raises new ones.

In a post-pandemic, streaming-oriented movie market, is the box office ceiling for original animated films simply lower? Original Pixar films used to reliably gross more than $500 million worldwide, sometimes much more, including “Coco,” which grossed $1 billion in 2017, after adjusting for inflation, and “Inside Out.” ”, which sold $1.1 billion adjusted for inflation in 2017. 2015.

And if that’s the case, if Disney+ has eaten into Pixar’s theatrical audience, will Pixar need to spend substantially less? “Elemental” cost approximately $200 million, not including marketing. By comparison, Illumination Animation, NBCUniversal’s competitor, spent half as much to make its most recent original film, “Sing,” in 2016.

“Pixar will know more in March, when it premieres”elio”, an original comic adventure about an 11-year-old boy who is inadvertently transported into space and mistaken for Earth’s galactic ambassador. (Pixar’s sister studio Walt Disney Animation will also provide hints later this year, when its “Want”, an original musical, hits theaters).

“I hope we can continue to have budgets that allow our artists to do the best work of their lives,” Pete Docter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, said in a Zoom interview. Hollywood as a whole needs to adjust its business models to the streaming era, he said.

Pixar and Disney have spent a lot of time trying to understand the initially cold response to “Elemental,” Docter said. For starters, he said, Disney had undermined Pixar as a big-screen force by using its movies to build the Disney+ streaming service. As of late 2020, Disney released three Pixar films in a row online, bypassing theaters. Those films were “Soul,” “Turning Red” and “Luca.”

“There’s been a general shift in viewing habits as a result of the pandemic, but it’s also specific to Disney+,” Docter said. “We’ve told people, ‘Hey, all of this will be available to you on Disney+!’”

Although he didn’t say it directly, Docter also indicated that Pixar had perhaps strayed too far from its storytelling roots.

In recent years, Pixar has allowed filmmakers like Peter Sohn, who made “Elemental,” to explore more personal stories. (Mr. Sohn’s immigrant parents inspired his movie.) However, many of Pixar’s biggest original hits, including 1995’s “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” in 2001, have emerged from more universal concepts: “ideas we all carried when we were children,” as Docter said.

What if my toys come to life when I leave the room? What if there are monsters in my closet?

“I always felt like ‘Elemental’ would speak to a lot of people, and I’m very happy that it does,” said Docter, whose directing credits include “Inside Out,” “Up” and “Monsters, Inc.” .” “But we have also taken a fresh look at the projects we are working on now. What are the types of films we want to make? “I really think I want to double down on what allowed us to speak to the public to begin with.”

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