Disney Animated Movies Severely at Risk This Year

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Bob Iger with Woody from 'Toy Story' and lightning

Foreground Image Credit: Thomas Hawk, Flickr

Disney animated movies have taken a hit in recent years, and 2023 may see it completely replaced as the cornerstone of animation-driven family-friendly entertainment.

Mickey Mouse scared, screenshot from the Mickey Mouse Shorts episode "Wish Upon a Coin"
Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

In 2019, The Walt Disney Company was riding a high when Frozen 2 (2019) outperformed its game-changing predecessor at the global box office. Netting the company just over $1.4 billion, Frozen 2 ended 2019 as the third highest-grossing movie of the year behind Disney’s other hits Avengers: Endgame (2019) and The Lion King (2019).

While Frozen 2 didn’t have the awards weight Frozen (2013) did (the animated movie only landed one nomination for Best Original Song), the return of Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) and the world of Arendelle was naturally a consumer favorite and a reliable one at that. Who hasn’t heard of “Let It Go”?

Elsa performing "Let It Go" in 'Frozen'
Credit: Disney

Related: New Disney Plans Mean There Won’t Be Another ‘Encanto’

Just a year later, Disney would see a shift in its movie releasing schedule, as would every other studio, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, with Disney and Pixar Animation Studios’ Onward (2020) being the last movie to open in theaters. What followed was a series of at-home or simultaneous theatrical and streaming releases to contend with the industry shut down and turbulent audience levels at theaters. From Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) to Luca (2021), Encanto (2021) to Turning Red (2022), Disney, and by extension, Pixar, navigated the streaming arena to both positive and divisive effect.

The cultural reset Encanto delivered, thanks to its virality on social media platforms and catchy soundtrack led by Germaine Franco and Lin-Manuel Miranda, proved Disney still had it despite the setbacks.

Mirabel Madrigal and Isabela Madrigal holding hands during the "What Else Can I Do" Musical number on Encanto
Credit: Disney

However, 2022 would be one of the company’s darkest years in terms of animation box office receipts. The return to the Toy Story franchise with Pixar’s Lightyear (2022) spinoff did not capture the popularity of the other four movies. Then Strange World (2022) famously bombed, with just $73 million in total worldwide takings. The streaming release schedule hindered both Lightyear and Strange World as audiences got comfortable waiting a month or so to catch it on Disney+. And there was also Disney’s diversity effort, with both films having LGBTQIAP+ representation, which caused certain groups and even countries to block the movies out.

Disney animation has never been this rocky, and just like superhero movies where fatigue is setting in, audiences are waiting for Disney to come back and make that next Frozen or Encanto-level hit. But have they lost their position as a leader in the market?

Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) in 'Lightyear'
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

This year will see the release of both Disney Pixar’s Elemental (2023) and Disney’s next animated film, the Disney 100 Years of Wonder celebration movie, Wish (2023), starring Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose. Unfortunately for Elemental, the upcoming movie is already tracking to be one of the studio’s lowest opening weekends.

As for Wish, its November release means we are still a while away. However, after the trailer dropped, the fan reaction was solid, with many praising its originality and hybrid animation style. That said, another movie may push Disney down the ladder.

Characters in Disney's 'Wish' looking at the sky
Credit: Disney

2023 marks the release of the highly-anticipated sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023). From Sony Pictures, the sequel to the massive hit will see the return of fan favorites like Miles Morales/Spider-Man (Shameik Moore), Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), and Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac).

Upon Into the Spider-Verse‘s initial release five years ago, the film received widespread critical and commercial acclaim, going on to beat out Disney Pixar to win the coveted Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards. The Sony movie won over The Incredibles 2 (2018) and Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) — it was the first non-Disney or Pixar movie to win the Oscar since 2011 when Johnny Depp‘s Rango won.

Miles Morales running from other Spider-People in Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse
Credit: Sony Pictures

Related: Every Popular CG-Animated Disney Movie Ranked From Worst to Best

Disney is the cornerstone of family-friendly animation — there’s a reason the company, which was born from its animated roots, is celebrating its centennial this year — and the rocky boat in which it finds itself in 2023 may be tipped over by Sony’s already critically celebrated Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Early box office predictions also look to be high.

If Elemental and Wish do not perform as many fans expect and, at this point, need, it could mean that Disney animation no longer becomes required viewing for some (this writer will watch everything they put out, though).

Woody (Tom Hanks) in 'Toy Story'
Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios/Disney Pixar Animation Studios

Upcoming Disney animated movies

It does seem that newly reinstated Disney CEO Bob Iger has this front of mind. During a recent Earnings Call, Iger announced three new animated Disney films were in the works from the worlds of Zootopia, Toy Story, and Frozen — all movies and franchises that have done over a billion at the global box office…

What are your hopes for Disney animation? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments down below!

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