Pixar Bounces Back, Breaks Five-Year Record

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Ember and Wade with Clod off to the side in Elemental

Credit: Disney

Finally, some good news for Pixar Animation Studios – its latest film, Elemental (2023), just broke a five-year record.

The past few years have been rough for Pixar. With the onset of the pandemic, many of its releases were shifted onto Disney+ – including Soul (2020), Luca (2021), and Turning Red (2022).

Pixar characters with the logo
Credit: Pixar

Related: “Pixar Is Becoming an Anemic Brand:” Hollywood Insiders Claim Studio Is in Big Trouble With Disney

While its films have since returned to theaters, the studio is still struggling to match its once unmatchable reputation for critically praised blockbusters. Its last two entries, Lightyear (2022) and Elemental, have dramatically underperformed at the box office, with Lightyear, in particular, marking a turning point for the company. When the Walt Disney Company eliminated 75 members of staff from Pixar Animation Studios in June, the cuts included Lightyear director Angus MacLane – who’s been with Pixar for 26 years and worked on films such as Toy Story 4 (2019) and Coco (2017) – and Galyn Susman, who famously saved the studio by restoring Toy Story 2 (1999) during production.

Now the company’s fortunes may be turning around. Elemental has been (wrongfully) under-received at the box office so far. Focusing on Element City – a divided city consisting of residents made of fire, water, land, and air – it tells the tale of young Ember (who’s made of fire) and Wade (who’s made of water), who start to fall in love despite the odds.

The film is heavily influenced by the life experiences of director Peter Sohn. Born to Korean immigrants, he grew up in multicultural New York City and married someone who wasn’t Korean – which, as Sohn said, caused “a lot of culture clash … in my world.”

Ember and Wade in Pixar movie 'Elemental'
Credit: Pixar

So far, the film’s only made a disappointing $198 million against a $200 million budget, giving the Pixar movie the studio’s second-worst debut of all time. However, it’s continued to stay strong week-on-week, holding up against its same-day competitor (and fellow flop), The Flash (2023).

But as of this week, Elemental will officially earn Pixar $100 million at the domestic box office – giving it the highest domestic gross for an original animated film (so no sequels) since 2018.

Wade and Ember in 'Elemental' in a hot air balloon
Credit: Pixar

Related: REVIEW – Pixar’s Elemental Is Our Next Tough Life Lesson

A common complaint for Pixar and Disney’s latest woes is that they don’t prioritize original content. However, the reality is that both studios are giving us original content – it’s just that nobody is going to see it. It’s not that Elemental has been trashed by audiences or critics; in fact, it has a 72% critics rating and a 94% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s just that if more people are going to see their favorite Pixar pals, such as Woody and Buzz Lightyear, obviously, the Walt Disney Company would push for Toy Story 5 over an original Pixar film.

If we want more creative, innovative tales from Pixar, it’s turning up to the likes of Elemental – not just banking on seeing it on Disney+ in a few months’ time – that matters.

Have you seen Elemental yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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