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

in Disney, Entertainment, Movies & TV

pixar elemental fire Disneyland resort smoke and fire

Credit: Pixar

Is Disney weighing Pixar down? For years, the sister studios have shared a sort of symbiotic relationship, with the House of Mouse pumping millions of dollars into the world-renowned animation company. But now, after a recent string of box office flops and the seemingly dismal world of streaming, some Hollywood experts are questioning how mutually beneficial the relationship between Disney and Pixar really is.

Toy Story Woody (left) and Buzz Lightyear (right)
Credit: Disney/Pixar

The relationship between Pixar Animation Studios and its longtime distributor, Walt Disney Studios, dates back to 1995’s Toy Story and has culminated in beloved family classics such as Finding Nemo (2000), Monsters Inc. (2001), and The Incredibles (2004), among others. Disney eventually purchased Pixar in January 2006, and the partnership has churned out dozens of animated movies since.

Flash forward to 2023, and things aren’t looking as bright as they used to be. Where before, collaborations like WALL-E (2008) and Brave (2012) grossed well over $500 million, the latest Disney/Pixar flick, Elemental (2023), opened to a disappointing $29.6 million domestically, the lowest ever for a Pixar release.

wade whipple eating in elemental disney
Credit: Disney Studios

Elemental‘s box office bomb comes on the tail of other ill-fated movie releases like Soul (2020), Luca (2021), and Turning Red (2022), which all skipped theaters in favor of a direct-to-Disney+ premiere due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s also the matter of Pixar’s Toy Story spinoff, Lightyear (2022), which barely managed to break even on its $200 million production budget.

As for Disney’s share price, it’s down nearly 7% year-over-year, leading the House of Mouse to enforce new cost-cutting efforts company-wide. Some of these efforts include purging its Disney+ catalog and laying off thousands of employees, but a full financial recovery will take years at this rate.

Inside Out emotions gather around
Credit: Pixar

Now, Hollywood analysts and financial experts are chiming in on the conversion in a scathing new piece from Variety, which cites a string of costly film flops, creative differences, and poor movie performances as the main contributors to Pixar’s downfall. These individuals believe Pixar is suffering the worst from Disney’s reliance on streaming, and it’s no wonder why.

Although Disney hit the box office goldmine with recent releases such as Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) and James Gunn’s final Marvel foray, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023), 2023 is shaping up to be the first non-pandemic year that Disney won’t have a movie that reaches $1 billion at the box office for the first time since 2014. Of course, July’s Haunted Mansion (2023) reboot could change things, but that would take a miracle of truly supernatural proportions.

Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) in 'Avatar: The Way of Water' (2022). Credit: Disney
Credit: Disney

So, who’s to blame? While Pixar sources claim that the studio is criticizing Disney for its direct-to-streaming release model as the reason for its lackluster movie viewership, entertainment analysts like Jeff Bock are blaming an ever-changing media landscape and audiences’ shifting demands post-pandemic.

In the Variety piece, Bock reflected on Disney’s last record-breaking year, saying, “Anything Disney threw out in 2019 made $1 billion,” before adding, “Now, it’s more difficult than ever to release a film worldwide. The international landscape has changed. It’s not close to back.”

Guardians of the Galaxy characters Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff)
Credit: Marvel Studios

Managing costs while attempting to recover from the pandemic will be an issue that takes time and a lot of patience. But some critics have wondered why Disney continues to pump hundreds of millions of dollars (at minimum) into their movies—plus roughly $100 million in marketing costs.

Those price tags are riskier in today’s global box office and clearly aren’t a necessity these days, considering Illumination/Nintendo’s The Super Mario Bros. movie was made on a $100 million budget and is currently on track to be the top-grossing movie of the summer. But as with any legacy entertainment company, adjustments will be gradual, according to principal analyst Paul Verna, who said, “It takes a long time for a big ship like Disney to change course.”

Princess Peach, Mario, and Toad in 'The Super Mario Bros. Movie'
Credit: Nintendo/ Illumination

And why would someone pay up to $20 to see Elemental on the big screen when they can wait a few months to see it for free as part of their Disney+ subscription? Even before the pandemic, the theatrical experience was at risk thanks to streamers like Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, and HBO Max. But now, with Disney+ releasing movies roughly 90 days after they arrive in theaters, it’s only gotten worse, hence Pixar’s concerns about how their animated projects are being distributed.

Verna added, “Pixar is becoming an anemic brand,” and bluntly noted, “It’s fallen so far from the days in in which anything it released would blow the doors off.”

Sulley roaring in Monsters Inc.
Credit: Disney / Pixar

In the same interview, Neil Macker, a senior equity analyst for Morningstar Research Services, warned of this viewership trend, saying, “People have become conditioned to expect that things will quickly appear on Disney+. The theatrical movie business has been in decline for a while, and the pandemic accelerated that.”

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that Disney far outranks the competition, commanding 37% of the industry’s revenues in 2023. But with a lack of interest in live-action remakes like The Little Mermaid (2023), virtually zero marketing for the ill-fated Elemental, and a whole other mess of canceled, postponed, or shelved Star Wars and Marvel projects, it looks like trouble ahead for the Magic Kingdom.

Halle Bailey peers over a rock as Ariel in 'The Little Mermaid.'
Credit: Disney

Pixar still stands on its own as a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, but with such a staggering lack of creative freedom and support from its mega-conglomerate owner, it’s getting harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel for this once-thriving animation studio.

While Pixar isn’t likely to go under anytime soon, they will have to think quickly and critically about their massive production budgets and presence on Disney+ moving forward. Hopefully, the animation studio can finally hit a home run when its next releases, Elio and Inside Out 2, both arrive in 2024.

What do you think of analysts’ claims that Pixar is suffering the most from Disney’s long line of financial mishaps? Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below.

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