‘Elemental’ Set To Replace Classic ‘Toy Story’ at Pixar

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Buzz Lightyear and Woody next to Ember and Wade

Credit: Inside the Magic

From being nicknamed “Pixar’s biggest flop” to breaking Pixar records, the release of Elemental (2023) has been a roller coaster.

Initially released in June, Elemental takes place in a world of anthropomorphic nature elements (AKA Element City). It follows Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis) and Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) – fire and water elements, respectively – who meet and fall in love when Ember accidentally summons Wade to her father’s convenience store.

Wade and Ember in Pixar's 'Elemental'
Credit: Pixar Studios

Related: ‘Elemental’ Has Broken Yet Another Disney Record

The Elemental success story

Upon the film’s release, Elemental (mostly) impressed critics. The movie sits at a “fresh” 74% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 93% score with audiences.

These audiences were hard to come by in the early days. But, three months later, the film has proved itself to be a slow-burn success and may even be primed to replace Toy Story (1995) as Pixar’s most iconic classic. Here’s how (and why).

Ember and Wade with Clod off to the side in Elemental
Credit: Pixar Studios

Bombing at the box office

When Elemental hit theaters, it wasn’t exactly an overnight success. Released alongside The Flash (2023) – the Ezra Miller vehicle, which was a definitive flop for Warner Bros. Discovery – and The Blackening (2023), it was initially projected to earn $35–40 million during its opening weekend.

It ultimately made $11.8 million on its first day and $2.4 million from Thursday night previews), ultimately debuting with $29.5 million. This meant it scored the second-lowest three-day opening weekend for a Pixar film ever. The only film with a lower opening was Toy Story, which sold significantly more tickets.

wade whipple eating in elemental disney
Credit: Pixar Studios

Related: New ‘Elemental’ Scene Hints at Scrapped LGBTQ+ Storyline

Naysayers lumped it in with Strange World (2022), Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023), and Lightyear (2022) – the film that flopped so hard that Disney fired several executives involved in the film’s production, including director Angus MacLane – as proof of Disney’s loosening grip on the box office. However, the film soon bounced back and proved them wrong.

Elemental‘s slow burn

As the weeks wore on, Elemental remained steady. While films typically experienced huge drops after their first week in theaters, Elemental dropped just 38%.

By early August, Elemental had crossed $400 million globally. Pixar was praised for the film’s unprecedented resurgence. The Walt Disney Company even released a statement commenting on its success, with Tony Chambers – Disney’s Executive Vice President of Theatrical Distribution – stating, “After a disappointing opening weekend, we’re really pleased that audiences have discovered what a great movie it is.”

Two hands from Pixar's Elemental
Credit: Pixar Studios

Internationally, Elemental was particularly popular in South Korea, where it earned $48 million. That makes it the most-viewed foreign film of 2023 in Korea, and the most-viewed Pixar film released there ever. It sold over six million tickets, which means that one out of every eight people in Korea has seen it.

South Korea ultimately became the film’s third-largest market, something many attributed to the Korean-American background of director Peter Sohn and the anti-xenophobia themes incorporated into the film.

Elemental‘s slow burn romance and mature themes (at least by the standards of a Pixar film) were a tough sell in its initial marketing. Word of mouth ultimately proved itself more effective than the actual trailers from Pixar Animation Studios.

Ember, Wade, and Clod's character posts from Pixar's Elemental.
Credit: Pixar Studios

Related: Pixar Bounces Back, Breaks Five-Year Record

As of September 2, 2023, it’s earned $151,781,994 at the domestic box office and $317,778,392, giving the Pixar movie a total of $469,560,386 on a $200 million budget. Pixar president Jim Morris has confirmed that this makes the film profitable, something that seemed doubtful back in June.

“We have a lot of different revenue streams, but at the box office we’re looking at now, it should do better than break even theatrically,” he told Variety. “And then we have revenue from streaming, theme parks, and consumer products. This will certainly be a profitable film for the Disney company.”

These numbers also make it the most successful original film (by which we mean not a sequel or a remake) to be distributed by the Walt Disney Company since the pandemic and the first original animated film from any studio to reach $400 million since 2017. Not too shabby for a “flop.”

Overtaking Toy Story

By hitting $469,560,386, the film has officially overtaken the first film in Pixar’s two most successful franchises: Toy Story and Cars (2006). The former earned $394,436,586 at the worldwide box office (unadjusted for inflation), while Cars made $461,991,867 worldwide.

Woody (L) and Buzz (R) sat down looking at each other with other toys in the background
Credit: Pixar Studios

Related: Buzz and Woody Have Officially Been Replaced by Another Toy

Overtaking Toy Story is no small feat. Often regarded as Pixar’s flagship franchise, the adventures of Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) have entertained audiences of all ages for nearly 30 years – and will continue to do so with the upcoming release of Toy Story 5. If Elemental follows the same path, we could still be hanging out with Ember and Wade on screen for decades to come.

Rumors of a sequel

Speaking of Pixar mega-franchises, it seems like that’s where Elemental is going. Now that the film is available on all major digital platforms (except Disney+), there have been countless rumors of a sequel to explore more inter-elemental adventures in Element City.

According to Hollywood insider Jeff Block of Exhibitors Relations Co. (via The Town with Matthew Belloni podcast), Pixar is reportedly eyeing an Elemental spinoff series and a potential sequel.

pixar elemental fire Disneyland resort smoke and fire
Credit: Pixar

Disney is also going to turn this into a D+ series, I’ve already heard. And there might even be an ‘Elemental’ sequel.

Earlier this year, Elemental writer Kat Likkel revealed to The Direct that there was an early idea for a sequel involving Ember and Wade’s “steam baby.”

At one point, there was going to be a little addendum at the end. Instead of them just leaving at the end, you were going to see that they had been gone and we’re coming back to visit, and they’ve had a baby, and the baby was steam. And so it’s like… that was something I kept fighting for that for a long time.

Historically, Pixar – and the Walt Disney Company in general – loves a sequel. From Toy Story 2 (1999) to the upcoming Inside Out 2 (2024), it has a track record of producing follow-up films that not only match but beat the reputation of their predecessors.

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

Related: Op-Ed – Pixar’s ‘Elemental’ Replaces ‘Zootopia’ as the Perfect Immigrant Story Minus the Copaganda

Whether or not the same is true of Elemental remains to be seen. One of the things that pulled audiences to Elemental is the fact that it is an original film, not a sequel. However, Disney typically follows where the money goes.

If Elemental is already making Toy Story kind of money, then it will inevitably get the Toy Story treatment. “You can’t create a franchise without taking a swing,” said Chambers, “and no other studio has taken more swings than Disney.” We’ll see you at the premiere of Elemental 5 in 2053.

Would you like to see an Elemental sequel? Let us know in the comments!

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