PENNIES FROM KEVIN - Nostradumbass 2005 - Disney's Film Division

Finally back from a loooong vacation (and loooong recovery period), Nostradumbass is here for the third part in his six-part series. Today's column will predict how Disney's film division will weather 2005.

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: May 14, 2005 at 12:05 AM

For Part One of this magnificent series, check out Nostradumbass 2005 - Disney's Theme Parks
For Part Two of this outstanding series, check out Nostradumbass 2005 - NBC Universal's Theme Parks

Oy, vey! I wish I could have come up with this idea last year, because my predictions were sheer genius in this category. It wasn't that difficult, though, since most of Disney's schedule looked like absolute crap, so I figured no one would be buying.

This year is another story. (Yes, I know the year is half over, but considering summer - the short period which accounts for 50% of Hollywood's annual box office revenue - is just beginning, this is actually a perfect time for predictions.) Disney has been very waffly with its schedule this year - Cars is a summer film! No, it's a Thanksgiving film! No, it's a 2006 film! - and the Miramax/Dimension split has only complicated matters.

But the schedule seems set, the divorce is final, and Disney's first summer film has premiered! And done nothing. Yeah, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy opened with a fairly impressive $21.1M, but it hasn't exactly set the world on fire since. Reviews have been mixed to good, but there is just no buzz out there, which might not be Disney's fault entirely. There is no buzz out there PERIOD. The movie biz is in trouble, at least on the theater side of things.

Many believe next week's release of the next crappy Star Wars movie should change everything, get people excited in going to the movies again. Considering Disney used to be the company to get people excited about spending a night at the movies, this is really sad. Where's this summer's Finding Nemo or Pirates of the Caribbean? Hell, even a Freaky Friday or Princess Diaries 2 would liven up this schedule (leaving off the reallllly low-budget Miramax entries):

13 - Mindhunters (Dimension)

10 - Howl's Moving Castle (Disney)
10 - The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D (Dimension)
22 - Herbie: Fully Loaded (Disney)

8 - Dark Water (Touchstone)
29 - Sky High (Disney)
29 - The Brothers Grimm (Touchstone)

6 - Annapolis (Touchstone)
19 - Valiant (Disney)
19 - The Warrior (Miramax)

Wow. How.... lame. At least Disney was smart enough to move Valiant to less-competitive August, but still. I know very little about most of these movies, if anything, and what I do know isn't good:

Trying to snag the Saw audience is clearly not going to work for this film. Not only is it the worst reviewed of all films opening this weekend, but it opens on a mere 1040 screens, meaning even Disney knows this thing is going to tank. Still, couldn't they have found a weekend that didn't have a clash as big as the Monster-in-Law/Kicking and Screaming fight? IT WILL BE LUCKY TO MAKE BACK ITS $27MILLION BUDGET.

Give credit to Disney for attempting to make anime a hit in theaters here (it's HUGE on DVD). But Howl's, from famed anime director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service), is not getting reviews like those of his beloved earlier films. Considering the Oscar-winning Spirited Away made a whopping $10M in North America, you have to wonder why Disney is releasing this in one of the two peak summer months. Maybe they're only trying to hurt the chances of the other studios of winning the Animation Oscar. (Sorry, Wallace and Gromit got that one tied up.) NO PROFITS, NO BUZZ, NO OSCAR.

Robert Rodriguez's probable last project for Disney has a lot of stuff going for it that other Disney projects certainly don't. It should appeal to both boys and girls. It's got 3-D novelty. It's the first real family film out of the gate (Howl's will open in a limited release). And Rodriguez works remarkably cheap. What it doesn't have going for it is any sort of buzz. And the title is seriously stoopid. If it is meant to be stoopid, then fine, but I think it's a title meant to be exciting, which will probably be a problem. Because the story, which was thought up by Rodriguez and HIS FRIGGIN' SON, most likely won't be winning any Academy Award nominations. GOOD OPENING WEEKEND BUT SHOULD DIE IN WEEK TWO WHEN BATMAN... UMM... BEGINS.

Yuck. I don't even want to mention this damn film. I grew up with the original Herbie films, and even then I knew they were stoopid. Of course, I saw them all, but it's not like we were loaded down with choices back in those days, since Disney was in the worst creative rut of its history (until 2004!). I hate to say it, but I am scared this movie may actually end up not being too horrendous. Think what you will of Lindsay Lohan, but the girl can carry a movie, and most of her movies have done well. But that's not what gives me all the hope. The screenplay, after going through many different screenwriters was finally developed from scratch by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, aka Lieutenant Dangle and Deputy Junior from Reno 911. The two writers created the often hilarious Reno 911 with fellow costar Kerry Kinney, which does give one hope. Still, hope is dashed when you realize these two also are credited with the horrendous Taxi and Starsky and Hutch films. They are at their best when they are doing adult humor, so a funny family film may not be in the making. And don't get me started on the stoopid Herbie animations! Still, if it doesn't get buried by Batman it should have a couple good weeks before Fantastic Four shows up. SHOULD MAKE BACK ITS PRODUCTION/MARKETING BUDGET, BUT NOT ENOUGH TO TURN THIS INTO THE SEQUEL MACHINE DISNEY WANTS IT TO BECOME.

This baby has got a lot going for it. Jennifer Connelly, who usually picks interesting projects. The director and screenwriter both have impressive credits. And it's basically a haunted house story, which usually do well. One thing not going for it is the whole Japanese-horror-to-American-horror genre, which had a huge hiccup with The Ring 2's wretched performance. (Many people may be saying, Well, it looked so lame! Well, The Grudge looked lame too and people ran out to see that crap.) The major thing not going for it is its date. One week after George Romero's Land of the Dead and two weeks before the House of 1000 Corpses sequel The Devil's Rejects. Still, it's horror and horror is hot. NOT AS MUCH AS DEAD BUT MORE THAN REJECTS.

If I had to pick the dark horse of Disney's summer schedule, my money would be on Sky High, a kind of X-Men in high school, but funnier. Hey, it's got Bruce Campbell, which is already a plus! And Lynda Carter as the Principal. Kurt Russell, someone well-known for his ability to pick scripts is listed as lead. And it's got a great date, right before the August doldrums. The only problems I can find are behind the camera - the director directed the totally inept Surviving Christmas and the writers all seem to have been promoted from that Buzz Lightyear cartoon. Still, the idea sells itself. I don't think even Disney's wretched marketing machine could screw this one up. THIS YEAR'S FREAKY FRIDAY.

So Disney is wide-releasing TWO films on the same day? Weird. Apparently Disney thinks this film will attract older kids (it is rated PG-13) while Sky High will get the younger crowd, but I don't buy it. The plot mentions something about how they run into situations that would later turn into their stories, so the likes of Hansel & Gretel, Rumpelstiltzkin, Rapunzel and several princesses Disney stole and made famous are more than likely to show up in trailers, aren't they? Maybe not, as the film does seem to have a very dark, and possibly scary, tone. I don't care, since it is Terry Gilliam directing, and I luuuuuv me some Terry Gilliam. Brazil and Twelve Monkeys are two of my all-time favorite films, and I have liked everything else he has done except for The Fisher King (Robin Williams in full-on crying manchild mode? NO THANKS!). Matt Damon and Heath Ledger should help matters, but that dark tone, which will probably make the film actually interesting, may not help too much when it comes to marketing. GOOD REVIEWS WILL HELP IT MAKE SOME MONEY, THOUGH PROBABLY NOT MUCH BEYOND ITS BUDGET.

I have no freakin' idea what this crap is. After an EXTENSIVE SEARCH, since even the Touchstone site doesn't mention anything about the film except for when it is being released, I discovered that this is a boxing film set inside a naval academy. Ummm, yeah. No marketing, boxing plot, military themes? BOMB BOMB BOMB!!!

I actually saw trailers for this in Spain, and while it looks cute, all I could think of was Chicken Run TWO!. People have complained about all these similar animated films coming out close to each other, but at least the two ant colony films and the two fish films had different feels to them. This film, which was started LONG AFTER Chicken Run's run, takes place at basically the same time and revolves around birds at war. Okay, Chicken Run wasn't specifically set in WWII, but the homages to The Great Escape and Stalag 17 and the like certainly underlined that point. Will people want to see it? Possibly, since there isn't that much CGI this year. Madagascar will be gone by this point, and Chicken Little won't be for a couple months. Disney has been underselling this film while Chicken Little is already out there, so there is a major danger of Disney creating excitement for the chicken film and none whatsoever for the pigeon film. OUT OF MADAGASCAR'S LEAGUE. THINK ROBOTS.

Okay, this one probably shouldn't even have been mentioned, except what little I learned about it soundes like a high-falutin martial arts film. These films are hotter than ever right now, and this is clearly Miramax's next Hero-ic hopeful, but the excellent Kung Fu Hustle has only dragged in $15M so far, so I wouldn't expect much, unless August is REALLY bad otherwise. IF IT WEREN'T FOREIGN, IT'D BE BOMBWORTHY.

And that's all. Maybe you think that isn't a bad schedule, but check out the competition this summer: Kicking and Screaming, Monster-in-Law, Star Wars Episode III, Madagascar, The Longest Yard, Cinderella Man, Mr & Mrs Smith, Batman Begins, Bewitched, George A Romero's Land of the Dead, War of the Worlds, The Fantastic Four, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wedding Crashers, The Bad News Bears, The Dukes of Hazzard and The Pink Panther. Not one of those did I have to do research on to find out what it was. Summer is going to be HUGE this year, and Disney is going to have little to do with it.

Well, that's only 50%, so how about the rest of the year? Well, I must say Disney is usually one of the best studios at putting out hits outside of summer. This year did have a big hit in The Pacifier ($110M) and more modest hits in Hitchhiker's Guide (more than $40M after this weekend), Sin City ($73M) and Amityville Horror($61M). But those totals barely make up for production costs, and certainly aren't covering for underachievers like Hostage ($34M) or bombs like Ice Princess ($24M), A Lot Like Love ($20M) and Cursed ($19M). (BTW, does anybody else love the fact that the current season of Project Greenlight has been trumpeting Wes Craven as the "horror master" or some crap, yet the "master" routinely leaves piles like Cursed lying around?) If you think this isn't so bad, look back a year to Disney's horrible 2004 and see that in this time period the studio had Hidalgo making $67M, The Ladykillers making $40M, Home on the Range making $50M, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen making $29M, Miracle making $64M and Kill Bill 2 making $66M. Hell, last year's trumpeted bombs Jersey Girl and The Alamo made $25M and $22M respectively. So this year isn't looking too hot after all, is it? (Even I didn't get how bad this year was going until I looked up those numbers.)

So what does Fall and Winter 2005 hold for Disney? That's a little more difficult as only the big films are usually given a date this early in the season. Steve Martin's Shopgirl has been getting buzz, but mainly because it's a known commodity, the book having done well. There should be plenty of interest in Jodie Foster's thriller Flight Plan since she hasn't been onscreen in a while. The Greatest Game Ever Played is getting a major push from Disney, but that could be for many reasons: A) Disney has done well with sports movies, so is throwing their marketing money behind this one. B) Disney believes, and rightly so, that Shia LeBeouf is a superstar in the making. C) Disney thinks this one has Oscar written all over it. D) Disney doesn't have much else to offer. "D" may be the most correct, because I can't find a lot out there for the Mouse this Fall. The Weinsteins seem to have gotten all the Oscar-bait films in the divorce, leaving Disney with little to save their year with.

Still, there are two possibly major films that could save this year. First is Chicken Little. I must tell you that I am not impressed. The "jokes" in the trailer seem like the same damn jokes the Disney writing staff has been trotting out for over a decade. Disney was smart in reaching out to a Shrek producer - though Valiant may not have been the film they were hoping for - but it really needs to go outside the studio for writers, because few of the inhouse staff have been getting the job done. Chicken Little, though certainly a round-table affair, is being credited to two guys who wrote Brother Bear, which scares me to no end. Well, at least it wasn't given to the Home on the Range guys. Still, this is CGI with the Disney name slapped above the title, so it should be pretty big. It won't be Pixar or Shrek big, but it will be interesting to see if it can beat Madagascar or last year's Shark Tale. I doubt it will though, what with Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (and just HOW did Disney let this one get away?), Wallace & Gromit and the Ever-Changing Movie Title and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire all in its vicinity. I'll give it Shark Tale but no more.

While Disney clearly has a lot of eggs in the Chicken Little basket - and just why isn't anyone screaming that chickens were already done by Aardman??? - the rest of their eggs are clearly lying over in the Chronicles of Narnia basket. The money Disney isn't spending marketing Valiant and Sky High is clearly being thrown upon The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (sometimes the grammarian in me grows tired of fixing incorrect capitalizations). The film already has trailers online as well as two featurettes on Apple's trailer site. It is the featured film on the Disney website too, even though Disney has a summerload of films it should be focusing on right now.

Not that this film won't need lots of help. Following on the heels of Harry Potter but a mere five days before Peter Jackson's King Kong, it could be in serious trouble. Yeah, the books are popular and the film has a great look, but Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events was based on popular books and had a great look and it only pulled in $119M. Even worse, the film is being produced by the company behind the lackluster Garfield and Around the World in 80 Days. Furthermore, it has no big-name star, it was written by a first-time screenwriter, and it was directed by a guy whose previous directorial credits are the two Shrek films. From CGI characters to real-live actors? I would not be surprised to see Narnia stall in Lemony Snicket's' neighborhood, even though $200M would be a safer guess. But since this is my last prediction, I'm going to go out on a limb with that $120-millionish guess, which would seriously hamper a future for this expensive series.

Those are Nostradumbass's two pennies... give him yours!

Readers' Opinions

From Chuck Campbell on May 14, 2005 at 6:36 AM
I understand that "Mindhunters" actually opened overseas before coming to the States--if true, not a good sign.

What cracks me up is the typical Hollywood reaction to this year's tepid box office: "My God! It's the end of the moviegoing experience! Nobody wants to go to theatres anymore!" All this because of a few months of non-record-breaking numbers. Just like people want computer animation instead of "traditional" animation, right? It's all the fault of the medium or the venue--it has nothing to do with the quality of the movies themselves.

Here's the formula the producers need to follow: Good stories + Good directors + Good actors = Butts in seats.

From Ben Mills on May 14, 2005 at 7:15 AM
Eww... Valiant? Probably the worst CGI feature ever made, I advise you all to stay the hell away from this rubbish. An embarassment to the British actors that voice it (John Cleese, Ewan McGregor, and The Office's Ricky Gervais) it's more like a Carry On film for kids that happens to star pidgeons.

Maybe it'll fly better in the States, where you all seem to find the British stereotypes amusing, but over here, it's a disgrace. It may have clawed its way into the top ten, but only because there's a sever kids flick draught over here right now.

Having said that, the animation is very nice.

From Russell Meyer on May 14, 2005 at 7:29 AM
Mindhunters has been on the shelf for a reported 2 years, typically not good for a wide theatrical release. It does have an interesting plot, and the acting has to be better than Unleashed. The entire movie industry is experiencing a lull as just about every major studio is staying out of this summer. Whereas the Matrix and the Mummy franchises tried to dance with the last Star Wars releases, this year it seems that people are staying away. There are no major movies releasing wide next week, and Memorial Day which typically features the best moneymakers of the summer is limited to a remake, The Whole Nine Yars, and a pathetic looking computer animater movie, Madagascar. The next major action release does hit for another month, Batman Begins on June 17. Directed by Momento's Christopher Nolan. The newest Batman film may get some great critical reviews, but may be too dark to be really successful by telling the obscure origin story. Even the Fantastic 4, after getting lots of buzz when it was announced, has started to cool off, perhaps after some people have seen parts of the film and were unimpressed. Outside of War of the Worlds, due on June 29, and perhaps Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, due on July 15, there is very little punch to this summer's movie lineup. If Star Wars cannot pull over $300 million, which I think will happen easily as early reviews by fans and critics alike have been glowing for the final chapter of the prequel trilogy. As far as Hitchhiker's Guide, it probably has not sustained as much as Disney would have liked, but it has made back its investment if you include the UK box, which is where the film has been thriving, and was expected to thrive.

The fall movie season is looking much more promising with more popular faire, with literary giants Harry Potter and Lion Witch and the Wardrobe likely to contend with Star Wars for the year's box office champion. While Disney may not win the box office crown this year, I woud say the early year success puts them into good possition to top last year's surprising success. While the movies Disney has lined up for this summer may not interest a lot of critics or hard-core film buffs, they will likely get people in their seats. Never underestimate the drawing power of Lindsay Lohan and her computer reduced chest. She has yet to have an unsuccessful film, and the likelyhood is that Hebie Fully Loaded will be no different, almost a lock for $100 million.

From Ben Mills on May 14, 2005 at 12:18 PM
Crazy little fact for y'all to feast on... I'm sure you're aware that Hitchiker's did well on release over here, but did you know that in its first weekend of release, it made £4.2 million? How feckin' amazing is that? 4.2!

Okay, just me then.

From David Eggert on May 14, 2005 at 3:49 PM
"Never underestimate the drawing power of Lindsay Lohan and her computer reduced chest. She has yet to have an unsuccessful film ..."

I don't know. I just can't count $29 million for Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen as a success.

As for Corpse Bride, I agree. How did Disney NOT make this film? A Tim Burton stop-motion film about the dead. This seems like it would be the perfect way to follow the success they are having with Nightmare Before Christmas. Someone really dropped the ball on this one.

From Kevin Baxter on May 15, 2005 at 4:30 AM
Tim has reportedly not been too happy with Disney. I have heard he wasn't happy that Nightmare's songs aren't used on the Haunted Mansion Holiday revamp. Plus, Disney DID basically treat the film like a bastard stepchild for quite some time before they realized people loved it more than they loved most of what Disney was offering. I think Burton has just created better working relationships since then and those may be more important to him than getting his characters into a theme park (though there is that Warner Bros/Six Flags connection).

Ben is absolutely right. A big hit in the UK doesn't add much to a film's box international box office totals. The UK has basically the same population as California and Texas combined, and about one-fifth of the population of the US as a whole. The top film of all-time over there is Titanic which made just under 70M pounds. (They don't have taste over there either!)

Russell, you are mixing up what has buzz with what you are interested in. That remake (actually The Longest Yard) and Madagascar will make HUGE money over Memorial Day weekend - unless reviews are horrendous, naturally. As for that weekend usually having the big moneymakers, last year the weekend featured The Day after Tomorrow, Raising Helen and Soul Plane. While neither movie is likely to make Tomorrow's $85M that weekend, they will both certainly make more than the $21M the other two films made COMBINED. Robots made $125M in a tepid season, so there is no reason to expect Madagascar to make less than that. It's certainly better-looking than Shark Tale and look how much that made.

Last summer gave us a dozen $100M+ films, which is about how many can be expected with massive blockbusters like Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2 on the schedule. I listed the sixteen most likely candidates to hit the magic $100M mark, to which I will add Herbie, Sky High and Valiant (it may suck, Ben, but it'll likely get halfway there in its first week). Horror films make money, but usually $100M is a big deal, so I'm not putting Dark Water on the list.

So are there any films on there that will be HUGE? Star Wars... DUH. And Batman Begins. I don't care about tone. The original was dark and made $251M ($402M in 2005 dollars). It's Batman, it's got buzz and it should be Number Two this summer. Number Three will most likely be War of the Worlds which will also probably be in the HUGE category - Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, Dakota Fanning, sci-fi. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has potential to be HUGE also, with its name recognition and Johnny Depp, but Tim Burton has been known to fling out more than his share of stinkers, so this one could end up only being BIG. The Fantastic Four is the other potential HUGE film, but I tend to agree it won't be. Big opener but the Four don't have the appeal of Spidey or Batman.

Still, every studio is NOT staying out of summer, and scheduling the biggies every two weeks has been the practice for quite a while. Too many films were getting burned opening the following week after a blockbuster. Still, make no mistake that all the films I listed are expected to hit $100M, or they wouldn't be where they are. Certainly all won't, and there will be a few surprise $100M films not on my list, but most of them should do very well. If I had to pick which wouldn't hit $100M, I'd pick Cinderella Man, Mr & Mrs Smith, The Dukes of Hazzard and The Pink Panther. Land of the Dead and Shark Boy and Lava Girl will both be close, in my prediction.

Narnia won't challenge for film of the year. King Kong has more of a chance, and it won't do it either. And we've learned where the Harry Potter franchise tops out, so that certainly won't be it. Winter films can do well, but rarely do they ever contend for top-of-the-year honors, unless they have "Lord" or "Rings" in the title.

But I am curious where you get this "successful year" stuff from, Russell? Did you actually read the article? Because last year was considered successful by Disney and nobody but Disney (articles were written about it all the way up to the mediocre release of The Village for gawdsakes!). And I proved that this year has so far been WORSE for Disney. Like I said, Disney's year once again relies on two latecomers, and I don't think they'll do the job.

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