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Pixar film Elemental opens as studio’s second-lowest box office debut

LOS ANGELES — Pixar’s animated movie Elemental took in roughly $30 million at US and Canadian box offices over the weekend, the second-lowest debut in the history of the acclaimed studio behind the Toy Story franchise, Finding Nemo and other classics.

Elemental, a story about overcoming outward differences, added $15 million overseas for a global total of $45 million from Friday through Sunday, distributor Walt Disney Co. said. The film opened in just three major international markets and will expand to other countries in the coming weeks.

The Flash, the latest DC superhero movie from Warner Bros., also underwhelmed at the box office. It topped the domestic charts with an estimated $55.1 million, according to researcher ComScore, at the low end of pre-weekend forecasts.

Analysts had predicted that Elemental would open with at least $31 million at domestic theaters. The $30-million estimate, which will be finalized on Monday, would rank just ahead of the $29.1 million for 1995’s Toy Story, Pixar’s first movie. Toy Story became a global blockbuster that spawned multiple hit sequels.

The studio is looking to rebound from the box office disappointment of its 2022 release Lightyear, the origin story of Toy Story hero Buzz Lightyear. The movie brought in an earthbound $226.7 million in global ticket sales, a fraction of the $1-billion take for 2019’s Toy Story 4. 

The director and producer of Lightyear were laid off last month, Reuters first reported, as Disney shed 7,000 jobs across the company in a cost-cutting effort.

Elemental is set in Element City, where Fire, Water, Earth, and Air characters live together. An unexpected friendship between Fire and Water borrows from director Peter Sohn’s relationship with his Italian-American wife, which he initially hid from his parents.

Tony Chambers, head of theatrical distribution at Disney, said he was disappointed by the domestic ticket sales for Elemental, which received positive feedback from movie critics and audiences and was heavily marketed. Audiences gave the film an “A” rating in polling by CinemaScore.

Mr. Chambers noted that both live-action and animated films based on original stories and characters have struggled at theaters since the COVID-19 pandemic. Franchises based on well-known intellectual property (IP), such as current hit Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, are drawing mass audiences.

“Original IP has a harder time cutting through in the market,” Mr. Chambers said. “At this point in time, it’s a very busy marketplace.”

During the pandemic, former Chief Executive Bob Chapek decided to release three Pixar movies — Soul, Luca, and Turning Red — exclusively on the Disney+ streaming service.

That taught audiences to expect Pixar movies would be available to watch at home, said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co.

At theaters, “they’re going to go back to the drawing board, and in this case what the drawing board means is sequels,” Mr. Bock said, pointing to next year’s Inside Out 2 and the planned Toy Story 5. “Disney knows how to sequel,” he said. — Reuters

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