Disney’s recent animation, Elemental, did not quite make the splash it hoped for during its opening weekend. With a mere $29.5 million yield, the film just barely surpassed the lowest opening weekend record for a Pixar film, previously held by 1995’s Toy Story 2.
Looking back, Toy Story 2 debuted with $29 million, only slightly lower than Elemental’s recent performance. Yet, when considering the effects of inflation over the years, Toy Story 2’s initial earnings would equate to roughly $57,871,935.70 in 2023. With this in mind, Elemental’s opening is far from triumphant and, when adjusted for inflation, it indeed ranks as the poorest Pixar debut to date. Prior to its release, expectations pegged Elemental’s opening weekend earnings at around $33-35 million.
Undeniably, Elemental took a bold step in terms of representation. It introduced Pixar’s inaugural non-binary character, Lake, voiced by Kai Ava-Hauser, who identifies as non-binary in real life. The character Lake was introduced to audiences via a tweet from Kai who expressed their excitement about their groundbreaking role in the new movie.
Moreover, Elemental’s storyline is imbued with themes of diversity and unity. According to the IMDb synopsis, the film follows the adventurous journey of Ember and Wade, who belong to a diverse city that houses fire, water, land, and air inhabitants. The story demonstrates their shared qualities, despite their distinct characteristics.
Elemental, however, is but one of the numerous recent films from Disney and Pixar that have disappointed at the box office. Lightyear, a film that sparked considerable controversy due to its inclusion of a same-sex kiss, accrued only $267 million. Considering its production and marketing costs summed up to approximately $373 million, the film led to a loss of $106 million for Disney and Pixar.
The year 2022 also saw Disney’s most catastrophic flop to date. Strange World, which cost significantly more in production and marketing, is estimated to have incurred a loss of over $300 million for Disney, earning a meager $120 million in revenue.
The live-action remake of Disney’s Little Mermaid also failed to meet expectations. Despite not incurring substantial losses, it barely broke even and was met with critical disdain.
Pixar’s Creative Director, Pete Doctor, expressed concerns about audiences opting for Disney+ over theaters. In an interview with Variety, he explained that this cheaper option often leads to missed nuances in the films and negatively impacts opening weekend sales.
He suggested that while audiences are returning to theaters, families with children may still be hesitant due to not only health considerations but also the significant costs associated with a family outing to the movies. This financial concern, according to Doctor, has made families more selective about the films they choose to see in theaters.