Inside Out 2 Turns Fantasy Hollywood Upside Down

I’m still enough of a glutton for punishment to play fantasy baseball and football, and I’ve been doing so for decades.  Don’t worry, the stakes are far more minimal than they used to be, so even when the inevitable happens and something that some pundits saw as unpredictable occurs, it doesn’t do damage to me in any material fashion besides pride.

And despite the predictive nature of the site, updated daily , that assured me I’d win this past week, I was upended by a couple of overachieving middle infielders on my opponent’s team and my fianl chance fo redemption, Yankees starter Marcus Stroman, tipping off Red Sox runners to the tune of five stolen bases (Boston would eventually steal a total of nine, so it wasn’t just him) and assured that he’d leave on the short end of the score and deny my team any chance of a win.  So at the exact halfway point of the regular season, my team is 6-6.  I could have literally done nothing but flip a coin and gotten similar results.

I suspect there are plenty of studio executives that this morning are looking at those tasked with predicting box office returns both internally and externally with similar janndice after they read recaps such as the one droppedat dawn  by THE WRAP’s Jeremy Fuster:

Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” soared past all expectations, busting the box office drought with a spectacular $155 million domestic opening weekend and $295 million worldwide, the latter being the highest global weekend launch ever for an animated film.  In fact, it’s the second highest 3-day box office opening for almost any film in the last 18 months, behind only the $162 million opening of “Barbie.” Among animated films, it ranks just behind the $182.6 million start of fellow Pixar film “Incredibles 2” as the second highest animated film opening ever before inflation adjustment (or third highest, depending on whether you consider the 2019 CGI “Lion King” remake to be an animated film).

I sure didn;’t that kind of result coming.  I’m as guilty as anyone for pilingon to the belief that theatrical releases were in an existential crisis based in how May went down.  Even the most optimistic predictions daren’t cross the nine-figure markfor fear of it being deemed as too rosy by a sketpcial, cynical cadre of press and prognosticators.  The reviews were, at best, positive, but hardly at the level that was seen when BARBIE was being offered up for review.  Fuster reminded exactly how dour the landscape was going into the weekend:

Since theaters reopened in 2021, Disney chased a return to its animated box office dominance that then eluded them amid a series of underperforming titles and pivots of well-reviewed movies like “Turning Red” to streaming under former CEO Bob Chapek. 

Since 2021, none of Disney or Pixar’s titles have crossed $500 million at the global box office, the closest being last year’s “Elemental” after it rebounded from the worst opening in Pixar history thanks to strong post-release word-of-mouth.

Those kind of data points are fed into naratives and models from those in the same line of work for Hollywood as fantasy experts are for their subscribers.  Three football magazines for the upcoming 2024 season hit the newsstands (you remember those?) last week.  One running back coming off an injury-riddled season is ranked tenth by one publication, 12th by another and 22nd by a third.  And this was before they had even seen him ne the field at the mandatory off-season practices being held this month.  Looking  for consensus in that world is typically futile, patticularly in June.

The reviews of INSIDE OUT 2 were no more cosnsitent.  But I did find a kernel of insight in the one offered up late last week by VARIETY’s Owen Gleiberman when he recapped the pedigree:

Inside Out,” I would argue, was the last great Pixar movie. I loved “Toy Story 4” (2019), and “Finding Dory” (2016) was irresistible in a way that evoked the magic of “Finding Nemo,” but “Inside Out,” released in 2015, was arguably the last film to be worthy of the Pixar name at its visionary, eyeball-tickling, head-spinning peak. It had the audacity to build an entire world inside the mind of Riley, and to turn that world — the warring emotions, the good and bad memories stored in collectible marbles — into a kind of enchanted philosophical amusement park. “Inside Out” was bedazzling entertainment, yet the movie went deeper than that. In deconstructing how the human personality works, it told a tale that was moving and profound. The film wasn’t just about lifting Riley out of her depressed homesick funk. It was about what happens to all of us as we leave childhood behind — the way the illusions and innocence, the beautiful garden of who we were, must fall away.  

So anyone using the recnt Pixar movies in their predictive model likely chose to overlook those thoughts, or at least regress them to even deeper recessed brain cells than Riley did some of INSIDE OUT’s more colorful characters.

And I also took something away from the veteran David Poland, who devoted not one but two releases of his THE HOT BUTTON newsletter yesterday to INSIDE OUT 2, taking the opportunity to immediately remind his readers that there were even more obvious signs of potential success in hindsight:

The first thing that I take away from this opening of Inside Out 2 – wherever it eventually lands – is that Disney created a theatrical opportunity from what was once meant to go to Disney+ and proved that the classic windowing model is clearly the best option in success.

The theatrical market will be as large or limited as the distributors make it.

It is not the weather. It is a choice that creates the circumstances by way of the action of the people who market and distribute films.

The idea, advanced by Universal’s Donna Langley in Cannes last month – “We don’t really think we’re going to recapture (pre-pandemic levels)…” – is a self-perpetuating bit of mythologizing. If Universal and others choose not to pursue pre-COVID levels of box office success, they will not. No one is going to come to them trying to knock down the door to get to movies they aren’t making. The industry is one of risk. There are moments in which that risk is balanced out with unique events, like the DVD explosion of the early 00s. But that lasted 4 years, basically, and studios managed to overspend against the trend to the degree that they gave back all their surprise revenue gains before the end of the decade.

Disney was the only major studio that chose to release anything new on Father’s Day weekend.  Judging by the makeup of the crowds that contributed to that $155M take, plenty of daughters who wanted quality time with pop on his day clearly begged him to treat himself (and, of course, her) to the movie.  And mom seemed to be in tow as well, because, let’s face it, at one point in their lives Mom WAS Riley.

And if the brothers did tag along, they at least had anoher viable option in the multiplex still left over, as Gleiberman’s colleague Rebecca Rubin observed:

As this weekend’s only new release, “Inside Out 2” had no trouble taking the box office crown from the previous champ, “Bad Boys: Ride or Die.” The fourth installment in Sony’s buddy-cop comedy, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, slid to second place with an impressive $33 million in its second weekend of release. So far, “Bad Boys 4” has grossed $112 million in North America and $214.6 million globally.

So theatre owners are giddy for a change.  This morning, DEADLINE’s Jill Goldsmith reported on their re-established sunny outlook:

Stateside, AMC posted its most attended day of the year on Friday, June 14, a record immediately broken the next day on Saturday, which now ranks as AMC‘s busiest day of 2024. More than one million people went to the movies at AMC each day on Friday, on Saturday and Sunday as each day set a record for the year.

And Fuster immediately started to prognosticate how this all might be an omen for what’s to come later this summer:

That will be good news for theaters as a fully functioning Disney will combine efforts with the likes of Illumination, DreamWorks, Sony and Paramount’s animation divisions for more sustained family turnout with films like “Despicable Me 4,” “Transformers One” and “The Wild Robot” coming in Q3. That all leads to Disney’s Thanksgiving release of “Moana 2,” which is suddenly looking like it could be one of the top hits of the year.

As that noted football guru Lee Corso is wont to say, “not so fast, my friend”.

DESPICABLE ME, enduring as it is, is not as girl-centric.  TRANSFORMERS is a much older franchise that hasn’t wowed anyone with its most recent iterations.  MOANA isn’t Riley.  And none of them are Pixar.

And none will be  an emotion-centric film released on an emotionally-driven family driven weekend.

Fantasy sports pundits look at trends, advanced metrics and statistical analyses to make their calls.  Fantasy Hollywood observers have increasingly followed suit.  There’s a lot more than just those qualities that go into the making of a smash hit.  Content.  Timing.  Heart.  Duh-EMOTION.

So while the scrambling and finger-pointing unfolds over the next few days, I’d merely ask this one question:

How’s YOUR fantasy team doing?

Until next time…




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