Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Significant Rumblings at Disney

So, Chicken Little has been released and Walt Disney Pictures can't stop talking about how it beat all expectations at the box office with its $40 million opening. But what does this mean for Pixar, who is about to re-enter negotiations with the new, Eisner-less Disney?

Look, you could split hairs any way you want about Chicken Little and how much it made per screen and how it doesn't even come close to a typical Pixar opening weekend and whether or not it definitively proves Disney can put out a hit CGI movie on its own. We'll see how the box office does over the next couple of weeks, as Zathura and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire saturate the family movie market in time for Thanksgiving weekend. But the negotiations are still going to happen, and it looks like Pixar might yet be in a good position.

There are a couple of significant things that have happened at Disney. First off, they've admitted that, even though A Day for Wilbur Robinson, their next CG-animated release, is still on track for next fall, both American Dog and Rapunzel Unbraided, both of which insiders have called very promising, have been pushed back by a year. That means there's no release set for 2007, and they've seen fit to either retool or completely overhaul the stories to both pictures. Supposedly, if Pixar were to re-up with Disney, Steve Jobs would require that Pixar be able to choose their own release dates from 2007 on (Pixar's next film, Cars, opens in June 2006). Interesting how Disney would suddenly pull two films from their projected release dates.

Nextly, Disney has stopped work on a Cars-themed attraction at Disney's California Adventure. This is possibly because Jobs also wants, from Cars onward, to up the fee charged to Disney for the use of Pixar movies and characters at its theme parks and in its merchandising. From Cars on, Pixar would--according to Jobs's projected terms--own their films outright, and then license them to Disney. Could the possible fees involved be what's stopped work on that Cars attraction?

Another piece of evidence that Disney may be ready to accept Steve Jobs's terms? There's suddenly been no talk of Disney's Toy Story 3. A lot of Disney observers, myself included, have suspected that Toy Story 3 (which no director would touch for a long, long time) was announced simply as a negotiating tactic by Disney. One that has the potential to backfire. Probably, that's why any talk of the project has simply ceased.

So, whether or not any of this speculation is true, we'll have to wait and see. It's my own feeling that Disney can't afford to lose Pixar a final time, because this would probably be the last time Jobs came back to the table. But I've seen the previews for Cars, and it looks absolutely terrible, so it's probably only to Pixar's benefit to get the negotiations sewn up by the time June rolls around. Just a feeling.

Boy, how funny would it be if Disney agreed to continue their partnership with Pixar and then Steve Jobs sold Pixar to the Weinsteins?