Long Distance Box Office: Brave

We’re going to continue our look at the summer movies with this year’s offering from Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, Brave, which was co-directed by Mark Andrews, the co-writer and 2nd Unit Director of Andrew Stanton’s John Carter, a movie that is being seen as a huge disappointment for Walt Disney Pictures.

For their 14th movie and first non-sequel in three years, Pixar Animation travels to the Highlands of Scotland during ancient times as Brave follows the journey of the young princess named Merida who is to be married off by her parents, though her tomboy streak leads to her wanting to become a warrior and go on adventures. It features a great cast of mostly British and Scottish actors including Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane, which will help bring authenticity to the film’s characterizations, although the accents may be tough, especially for Americans in the South and Midwest who may not be as familiar or comfortable with British films.

Even so, there’s no denying Pixar Animation has an unmatched pedigree when it comes to quality filmmaking, storytelling and animation, which has certainly upped their rating with movie lovers of all ages who always know they’re in for something special when they watch a Pixar movie. It’s not an accident that they’ve won six Oscars in the animated category (that’s more than half since the category was introduced) as well as having films nominated in other categories including Best Screenplay and Best Picture. They’ve clearly transcended the “kids’ movie” ghetto of so many animated movies and probably contributed the most to animation being taken seriously among grown-ups without kids, helping the likes of DreamWorks Animation to reach older teens and adults that normally wouldn’t go to an animated movie. These two things have helped contribute to the number of CG animated movies that opened over $50 million, and to date, Pixar’s thirteen movies have grossed 3 billion dollars domestically and $7.2 billion worldwide, which is huge. In fact, their last movie Cars 2 was the first movie to not cross the $200 million mark since A Bug’s Life way back in 1998. Unlike when they started out, Pixar isn’t the only game in town and studios like DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky Studios and most recently Illumination Entertainment have stolen some of their thunder with CG animated movies more geared towards mass audiences.

We still expect Brave to be another big hit for Pixar and maybe that’s going to be the case, although its premise is certainly not as immediate as the talking fish of Finding Nemo, the talking cars of Cars or the superheroes of The Incredibles. One smart thing Disney is doing is that they’re pushing the film’s main character Merida as the latest “Disney Princess” making this is a Pixar movie being pushed more to girls, similar to their animated hit Tangled, and that’s likely to be an underserved market this summer.

One thing that might put casual moviegoers off is that Brave doesn’t look or feel like a Pixar movie, but more like a Disney movie, but even more so, the environments make it look like DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon, only without the perk or having dragons. “Dragon” was one of DWA’s weaker openings with just $43 million, but word-of-mouth helped it gross over $200 million domestic and near $500 million international.

The movie opens on June 22, which is later in the summer season than some of Pixar’s previous summer movies like Up, although with school no longer in session anywhere in the country, it means Brave should have solid business on Friday and Sunday as well as on Saturday. Eight of Pixar’s last ten movies have opened with more than $60 million and that includes earlier films like 2001′s Monsters, Inc., which was before 3D and with lower ticket prices, and both those things should certainly help keep the Pixar streak rolling.

It’s opening against the easier sell of Timur Bekmambetov’s action movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Focus Features’ Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, neither which should have that much of an effect, although Pixar has normally been dependant on attracting older moviegoers, not necessarily parents, to help with their opening weekend. Bekmambetov’s last movie Wanted also opened against Pixar’s WALL•E and had to take second place, but with $50 million, showing there’s room for that sort of business once summer gets rolling.

The good thing is that reviews have been Pixar’s bread and butter to get word out on the quality of their movies, and we think this will be the case with Brave, which we expect to get great reviews, getting them back on track after last year’s disappointing Cars 2.

Even so, Scottish highlanders aren’t an easy sell, which we think will lead to a more moderate opening and then extended legs as people talk it up among friends. We think Brave is heading for a similar trajectory as How to Train Your Dragon or Brad Bird’s Ratatouille which opened late in the season with a weaker opening then brought in business through word-of-mouth. We think inflated ticket prices will help Brave gross close to $50 million or slightly more its opening weekend, but it should be helped by the fact it has a couple of wide open weekends before the next animated movie, including the 4th of July, to help it get to the $200 million gross of their other movies as well as put Pixar back into the Oscar game.

Next time, we may look at one of the summer’s other animated movies or something else opening that same weekendÂ… or maybe even both!

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