When I finally caught up with The Good Dinosaur I couldn't believe it was a Pixar movie. Limp, unfocused, narratively tepid, The Good Dinosaur isn't the first 'bad' Pixar movie - hello, Cars! - but it is, without a doubt, the first 'blah' Pixar movie. It barely exists. And it's not going to break even at the box office.
We don't usually cover box office here, but this feels like an interesting story, not just as it's Pixar's first legitimate stumble, but also in that it shows how a movie can make $300 million global and still be technically a failure. As per a Hollywood Reporter investigation, The Good Dinosaur, with budget and marketing included, cost about $350 million. It's important to remember that the studio sees about half of the box office take of any given movie, so that means The Good Dinosaur needed to make $700 million worldwide to break even (this is your rule of thumb: always double the budget and marketing to determine what a movie needs to make). The Good Dinosaur is coming in so low, says The Hollywood Reporter, that it won't even see profit after TV sales and home video, which is exceedingly rare in the modern world. Studio movies rarely lose money!
What the heck happened with the film? Pixar recognized it was a troubled production a year or so ago, and it swapped out director Bob Peterson for Pete Sohn (the inspiration for the kid in Up), but it was too little too late. Something was fundamentally broken inside the film, and it seemed as if audiences saw it coming a mile away. Part of the problem could have been overload - there was another (impossibly better) Pixar film in theaters just a few months before - but that can't be the only reason people stayed away in droves. You'd think a movie about a boy and his dinosaur, coming from Pixar, would be successful, yet audiences recognized The Good Dinosaur as a failure immediately.
Middling to bad reviews certainly didn't help - the film has a 74% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but the aggregate score is 6.4/10, meaning none of those fresh reviews were particularly fresh. While Cars 2 has a devastating 33% Fresh rating, that film was able to weather shitty reviews because kids already knew they loved the universe and the characters. Something didn't click with The Good Dinosaur. Could it have been the cartoony design, which might have looked silly in the same year that Jurassic World brought photoreal dinos to the screen? Many people seemed to be turned off by the juxtaposition of hyper-real environments and extremely cartoony characters.
Whatever it was that convinced people to avoid The Good Dinosaur, there's one valuable lesson for Pixar: their brand isn't bulletproof. The reality is that The Good Dinosaur is a truly middling movie, but you would think that the Pixar name could have at least pushed it closer to profitability. The Good Dinosaur proves that the company can't coast on its successes - to stay at the top of the heap they need to maintain quality in their productions.
This could be a one-two punch of a lesson, by the way, if Inside Out loses the Best Animation Oscar to Anomalisa, an event that I don't believe is impossible or even implausible. While Inside Out is a major hit - the second highest-grossing Pixar film - losing the Oscar for the same year when the studio released its first dud could have big meaning.