Earlier this year Bob Iger made the announcement that there were no plans to make any more 2D animated films. What’s worse, a few days later Disney gutted their animation department and fired virtually all of their 2D animators (though thankfully Eric Goldberg wasn’t one of them). This wasn’t the first time this happened of course. Almost ten years prior Michael Eisner made a similar move, and the move was so unpopular that it was viewed as the final straw for the shareholders and he was booted out shortly afterwards. Now Bob Iger was making the same mistake as Eisner, which suggests that Eisner may have had a point. In fact some people say that in retrospect Eisner was probably right about 3D animation being the future, and maybe it’s us that couldn’t see that.
Still, as with most things to find the truth of the matter you have to follow the money. And when you look at how many Pixar, DreamWorks, and Fox animated films that made a lot of money I guess it made sense at the time. Now 3D animation is in abundance, and there’s no promise that an animated film being animated in 3D will be a success by the very virtue it’s in 3D. Now that some time has passed though I think it’s time to reflect on the Disney films in the past ten or so years, both 2D and 3D, and see if 2D was really the money loser Disney claimed it to be and whether the switch to 3D really resulted in that much of a difference in terms of financial gain. For the sake of this list Pixar films will be excluded from the list, as Disney had to split those profits with an independent Pixar, and Pixar’s latest films haven’t been setting the box office on fire.
This article was originally going to be one part, but when I finished it I realized it was way too long for one sit through, and so it will be split into three parts. For the first part we’re going to be looking at Disney’s 2D films from 2000 to 2004, when they ceased making them. We’ll look at the budget, the box office, and what the movie made or lost. I’m including the DisneyToons movies in this list as well since Disney has shied away from making these films for being equally unprofitable (or so they say). It should also be kept in mind that the profits do not reflect things like how much money the theaters took from the pie. These are just the box office numbers and other variables will be discussed in the third part of this feature. I have tried to include all the Disney films I can think of, but if I’ve forgotten anything feel free to let me know.
And so we start this little journey with the first release of the new millennium
Title: Fantasia 2000
Budget: $80 million
Box Office: $90,874,570
Money Made: $10,874,570
The first new Disney film of the new millennium wasn’t a complete flop, but the best you could really say about it is that it broke even. It should be noted though that like the original “Fantasia,” “Fantasia 2000” was more of an experiment than it was a movie. It was released mainly in IMAX theaters where most of its business came from. Since there were less than 200 commercial IMAX’s at the time, the earnings look all the more impressive. It ultimately squeaked out a profit, but you can’t run a company on slim profit margins like that.
Title: Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Budget: $80-$120 million
Box Office: $ 186,053,725
Money Made: $66,053,725 (assuming the budget was $120 million)
The next film Disney made was another experimental film. Unlike “Fantasia 2000” though, the experiment wasn’t with the distribution but the content. Very few people thought that Disney would make an action/science fiction film with an anime style, but that’s what they did. Assuming the film cost $120 million to make that means “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” made a decent (if not great) profit. If the budget was closer to $80 then I think you can call the film a success (there are certainly 3D animated films that have made less and are considered successes).
Title: Lilo & Stitch
Budget: $80 million
Box Office: $ 273,144,151
Money Made: $193,144,151
In the last several years “Lilo & Stich” is the one film that everyone seems to point to when claiming that 2D never died and was still successful. I really think this is unfortunate because as we’re about to see very few of the 2D films actually lost money. But, yes, this is one of the films where the success was more apparent and the box office total was certainly larger than some of the others.
Title: Recess: School’s Out
Budget: $10 million
Box Office: $44,460,850
Money Made: $34,460,850
Based off a hit Saturday morning show created by Disney, this film was pretty successful comparing the box office to the budget. The film was also 2D.
Title: Return to Neverland
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $ 109,862,682
Money Made: $89,862,682
Like many people I cringed when I saw cheap direct-to-video sequels get theatrical releases, but the movie made a ton of money compared to its budget. Would the film have made more if it was animated in 3D?
Title: Treasure Planet
Budget: $140 million
Box Office: $ 109,578,115
Money LOST: $30,421,885
Alright, it’s here where we have our first certifiable, no question about it, genuine flop. I want to remind people that all the box office returns are the worldwide figures, which means “Treasure Planet” was something people didn’t really seem to be interested in. But is that the fault that the movie was 2D or that it was competing with Harry Potter and James Bond on opening weekend? Did the animation process really have any bearing on the box office? Another question I want to pose is why is this movie considered to be 2D? Yeah the characters are hand drawn as are a few of the backgrounds, but I would venture to say that 70% of this movie was made with computer animation.
The flight sequences, the long views of battles, and many of the objects were rendered in 3D and looked like they were. Then there were some 3D animations (Long John Silver’s cyborg parts) that were animated in 3D but were meant to look 2D. Where does that content stand? Yet somehow this was used as the main example of 2D not being profitable anymore? Ok, whatever, but things start looking up again after this…sort of.
Title: Brother Bear
Budget: Unknown (let’s assume $100 for the sake of argument though)
Box Office: $250,397,798
Money Made: $150,397,798
Assuming my guess on the budget is correct “Brother Bear” can be considered a success. However this is where things started to turn ever so slightly. See, while the 2D films had been fairly consistently making money, this was the first film Disney seemed to go out of their way to make fail. I’m dead serious about this. The opening weekend for the film was $19,404,492, which put it in second place on the weekend box office after “Scary Movie 3,” which claimed number one by making roughly $2 million dollars more. Why do I bring the opening weekend up now? Because Disney opened the film on November 1, 2003, which fell on a Saturday. To give you some perspective, NO ONE releases movies on a Saturday! To do so is considered box office suicide.
They NEED the Friday to make them more money, get people to see it before the weekend actually begins, and word-of-mouth can sometimes result in more tickets being sold. And since the first weekend is usually when films make their most money, it was especially import that “Brother Bear” open on a Friday as well. There may have been a potential $15 million extra that could have been made had it opened on Friday AND it would have claimed number one at the box office! So why didn’t they open it on Friday? Their official response is that they didn’t want to compete with Halloween activities. Which is bull-well, it’s a stupid answer because they could have opened it one week earlier or one week later if that was the case, rather than cut out a full day of profits. So why do this?
The answer may have has something to do with following Monday, when Disney executives went to Disney Animation Florida to announce that because of the lack of tickets sales for the opening weekend of “Brother Bear” the studio was going to be shut down and 2D animation would be phased out. This despite the fact that Disney Animation Florida had made three hits in a row: “Mulan,” “Lilo & Stich,” and “Brother Bear” (which was ultimately profitable). At this point Disney fans didn’t know what to think. They secretly questioned whether or not Disney’s box office returns would really be that much better by switching exclusively to 3D. In a couple years we’d know that answer, but in the meantime let’s cover our last couple 2D films before the style was temporarily abandoned.
Title: Jungle Book 2
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $135,703,599
Money Made: $110,703,599
This was another DTV that got a theatrical treatment, but the fact that it wasn’t in 3D didn’t stop it from making a ton of money.
Title: Piglet’s Big Movie
Budget: Unknown (let’s assume $20 for the sake of argument though)
Box Office: $ 62,870,546
Money Made: $ 42,870,546
Before we got our first real Winnie the Pooh movie in years we got these cheap films that were typically aimed at very young children. As you can see though, they tended to be very popular.
Title: Teacher’s Pet
Budget: $10 million
Box Office: $6,491,969
Money LOST: $3,508,031
I’m not sure why they made a theatrical film on this ABC cartoon. I never remembered it being very popular and the box office reflects that. DVD’s of the movie are now given away as rewards at Disney Movie Rewards, showing that there was probably no real audience for it. Still, it’s not like the losses were catastrophic by any means.
Title: Home on the Range
Budget: $110 million
Box Office: $103,951,461
Money LOST: $6,048,539
The final 2D animated film from Disney (for the time being) was the much hated “Home on the Range.” And this one…honestly, it was going to flop either way. This could have had Pixar quality 3D animation and I still doubt it would have made money. This was just a train wreck from beginning to end. The high budget was honestly surprising because the animation in this seemed far worse than some of the DTV releases. It’s almost hard to believe Disney made something this terrible. And this cost over $100 million dollars to produce? They’re honestly lucky they didn’t lose more on this than they did.
Now then, adding all the numbers up this was the results of the box office in the long run for the 2D films (if I did my math correctly):
Overall Budget: $710 million (assuming the worst)
Overall Grosses: $1,373,389,466 (that’s over a billion dollars)
Estimated Profit: $663,389,466 (roughly over half a billion dollars)
So how does over half a billion dollars in profits not work out for Disney? Oh yeah, there WERE movies coming from DreamWorks and Pixar that were making significantly more money! But Disney looked at the movies and concluded they must be making more money because were animated in 3D. So they changed gears for a bright new future. But did that future really make more money for them?
Tune into part two to find out!