No-go Glen Coco: Pixar’s Release Date Waiting Game

Another Turkey dinner isn’t the only treat Brits missed out on this past Thanksgiving. We also had to go without Coco, the latest critical darling from one of the world’s leading animation studios, Pixar. But they can be forgiven for chasing that holiday box office. After all, the film opened in Mexico a month prior, just in time for the thematically relevant Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. So, saving it for a UK holiday seems reasonable and the film will release in British cinemas on January 19th . Wait a minute? That’s no holiday! So why the delay?

As global day and date releases have become increasingly commonplace, UK viewers rarely have to deal with this kind of disparity anymore, but it remains common for Pixar films. The Disney-owned animation giant is one of the few studios happy to tailor international release dates on a case-by- case basis, often taking into account local holidays. The go-to policy for their near annual June releases is that Disney holds off on a UK opening until most schools have broken up for the summer holidays in mid-July. It’s as scattered a release schedule as blockbusters get nowadays and the most notable consistent… inconsistency in the UK and US release calendars.

In a numbers obsessed film culture, it also results in smaller worldwide box office openings. But Pixar, of course, has the benefit of a loaded parent company. Disney has dominated the box office in recent years, and their industry power has just swelled thanks to their much-publicised acquisition of 20th Century Fox. Yet, for all the Marvels and Lucas Films, Pixar remains a glittering jewel in their crown. Toy Story will always be the first entirely computer-animated feature film, and they can only add to their amazing eight Best Animated Feature Oscars (the category was only introduced in 2001). And, while many of the box office figures are huge (Toy Story 3, Finding Dory), money seems not to be the be all and end all. Instead, there seems to remain a (rather un-Hollywood) valuing of artistic merit – these films cost$175m+ and don’t always make superhero money – and, anyway, Disney’s quilted safety blanket can soften the blow of any box office under performances.

Day and date releases have also gone some way to combat piracy. When international territories have to wait months for the latest hit film, the temptation sneaks in to see it as soon as possible, whatever it takes. This remains an issue for independent films – even those with awards buzz – but it’s arguable that the family-focussed nature of the Pixar oeuvre still encourages cinema outings. That being said, that doesn’t stop most of the other big animation studios opting for day and date.

Pixar films are also some of the rare blockbusters to play festivals: which only heightens the waiting game that international audiences are forced to play every year. The likes of Up and Inside Out debuted at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and the Edinburgh International Film Festival is a frequent European or UK premiere destination. But even Edinburgh lost out on the European festival premiere to Brave, a distinctly Scottish affair, to the Taormina Film Festival in Italy (nope, me neither).

With the June releases so consistently held back, Pixar’s return to November with 2015’s The Good Dinosaur delivered a welcome change to the norm. Five of the first six Pixar films opened in the US in November, before they moved to their summer slot, and, with The Good Dinosaur returning to the autumn, Disney opted for a less staggered international release and the UK opening trailed the US by just a couple of days. But it was not to be. The Good Dinosaur became the studio’s lowest grossing film and is considered to be their first ever box office “bomb”. Pixar has since turned its attention away from the autumn accordingly: of the five upcoming Pixar films, none of them are dated for a November release.

That brings us back to Coco, which promises to be the last autumn Pixar release for at least the next few years. The Good Dinosaur obviously didn’t provide much hope for global day and date Pixar releases, and avoiding the Star Wars-dominated festive period seems sensible (not least because they’re both Disney releases). Confusingly, though, the lucrative February half-term falls less than a month after the January release date. That school holiday can provide a very fruitful financial return for a big animated film (The Lego Movie, for example). DreamWorks Animation’s Larrikins, a musical from Australian comedian Tim Minchin, was due to open in February, at one point, but was cancelled last year, leaving the middle of month lacking a notable family release.

Which leads us, as talk of Hollywood so often does, back to a superhero film. It seems plausible that the head honchos at Disney didn’t want to cannibalise (the admittedly very wide appeal of) the next Marvel behemoth, Black Panther. That much-anticipated release has caused a stir comparable to last year’s Wonder Woman for its promise of diverse and distinctive superhero action. Whatever the reason, being the first big family release after Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the surprisingly mighty Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is still a promising position to be in. And, hey, now Disney owns half of Hollywood, a misfire or two won’t hurt. Let’s just hope that they don’t start to forget about Pixar’s often transcendent original creations.

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