Disney’s animation losing streak is even more embarrassing considering Netflix’s recent massive success. Disney is failing in both audience approval and financial departments for animated movies in 2023, while Netflix has continued to generate critically-acclaimed animated movies such as its recent hit Nimona. To make matters even worse for Disney, Universal has had an exceptional year with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which has cleaned up at the box office with a staggering total revenue of nearly $1.35 billion worldwide and counting.
Disney has placed much of its strategy and efforts into churning out its live-action remakes that have widely performed lower at the box office than initially expected. Although Disney’s brand and legacy still remain intact, its recent downfall from its typical number-one spot creates concern about the franchise’s future. With Disney’s losing streak extending its narrative into the second half of 2023, the question remains whether it will be able to change the course of its disappointing year and how it will respond to Netflix’s animated dominance. Disney/Pixar’s not dead, but it’s getting uncomfortably close to losing its peak form.
Nimona’s Success On Netflix Makes Disney’s Animation Mistakes Worse
Nimona’s success on Netflix could indicate why Disney’s animated efforts, such as the underwhelming Elemental, are receiving such poor reception. Nimona currently has a 94% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the most successful animated movies of 2023 so far. Meanwhile Elemental received a 76% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, with complaints that the story is ultimately inspired and unoriginal compared to previous Disney/Pixar box office hits. Nimona is clearly a crowd-pleasing animation with a 90% audience score, which is surprising considering how it was nearly a canceled project.
Nimona was originally developed under Disney and 20th Century Studios but was abandoned and nearly terminated. Netflix ended up saving the project after it was scrapped by Disney, which makes it even more embarrassing for Disney since they willingly let go of a fantastic project. To put it into perspective, Walt Disney Animations & Pixar haven’t broken 80% on Rotten Tomatoes since Turning Red in 2022, which was one of their least popular animated films in recent history. Combined with its recent string of animated movies, Disney can’t seem to find a winner that will separate it from the pack.
Netflix Keeps Beating Disney With Critically Acclaimed Animated Movies
Despite Disney’s embarrassing losses, Netflix is releasing many family animated movies with several being labeled as critically-acclaimed hits. In addition to Nimona, Netflix produced two Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Feature Film in 2022, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and The Sea Beast. Netflix also produced the 2021 Oscar nominee The Mitchells vs. The Machines. All four of these Netflix productions have Rotten Tomatoes critic scores over 90% with an average of 96%. This continued critical acclaim for Netflix challenges the longstanding notion that Disney/Pixar is the industry standard in animated films.
Disney’s latest string of large-scale animated movies includes Elemental, Lightyear, and Strange World, which collectively average 74% Rotten Tomatoes critic score. Disney has churned out some successful animated films such as Encanto and Turning Red in recent history, however, the franchise used to exclusively make great animated films only. The recent divide in Disney animated movies switches between some being outstanding and others being mediocre at best points to a central issue in the consistency and quality of Disney’s current projects. While Netflix has had a fair share of disappointing animated movies as well, it has recently made more of the strongest offerings each year than Disney has.
Disney Is Already Losing The Animated Box Office Battle To Universal
Another one of Disney’s formidable competitors is Universal, which has heavy-hitting animated franchises that will continue to give Disney a run for its money in the foreseeable future. Both Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and Minions: The Rise of Gru beat out Disney at the box office in 2022. Additionally, the incredible success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie is obliterating Disney’s animation efforts in 2023. Even with six months left to go, it seems impossible for Disney to catch up to Universal with its later releases, which include the new original movie Wish set for release in November.
The explosive success of some of Disney’s most celebrated creative assets, particularly Frozen II’s $1.45 billion box office performance in 2019, might have taken some of the pressure off Walt Disney’s Animation Studios to continuously put out groundbreaking, incredibly popular content. However, even with its previous box office hits Frozen and Zootopia generating over $1 billion during the 2010s, Disney’s “smaller” projects still returned a significant profit compared to the cost of production. Strange World is the first Disney animated movie in twenty years to fail to generate a higher revenue than its budget. This can be considered as either a rare fluke or a massive indication that Disney is losing its touch.
Can Disney Win Back Its Animated Studio Crown?
Given Disney’s gargantuan success that has transcended decades and generations of families, it’s more likely than not that Disney will find a way to bounce back and regain its pinnacle popularity status. Disney will be forced to readjust its content strategy, especially if November 2023’s Wish fails to cash in on its massive hype. Disney will always stay true to its original brand of entertainment since it has been so impactful and entertaining for so long. However, Disney might be forced to alter some of the fundamental elements of its animated movies if common criticisms, such as its films being too similar and repetitive, continues into 2024.
Disney/Pixar was once one of those entertainment brands that virtually guaranteed a fantastic product, much like HBO or A24. If Disney hopes to continue this part of its legacy throughout the 2020s and beyond, the most obvious way would be to double down on its most celebrated installments, perhaps earlier than they would like to. If Wish continues Disney’s embarrassing losing streak, fans could at least be excited by the potential shift in priority to Toy Story 5 and Frozen 3 moving up the scheduling ladder. Disney will likely never fail permanently, but it sincerely needs to find a way to reestablish its animated dominance after a concerning rough patch.