"Tangled" shines light on Disney Animation rivals

Tue Nov 30, 2010 5:14am EST
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By Carl DiOrio

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - To damn with faint praise: The opening box office for "Tangled" during the holiday-stretched weekend represented the best for any non-Pixar animated release by Disney in years.

For though undeniably strong, the $68.7 million rung up by the Disney-branded movie during its first five days also serves to underscore some internecine rivalry among the studio's movie animators. And unless "Tangled" continues to outpace expectations during the length of its theatrical run, its Burbank animators will continue to struggle with the knotty problem of competing with their corporate kin at Pixar.

Pixar's John Lasseter now helps steer creative activities at Disney Animation, so it's perhaps no surprise that there's finally a spreading sense of revitalization at Disney Animation, which like Pixar produces and releases its movies in 3D. Disney-branded animated releases have fared a bit better both critically and commercially in the past few years after a long, flaccid period for the once-proud label.

But a true return to greatness for Disney Animation won't mean simply matching the undeniably impressive $217 million run by "Aladdin" in 1992. It would be something more along the lines of the $317 million campaign recorded two years later by "The Lion King."

That's how high the bar has been raised by Pixar in the past decade and a half.

When Disney bought the northern California hit factory in 2006 and began cranking out hits for its Burbank parent, the move only formalized the casting of Disney's legacy toon unit as a ne'er-do-well sibling incapable of matching the many successes of its adoptive kin.

Its big first frame means "Tangled" is almost certain to make back its $150 million-plus in production costs after accounting for movie theater owners' split of receipts. Whether that's enough to buff the Disney animated brand appreciably is another question.

"There's no denying that the animation guys want to restore the luster of the brand," a studio insider noted.   Continued...