Disney Crushed By Another Animation Studio
In 2022, Disney Animation was beaten in dollars by Illumination's Minions: The Rise of Gru and critically by DreamWorks Animation's Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.
NBCUniversal is about to beat out Disney and Warner Bros. Animation to capture the top three box office spots for animated films for the first time in the studio’s history. The animation box office comparison was laid out in an article from Cartoon Brew; between strong performances from Illumination and DreamWorks Animation, and a historic flop from Disney, Universal’s 2022 releases have been dominating the competition. Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru was the biggest animated earner of the year with $939 million, but DreamWorks hit the high mark critically with its acclaimed Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.
A sequel to the 2011 film, The Last Wish boasts a 96 percent approval rating from critics on the review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, with an audience score of 93 percent. It has also earned about $200 million at the box office, putting it on pace to pass Lightyear and DC League of Super-Pets by the weekend. Doing so would officially put Universal’s 2022 releases in the top three animation spots.
The Last Wish has been praised for its bold animation style and existential theme, which serves as an emotional counterweight to the swashbuckling action and snappy humor DreamWorks is known for. DreamWorks’ The Bad Guys, which holds the other top three spot from last year, was similarly praised for unique animation and a fun cast of new characters. The Bad Guys is the only film in the top three that did not originate from existing IP.
Though Universal did have several impressive animated releases in 2022, the studio’s dominance was aided by faltering projects from Disney. Pixar’s Turning Red released in March, bypassing a US theatrical release and going straight to Disney+. Another Pixar film, the Toy Story spinoff Lightyear, only managed $226 million, compared to the last two Toy Story films’ $1 billion dollar turnouts.
The biggest sore thumb on 2022’s Disney roster was Strange World, which only scraped together $72 million and is expected to be a $100 million loss. Meager reviews, bad marketing, or franchise fatigue could all be to blame for Disney’s woes, but the company’s release strategy may also be impacting its box office totals. The studio consistently releases movies to Disney+ shortly after their releases, reducing the value of the theatrical run; if it’s going to be streaming in a month, why waste the money?
Despite missteps in the animation realm, Disney still holds the crown for overall box office dominance. Thanks to big hits from Marvel and a lucrative return to Pandora with Avatar: The Way of Water, Disney managed to smash its competition in 2022. The studio’s diversity has afforded it a multitude of franchises that show no signs of slowing down, with more Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Marvel, and Avatar on the way.
Despite Disney’s continued overall superiority, 2022 may mark a turning point for DreamWorks Animation. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and The Bad Guys represent a new direction for the studio, one that includes animation experimentation and narrative risks that could continue to enrich its future films. DreamWorks has battled Disney for animation dominance for decades, but the pressure is on as DreamWorks scratches and claws its way to the top.