Disney's Pixar Hopes 'Inside Out' Rekindles Box Office Magic After Year Off

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Walt Disney's (DIS) Pixar Animation studio, the closest thing in Hollywood to a sure thing with 14 consecutive blockbusters, returns to theaters on June 19 with the film Inside Out in a bid to show the studio still has its box office magic.

The film, which stars the voices of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Lewis Black, is Pixar's first film in two years after it delayed the release last year of the film The Good Dinosaur. Pixar replaced the director, and the film is now scheduled for release on Nov. 25.

During the time audiences have been without a Pixar film, the market for animated films have undergone a change. DreamWorks Animation (DWA) has struggled with its recent releases, while crowds have flocked to lower-budget and more raucous animated films such as Despicable Me, released by Comcast's (CMCSA) Universal studio.

Pixar's last film Monsters University in 2013 collected $268.5 million at the domestic box office, according to Box Office Mojo, well behind the $368.1 million registered for Despicable Me. That year, Disney set records with its film Frozen, a more traditional animation than Pixar's. Frozen generated sales of nearly $401 million.

Inside Out, most of which takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl, has been widely praised by critics and received a rare 100% score from the online site Rotten Tomatoes, which said 24 of 24 critics gave the film what it calls a "fresh rating."

In the film, characters depicting the emotions Joy, Fear, Anger and Disgust guide the actions of 11-year old Riley Anderson, who faces the trauma of being uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Portions of the film are darker than usual for Pixar film, including one scene in which a depressed Riley steals a credit card from her mother's purse to take a bus that she boards at a dark San Francisco station.

Other parts of the film are far lighter, including the introduction of Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong, a large pink part elephant, part cat with a brown hat played by comedic actor Richard Kind. The character takes the emotions Joy and Sadness on a trip through "Imagination Land" and "Dream Productions."

"Our goal, right off the top, was to make it fun," said producer Jonas Rivera. "The journey that Joy and Sadness take is one big, cool adventure. I think adults-parents-will see it in a completely different way. It'll still be fun, but there's something deeper in it for them. That's something Walt Disney always wanted to do."

The box office prospects for Inside Out, which cost an estimated $200 million to make, will likely be boosted by largely uninterrupted three-week run without major family film competition following its June 19 release. According to Box Office Mojo, the Despicable Me spinoff Minions on July 10 is the first competition from an animated film.

"I have high expectations for this film," said Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible, who projects the film will chalk up $250 million in domestic ticket sales. "They had a lot of time to develop this one and it is the first animated film in some time and certainly has more substance than (DreamWorks' recent film) Home. This film may actually help Pixar draw a broader demo."

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held positions in Disney and Comcast.

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