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Alex Stroup, editor

2004 at the Movies

A look back at this year's Disney theatrical releases

Tuesday, December 28, 2004
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor

It can probably go without saying that 2004 was not the best of years for Walt Disney movies. Despite a couple of bright spots it was pretty much one flop followed by another underperformer.

Here is the list of Disney and Touchstone releases this year, and how they performed at the box office (all numbers from Box Office Mojo; click on the movie titles to read their reviews).

Teacher's Pet

$6.5 million

Miracle

$64.3 million

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

$29.3 million

Hidalgo

$67.3 million

The Ladykillers

$39.7 million

Home on the Range

$50.0 million

The Alamo

$22.4 million

Sacred Planet (IMAX)

N/A

Raising Helen

$37.5 million

Around the World in 80 Days

$24.0 million

King Arthur

$51.8 million

America's Heart and Soul

$314,000

The Village

$114.2 million

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement

$95.1 million

Mr. 3000

$21.8 million

The Last Shot

$464,275

Ladder 49

$73.4 million

The Incredibles

$238.5 million (to date)

National Treasure

$134.9 million (to date)

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

(not yet in wide release)

That is one long year of moviegoing with not a lot to show for it. 20 new releases with only three unqualified financial successes, and one more so-so. More embarrassingly, one movie remake was released (Around the World in 80 Days) that was outperformed financially by the original release back in 1956, which brought in about $42 million. It is quite possible that the other remake (The Alamo) suffered a similar fate, but I could not find numbers for the box office on the 1960 John Wayne version.

Tom Hanks (The Ladykillers) stumbled as a leading man this year (and not just for Disney) while Kate Hudson (Raising Helen), Clive Owen (King Arthur), and Bernie Mac (Mr. 3000) failed to established leading-role credentials. Feature animation went out with a whimper rather than a defiant bang (for the life of me, I already can't remember half of Home on the Range).

Looking to the positive, though, what were the best Disney movies of the year? I'll just pick five (and Teacher's Pet is out of the running since I don't know anyone who even saw it) and am pleased to see that it doesn't just match the box office results—indicating to me, at least, that it wasn't all Disney's fault; sometimes a movie was unjustly a failure (the opposite of National Treasure, which is unjustly a success).

5. America's Heart and Soul

This documentary from Louis Schwartzberg was overlooked as a piece of Fourth of July schmaltz. To a degree it is, but the title and release date hampered its response. Simply a series of unconnected personal vignettes, it does cluster around unique demonstrations of creativity. This is not the celebration of nationalism the title might imply, but rather the celebration of people.

4. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

A certain portion of the audience is going to absolutely love this movie, while most will shrug their shoulders and move on to the next thing. If The Life Aquatic is a failure, though, it is a noble failure. Noblility of failure is something Disney releases saw too little of this year, so often instead failing through rote repetition of things that barely worked the last half-dozen times they were tried (such as Mr. 3000). For me it succeeds more than not, and I hope it'll improve more after seeing it a couple times. I recently read of star Bill Murray agreeing with my review (well, not with it, but with the sentiment) that it took him three times before he really got it.

3. The Alamo

I stuck my neck out on this one. In a rare instance of critical and popular alignment, everybody pretty much pinched their noses at this one. I still maintain, though, that it is well made, well acted, and well adapted to a more modern mindset than the John Wayne version. The Alamo is available on DVD, and if you haven't, I strongly urge you to reconsider it.

2. Miracle

If our national attention span weren't so deficient, about now you'd be hearing at least talk of Kurt Russell getting an Academy Award nomination for this performance. Admittedly, there have been many stellar performances this year and he may not be in the top five, but if the world were fair he'd at least be mentioned. Russell's Coach Herb Brooks is the only true individual in the movie, characters are not so important and a spare style captures the mood of the country in 1980 without necessarily reviving it in the audience.

1. The Incredibles

As I said in my original review, I don't know that this is one of the best animated films of all time, but it is definitely one of the best superhero films of all time. Three times in a row now, I have seen the early press on a Pixar film and thought, “There is no way I'm going to like this,” and three times in a row I have been made a fool. A sure-thing winner of the Best Animated Feature Academy Award—really, the only reason the Academy might flirt with Shrek 2 is because of its jaw-dropping box office numbers—it doesn't need me to keep hyping it. Go see it in the theaters again, though, before it is forever relegated to the less-impressive small screen.

Finally, what's up for next year? The big attraction (Cars) has already slipped into 2006, leaving us with only Chicken Little in the arena of feature animation. Beyond that, the picture is murky. In January, Aliens of the Deep will be James Cameron's latest IMAX movie. February brings Pooh's Heffalump Movie.

In March, you'll be able to choose between a fish-out-of-water movie in The Pacifier (Vin Diesel as special ops agent playing dad) or a fish-finding-her-water movie in Ice Princess (social misfit teenager finding self and acceptance through ice skating). Certain people will be looking forward to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in May, though I am not one of them.

Regardless, it has been a fun 2004 and I'm looking forward to trashing the worst (shoot, forgot to put in a section where I once again tell you just how bad Hidalgo was) and praising the best of 2005.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted “information junkie,” Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.

Click here to contact Alex.

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