Down on 'Up'

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I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.

The way things are going on Wall Street these days, you’d think everyone would be ignoring what stock analysts have to say.

But when someone says something negative about Disney’s Pixar – the most successful company in Hollywood, well people listen…as the old E.F. Hutton ads used to say. After all, schadenfreude is the black coffee of the business.

So when analyst Richard Greenfield downgraded Disney’s stock after he saw 46 minutes of Pixar’s new film Up, people starting doubting the innovative animation house all over again, the way they did before Cars came out in 2006, and Ratatouille came out the following year and Wall-e came out the year after that.

In their minds, the fact that they were wrong every time before seems to almost prove the fact that this time, Pixar will finally falter. And what fun that will be!

In a report pointedly titled "Pixar’s Up could be a downer for Disney this summer," Greenfield "came away concerned that Up is unlikely to match the performance of last summer’s Wall-e. "Given the subject matter and characters," he goes on, "we expect cross-company monetization to be more challenged." In other words, Up just isn’t commercial enough.

Never mind that Pixar’s Ratatouille was about a rat in a kitchen, and even with the sad merchandising prospects that picture conjures up, it still managed to make $621 million worldwide. And the NASCAR-themed Cars made half of it’s $461 million overseas…where they don’t even have NASCAR. I could also question why Pixar is being held up to such a strange standard…how about asking why Benjamin Button didn’t do as well as Wall-e? And I never saw the Queenie action figure or the Button happy meal.

It also seems that Greenfield is ultimately reviewing the movie, as if his opinion has any bearing on the marketplace. When even studio heads can’t predict a winner, why does a market analyst think he can?

But really my beef is not so much with Greenfield, or even with the celebration his dire prediction for Up seems to have caused in Hollywood.

There is something more sinister at work here – something more dangerous for the business. Consider a quote in a recent article about the prospects for Up in the New York Times. Reacting to analyst Greenfield’s thumbs down on Up, the Times Brooks Barnes writes:

"perhaps Wall Street would not care so much if Pixar seemed to care a little more. The co-director of Up, Pete Docter — who also directed Monsters, Inc. — said in a recent question and answer session with reporters that the film’s commercial prospects never crossed his mind. "We make these films for ourselves," he said. "We’re kind of selfish that way."

The implications seem clear: if a director doesn’t consider potential merchandising and promotional tie-in’s when they make a movie, they’re not doing their job.

Of course, Docter’s "selfishness" is also known as artistic vision, and that vision has made Pixar lots and lots of money. Funny that a business so fixated on formulas would want Pixar to change theirs.

As Brad Bird, the director of Pixar’s Ratatouille and The Incredibles said on The Business on KCRW last year, "I hate them trying to impose business school logic on something as dreamlike as film. I don’t see anybody having more consistent success on not trusting their instincts than people who do."

And he’s right. The millions the studios spend on market research and focus groups and test screenings haven’t exactly guaranteed boffo box office.

Rich Greenfield is no more a film critic than I am a Wall Street analyst. And if he’s not shy about reviewing movies than I won’t be shy about grading stock. So I say buy Disney before Pixar’s latest film comes out on May 29. Up can only make their stock go higher.

I'd love to know what you think. Send me an e-mail at You can download a podcast of this commentary, share it with a friend, or embed it on your blog with the click of a button from our new media player at For KCRW, I’m Matt Holzman.



Matt Holzman