Disney steers ‘Cars’ to ’06

Pixar pic finds new parking space

Pixar and Disney are moving the release date of “Cars” from 2005 to June 9, 2006, while both Disney’s “Chicken Little” and Sony’s “The Legend of Zorro” are shifting to the open Nov. 4 space “Cars” is leaving behind.

Though the decision to move “Cars” was made by Disney, it follows Pixar CEO Steve Jobs’ statement in a recent investor conference call that his company was considering moving all its releases to the summer (Daily Variety, Nov. 12).

Exec said such a move would maximize returns, as kids are available weekdays in the summer and pics would hit homevideo for the holidays. Pixar followed this pattern with the successful release of “Finding Nemo” in 2003.

“We plan to finish ‘Cars’ on its original schedule,” Jobs said of the shift, “and look forward to ‘Cars’ and our future films benefiting by summer theatrical releases and holiday DVD releases.”

Consequences

Move has a number of repercussions for the CGI animation powerhouse. First pic after its current deal with Disney now won’t be released until summer 2007, giving it until early 2006 to pick another distribution partner if it follows the same schedule.

Pixar previously said it would have to pick a new studio partner by the middle of 2005.

Delay could be a leg up for Disney, which is not a contender for renewal. Many expect Michael Eisner to leave his post as Mouse House CEO as soon as the second half of 2005, after a successor is named. That could mean Disney will negotiate without Eisner, who reportedly has clashed with Jobs.

However, a Disney repdenied the move had anything to do with the Disney/Pixar negotiations and said it was motivated only by what’s best for the pic.

Slow period

For Pixar, shift also means it will now face a financially slow late 2005 and early 2006. With “The Incredibles” likely to hit homevideo in spring 2005, Pixar won’t have any new releases for the holidays next year and will face a revenue slump that investors will have to weather in the hope that a summer theatrical release will be worth the wait.

Meanwhile, Disney now has four extra months to work on “Chicken Little,” its first attempt to challenge Pixar and DreamWorks in CGI animation. With no Pixar competitor, “Chicken Little” could be the only CGI pic in theaters during the holidays next year. But Mouse House will be left without an animated pic during the lucrative summer season.

Sony’s decision to move its second “Zorro” pic to the same date signals other studios’ belief that Disney’s CGI pics are more vulnerable to older-skewing competition than are those from the seemingly invincible Pixar.

The shift of the “Cars” release “creates an opening on a date that’s a great kickoff to the holiday season,” said Sony distribution and marketing prexy Jeff Blake. “There’s inevitably competition, but we think we fit in there as a broad-playing film.”

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