Statements Which Are Accurate As Long As You Ignore the Rest of The Planet

The Blu-Ray version of Up which I purchased earlier this week trumpets that the film is the “#1 Animated Film of the Year!” with the exclamation point being their emphasis, not mine. While I certainly enjoyed Up very much, and fully expect it to win the Best Animated Film Oscar this year, and possibly even be nominated for Best Picture (thanks to the Best Picture nomination slate being expanded to ten films), this claim is only somewhat true. It’s true Up is the number one animated film of the year for the Domestic Box Office (which means the US and Canada), but in the global market (US, Canada and everywhere else), the actual #1 animated film of the year is Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

Indeed, it’s not even close: Up’s pulled in just over $500 million globally, which is really not bad, you know, but Ice Age: DotD has racked up a genuinely incredible $878 million, which is enough not only to give it the #1 animated film of 2009 crown, but also to place it at #15 on the list of all time global movie hits (unadjusted for inflation), and make it the #1 film of 2009 outside the domestic box office sphere, beating out the latest Harry Potter for that spot. Seriously, look it up. Or to put it another way, Ice Age’s non-domestic box office is $682 million, which means that it made about $175 million more outside the US and Canada than Up has made around the entire planet. As I said, add up all the money, it’s no contest.

I don’t have a problem with Disney bragging on the performance of Up, but I think strictly as a matter of truth in advertising that “#1 Animated Film of the Year!” notation needs an asterisk, which the packaging does not provide. Independently, I think the rest of the world gets a big, fat “WTF?” regarding Ice Age: DotD, which while amusing enough if you’re eight is not a film I would think the rest of the world should explode with squee over. But then, the #1 movie of 2009 in the Domestic Box Office arena is that damned Transformers sequel, so I don’t think the US and Canada can criticize overmuch, now, can we.

57 Comments on “Statements Which Are Accurate As Long As You Ignore the Rest of The Planet”

  1. Critic Dixie Watley once panned a movie in a review where she said, “If this one scene had been more powerful…”

    The movie poster that came out said, “‘Powerful!’ says Dixie Watley.”

    They fudge not only the numbers (Really? Forrest Gump lost money, so you don’t have to pay the writer?), they fudge the reviews, too.

  2. I’ll second that “WTF?” for Ice Age. A blatant cash in attempt (in Super-Profit 3D, too) was just _that_ good? C’mon world.

  3. I never saw Ice Age: DotD.

    I saw both Up! and Monsters vs. Aliens, and with the exception of the back-story intro to Up! (which I thought was heart-wrenching, beautiful, and amazing storytelling)… I thought MvA was a better movie.

  4. In their defense, they don’t say “#1 box office”. They could be referring to anything. Critical acclaim. Most weeks in theaters. Hell, they could be referring to length!

    Reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s wry comment on the adjectives used to allow on of his books to be “number #1” by excluding the tales of a certain young wizard. (It doesn’t remind me enough to regurgitate the actual quote, of course.)

    My six year old thought “G Force” was much, much better than “Up”, so go figure.

  5. What, Americans ignoring the rest of the planet? Say it isn’t so!


    But I’ve noticed this a number of times when it comes to claims in the US … like “best health care system in the world!” (yeah, not so much) … “guardians of freedom!” (define ‘freedom’ exactly?) … “melting-pot of the world” (aside from, you know, the rest of the world) …

    I think this all is a part of the cultural narrative in the US that either you’re the best, or you should just go home … hence there’s been some really interesting ways of defining “best” …

  6. In fairness, Up has had a much later release in Britain (and perhaps elsewhere?). That might have something to do with the revenue being (as yet?) lower than for the Ice Age: Thingy.

    I’ve no idea why it was released so much later here. We don’t get the DVD until mid-February.

  7. Sean @5 – I agree, MvA was quite a bit better than Up. Up is among my least favourite Pixar films, which is to say, it’s a very good film, but it’s no Monsters, Inc. (or Monsters vs Aliens). I’d have to say 9 was by far the best animated film of the year, though, hands down.

  8. Monsters Versus Aliens was terrible, I thought. The animation had one variation on expression, which they kept hitting over and over and over, and the story was beyond predicable. I’m having trouble comprehending anyone thinking it was better than Up.

  9. #1 Animated Film Of The Year as far as quality goes, period.

    The other studios certainly have flash and budget and sometimes even some of the cast of Everybody Loves Raymond. But Pixar still, even in the middle of the rampant commercialism that is Disney, tells the best story out of all of them.

    Even with the crazy talking dogs.

  10. @12: Don’t you mean, “Especially with the crazy talking dogs”? :)

    #1 on quality, which is subjective. #1 on Rotten Tomatoes, which is objective…they didn’t really specify. As far as movie promotion fraud goes, this is way at the low end of the scale.

  11. “#1 on Rotten Tomatoes, which is objective…”

    Well, as objective as rankings of reviews which themselves are subjective can be.

    But it’s a real stretch to think that #1 in this case means “#1 on Rotten Tomatoes” or any other thing aside from box office.

  12. @13 I didn’t really approve of all the places they took it. I believe it was necessary for Dug and his story, and the Cone of Shame as a concept is ultimately hilarious to me (used to work in the veterinary industry) but I’m convinced the genius tank at Pixar could have found a different, better way to do it. Note that I can’t quite put my finger on how or why it crossed over into “now it’s trite, cut it out” territory, but that’s why I’m not a movie critic. :)

    Of course, I’m convinced Pixar’s best work thus far is WALL-E, which has…not that much talking at ALL, haha. My favourite’s Monsters, Inc. which may say something about how I like Pixar to handle a story, I think.

  13. Unlike Disney’s marketing people, I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but the Ice Age franchise is extremely successful in Germany largely due to the voice actors, particularly comedian Otto Waalkes as the sloth. Up did have famous voice actors as well (and curiously, a different actor dubbing the lead character in Germany and Austria), but they didn’t have the pull of Waalkes, who is very popular particularly among children and teenagers (those of us over thirty have heard most of his jokes before). Though to be fair, Waalkes is actually pretty good as a voice actor.

    Another factor is that Up wasn’t released until September or October, months after its US release, and didn’t stay in theatres long.

  14. I would concur that it doesn’t say that Up is #1 movie box office wise. It says that #1 is the animated movie. Maybe it’s critical acclaim. Maybe Ray Romano disqualifies Ice Age from the list.

    Everyone does not love Raymond.

  15. I was reading your post and saw “Ice Age:DotD,” and my brain expanded that to “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dead,” and I thought – That’s a movie I’d like to see.


  16. I’m glad you mentioned that Ice Age: DotD’s #15 position on all-time box office gross was unadjusted for inflation. I feel strongly that the all-time rank is meaningless unless it is adjusted for inflation, so I can cheerfully ignore that particular bit of data. Thanks for making it clear.

  17. I think they’re referring to it being most highly acclaimed movie of the year

    Monster’s versus aliens was funny, but often I can’t stand Dreamworks’ animation (dead eyes, animation too floaty and computer guided as opposed to keyframed) with the exception of kung fu panda which ranks as one of my favorite animated films in recent history. While I think blue sky’s films are visually on par with Pixar, They really have a lot of difficulty in regards to story telling. They are far too reliant on conventional ‘animated film’ story progress to really break any borders.

    The best non pixar film I’ve ever seen though is Surf’s Up. I hate both surfing movies and animated penguins (mostly due to their oversaturation in visual entertainment) but that movie was really really really well told.

  18. but in the global market (US, Canada and everywhere else), the actual #1 animated film of the year is Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

    I credit the addition of Simon Pegg to the cast. Srsly.

  19. Thing is, we here in upside down land (Australia) and various other dilapidated none US countries get movies at all sorts of odd times and the distributors to clever things like putting out Ice Age on a weekend when there really isn’t anything else on to take your screaming, shrieking loin fruit too.

  20. I just saw Up! (I’m also in the UK), and although I did laugh (and I find it always good to see these things at the matinees, because hearing the kids around you laugh if so joyful in itself – even if you and they don’t laugh at the same bits), my longest loudest laugh turned out to be something of a private joke. If you haven’t seen Up! this will mean nothing to you, but I have a very good friend named Kevyn. I’ve told her to get out there quick and rent the DVD. She did, but it turned out to be a pirated copy and didn’t work, so I’m still waiting for her reaction… (She lives in Nicaragua; we get all the big animated films the same time they open in the States, but as the main market is kids, they are all dubbed and the jokes culturally adjusted instead of subtitled, which rather wipes out the joke in this case.)

    Snap on the DofD. I live on the Jurassic coast in Dorset, home of world’s largest marine dino (, our local secondary school are specialists in visual arts, and we have a great annual Fossil Festival ( – this year it’s 30 April-2 May in case you are in the neighbourhood). I feel a dino-zombie cartoon special project coming on…

  21. I was just going to comment that Ice age was released all over the world (with a few exeptions) on 1st or 2nd July, however despite Up being released in may it has only just opened here in the UK see However this has been pointed out a few times upthread already, but I think it bears repeating.

    Nobody I know has seen it yet and at least 10 people have told me they intend to see it, I guess the international box office hasn’t rolled in yet. Up has also missed the summer holidays in most of Europe, which is the time when kids get to go see movies, so most parents will be thinking to leave it for the DVD next summer and won’t bother taking the children to see it now. Especially since I also know lots of parents who have pirate copies. (I’m sorry – who left a 5 month gap before releasing it here? Disney – it’s no good complaing about pirates who are plugging a gap you left for no good reason)

    How Americo-centric of Disney to delay the worldwide releases, especially when other films have seen a simultaneous release worldwide.

  22. What do you expect?
    This is from a country where only Canada is invited to our “World Series”.

  23. OT: I’ve just noticed our lord and master peering out at us from behind his comments.

    /Damn/ fine bit of design.

  24. Don’t be dissin’ Transformers. It was EXACTLY what it was advertised as: Giant Robots Beating the Shit Out of Each Other as Michael Bay Blows Stuff Up in the Background.

  25. The Pixar people are good at storytelling, but they did their weakest job yet at the end of UP. The beginning was great, but as much as I liked Dug and we quote his lines in our household, the reintroduction of Muntz didn’t work. They could have left him out – have him create the collars and not be around to fix them and that’s why they don’t always work. Have the dogs gone feral without a leader. whatever. But having him still there and then it turning into a rather generic action sequence really hurt all the mood they’d built up to that point.

    My family likes the Ice Age movies well enough, but we didn’t go to the theaters for DotD.

    Monsters V. Aliens was cute, as that’s what we’ve learned to expect from Dreamworks: cute. Not substance or thought or real emotion, just cute. Dreamworks fulfills the general cultural stereotype of what animated films are – I can’t think of one of their films that has pushed any envelope.

  26. So, if I’m reading right, Up has outgrossed Ice Age by more than two times domestically, correct?

    Then I certainly don’t consider it hyperbole that the American release trumpets itself as ‘#1’ in it’s marketing. I’m also fairly sure that Up is the best reviewed animated movie of the year, as well.

    If this packaging were used globally, perhaps that’d be something to take issue with…but I don’t really see the problem, here.

  27. Of more interest to me, though is how the promotional artwork changed.

    Look at this movie poster:

    versus the Bluray cover above. Not saying there’s anything wrong with it, but I do think the contrast is an interesting one.

  28. WizardDru:

    “So, if I’m reading right, Up has outgrossed Ice Age by more than two times domestically, correct?”

    No. IA’s at about $200 million domestically, Up is at $300 million domestically. Up is half again as successful as IA domestically, but IA is about three times as successful as UP in foreign markets.

    Also, consolidate your comments when possible, please.

  29. I don’t think the worldwide succes of Ice Age is that WTFish. It’s the kind of movie that children love, but that is careful in making it bearable for adults as well, even if the script and acting isn’t the best in the world. Up meanwhile isn’t really aimed at kids so much as at aging baby boomers so I can see why its appeal is less.

  30. I haven’t seen IA 3….I liked the first two, but I have a feeling the third will be like Shrek 3 (i.e….why?)
    I loved MvA and Up, can’t really decide which was the better movie.

  31. One thing that MvA has going for it is a female lead—something that Pixar hasn’t, for some reason, been able to manage. I think Dreamworks should get some props for that. Or Pixar deserves some jeers, whichever you prefer.

    Also, Martin @38 hits the nail on the head re: aimed at kids/tolerable for adults ratio that Ice Age and movies of its ilk (like Madagascar) manage to balance.

  32. To paraphrase a wise old man. What they said was true…from a certain point of view.

    I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Ice Age is a sequel also. In kid movies more than with non-kid ones I would think that sequels have wider appeal. Especially to discriminating parents who like the idea of knowing what they are getting.

    This is of course all speculation, I have done no box office research being that I am a lazy sack. Perhaps someone more industrious would care to prove or disprove this theory.

  33. and my brain expanded that to “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dead,” and I thought – That’s a movie I’d like to see.

    Hollywood – are you listening?

    Don @40, this is a consistent problem in the Pixar movies, and given that they do appear to have actual women working there, one wonders why they haven’t got their heads out of the Silicon Valley “Girls? You mean, non-digital girls?!” mindset. Of course after seeing the clip on Brad Bird’s original intro to The Incredibles perhaps one doesn’t wonder so much.

  34. But then, the #1 movie of 2009 in the Domestic Box Office arena is that damned Transformers sequel, so I don’t think the US and Canada can criticize overmuch, now, can we.

    Ugh. I’ve been trying to forget that particular experience. It was like being punched in the crotch and the frontal lobes at the same time.

  35. I’m inclined to read the ad copy as “#1 animated movie, in 2009, in the geographic areas where we are selling this particular DVD”

    since UP outsold Ice Age in the US/Canada and DVD coding will be different in other parts of the world – they aren’t lying – YET – is that claim on releases in the UK? Singapore?

    this is not an example in USA-centrism – they are making a claim that only applies to the target audience

    now I feel unclean – I defended an advertiser….

  36. You know what…if any marketing team is going to put a definitive general (which seems almost oxmoronical) statement like “#1 animated movie of the year” there are going to be instances where that statement could be wrong.

    It really is standard marketing practice to do this. Tide might put number 1 laundry detergent because it sells more than anyone else, but Downy could put it on because they have the best cleanability scores in the industry (I made those up). I have no problem with Pixar doing it.

  37. Tom G, I actually liked IA3 better than IA2, so don’t let fear of a ‘shreck3flop’ stand in the way of a pretty good flick (ok, not as good as the original, but pretty good).

  38. It’s just marketing, that’s all. Who’s to say there’s not a different cover (with different acclaims) for other countries? It’s a little US-centric to assume that the DVDs released here look identical to the DVDs released elsewhere.

  39. I like it that people are trying to explain to me that it’s marketing. I am aware of this; I charge companies lots of money to consult on marketing, after all. My point is that the “#1” claim on the packaging is not accurate for certain values of “#1,” including the one which most accurately and completely tracks the total amount that the animated films of 2009 have brought in from theaters.

  40. This has already been noted by others in the UK, but the release of UP! Is just keeping the trend going for Pixar films. Wall-E and Ratatouille both released in theaters here (in the UK) months after the initial US release dates. I think Ratatouille was out on DVD in the US before it was in the “cinema” as they call it here. That has to be bad for the international box office.

  41. Is there any value of #1 that is universal where the determination of #1 is subjective?

    This promotion “#1 Animated Film Of The Year!” is not a quote, so they can’t fall back on a reviewer’s word for it. Nor do they give the context so we’re left to invent the parameters for #1. Mr. Scalzi takes issue with the global box office that Up had, claiming that it could not possibly be #1, but is that what the box is saying?

    Absent context we’ll never know if they meant domestic box office, critical review, if Zeus the Cat liked it best, or if it’s an outright lie.

    It’s pretty meaningless, and meant only to manipulate the buying public, “be like the cool kids and buy this AWESOME movie.”

    Of more interest is the question, who are they trying to sway: those that saw it in a movie theater, or those that have not seen it at all? Do they try to resell a movie to those that have already purchased it in another form, or do they try to capture new viewers?


  42. Mythago and Don,

    What got me was the continuation of the ‘wicked stepmom/uncaring divorced dad’ theme. Why is the kid doing Scouting? To get his dad’s attention as the new wife ‘doesn’t want him around.’ Is the dad there at the end, to see the kid get his award? I don’t think so.

  43. Also, Martin @38 hits the nail on the head re: aimed at kids/tolerable for adults ratio that Ice Age and movies of its ilk (like Madagascar) manage to balance.

    I clearly am not in someone’s focus group since I find the IA movies intolerable and was pretty Meh on MvA. Up, however, rocked my world. I’m a little annoyed that the academy rewrote the rules so animated features couldn’t compete for best picture, because Up is far better than most of the live action movies i saw this year.

    speaking of which, any ideas how they’re going to round out the Best Picture category this year? My wife and a friend of ours were trying to make a shortlist off the top of our heads and couldn’t come up with more than three or four (and that was even stretching it a bit). Now that the category has been made double-wide, I have no idea what’s going to fill ten slots.

  44. Keith:

    “I’m a little annoyed that the academy rewrote the rules so animated features couldn’t compete for best picture”

    Well, there’s no bar to them being nominated in the category. It’s just that having the animation Oscar makes it substantially less likely they’ll get nominated for the big one.

    Also, agreed: Bad year to be expanding to ten slots.

  45. I still think Coraline was best animated film of 2009. Maybe not commercially or critically but in terms of artistic achievement, storyteling and pure awesome it was the best. UP was certainly a wonderful movie in its own right though, especially the first 10 minutes.

  46. Mythago: I’m not sure, but I heard that Pixar’s next feature after “Toy Story 3” (“The Bear and the Bow”, I think) will have a woman as the protagonist.

    Jasonmitchell: Well said – you actually brought up the same point I wanted to post here. The writing on the package shouldn’t be seen as aimed at anyone living outside America, because according to the disc’s zone-encoding* it’s aimed at American audience alone, and all of us non-Americans aren’t even supposed to see it! To answer your question, however, I’m afraid this won’t stop distributors in other places from proudly declaring “#1 in America” on their boxes. They did it several times in Israel, on boxes and posters of films, some of them weren’t even close to the top spot in America or anywhere else.
    However, I think this calls for another discussion: why should the “#1 Animated Film” or “#1 in America” even be on the package? Is it really supposed to convince someone – Americans included – to buy the disc? Is some kind of a psychological shame-mechanism, in the “everyone in America already saw it – don’t get left behind!” style? In that case, IA3 is really in a better position here – everyone in the WORLD saw it, so you really don’t want to get left behind on this one (and while we’re on it, that whole global warming thing couldn’t be that bad – after all, everyone in the world is responsible, and they can’t all be so stupid, right?).
    Seriously, I think that to put such statement on the package as the only kind of promotional text is dumb, even if it’s true. Wouldn’t a critic’s quote be better? No, critics aren’t always right, but at least they (well, most of them) usually explain their positions and give you reasons to see the film. Would have worked much better for me. Even if it’s a critic I disagree with, and I end up not buying the disc, it would have worked better for the studio too – because they’d earn one less unhappy customer.
    That whole “#1 in wherever” attitude pisses me off, especially when it comes to animated films, annoys me, because it has its effects where it shouldn’t. Check out the “Best Animated Feature” category in the Academy Awards, discussed in other posts here. This one should have been named “Best Animated Blockbuster” feature. If the other categories were behaving the same way, we’d really have “Transformers 2” nominated for best film of the year. It’s not that Pixar and Dreamworks/Blu-Sky films aren’t any good (they are): it’s just that they don’t need the kind of support that winning the Academy Awards give (people will go to see them anyway), and they don’t fit – with a few exceptions** – to the kind of films that the Award tries to promote. Giving “Spirited Away” the Award in 2003 was the closest thing to a brave decision the voters made in the almost-decade of the category’s existence, and films like “The Triplets of Belleville” and “Persepolis” were just lucky to get nominated. Other wonderful films like “Waltz with Bashir” or “Millennium Actress” (one of the best animated films of the past decade, IMO), didn’t get nominated.
    Look at the films submitted for nomination this year – there’s a wonderful Irish masterpiece there called “The Secret of Kells”. It will never be “#1 Animated Film”, in America or anywhere else, but it deserves a much-much wider recognition than it got. My guess: it will never get even close to being nominated.

    * I’m not saying that disc zone-encoding isn’t one of the stupidest ideas in the history of mankind. It is, but that’s besides the point.

    ** I would agree that the first half of Wall*E was very close to the “Art Film” definition.

  47. jess @54:

    I’m sure Coroline will win some technical awards, maybe even an adapted screenplay (though it will have to compete for that with Where the Wild Things Are).

%d bloggers like this: