In new release news that isn’t Creed II, Walt Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet earned a near-record $84.5 million in its first five days of domestic release. That’s right in between Moana ($82m in 2016) and Frozen ($93m in 2013) among the top three Thanksgiving launches of all time, sans inflation of course. Actually, the $56m Fri-Sun launch for Wreck-It Ralph 2 is still right in between Tangled ($48m in 2000/$55m adjusted) and Moana ($56.6m in 2016/$58m adjusted). Point being, the John C. Reilly/Sarah Silverman/Gal Gadot sequel played exactly like a Disney Thanksgiving toon. It was a bit frontloaded (4.56 x its $18.5m Wednesday), but that’s only an issue if it craters after the holiday.
So, yes, folks did want a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph even six years later, as the “Ralph and Venelope go into the Internet” plot provided ample opportunities for… corporate synergy. Yes, that Disney Princess scene was a huge marketing win, and as long as audiences like the rest the movie it won’t matter that 90% of the sequence was revealed in the trailers. Yes, the movie is thus far more frontloaded than the prior Disney toons, but it is a sequel. Unless something changes, the only long-term question will be whether it ends up closer to Tangled ($200 million in 2010) and Coco ($206m in 2017) or Toy Story 2 ($242m way back in 1999) and Moana ($248m in 2016).
Inflation notwithstanding (Toy Story 2’s gross would be around $437 million), there does seem to be a ceiling for Thanksgiving weekend Disney toons. We can partially blame Walt Disney’s habit of also dating year-end biggies in Christmas on top of the November toon. Tangled had to deal with Tron: Legacy, Moana had to deal with Rogue One and Coco had to thrive alongside The Last Jedi. That partially explains why Frozen legged it to $400m in 2013. The rest of the Christmas biggies were either intended for adults (Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks, Fox’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) or were too violent for young kids (Warner Bros.’ The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug).
For youngsters, Frozen was the only game in town from Thanksgiving to The LEGO Movie. We’ll see if Mary Poppins Returns will affect Ralph Wrecks the Internet’s fortunes accordingly. The buzz has been strong, and the Emily Blunt musical fantasy will stand out in a crowded Christmas (Once Upon a Deadpool, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Mortal Engines, Aquaman, Bumblebee) by not being an action movie. I don’t think anyone is expecting Mary Poppins Returns to flirt with Rogue One numbers (Hobbit sequel numbers would qualify as a big win), so there may be some money on the table and an opportunity to pass $250 million domestic. But that presumes that Ralph 2’s frontloading wasn’t a sign of things to come.
If Wreck-It Ralph 2 stays within the Disney “comfort zone,” it may signal that they don’t need to make sequels in order to make big bucks and/or that sequels won’t necessarily earn more than animated originals. That’s not necessarily a criticism, as it’s not like they have a bunch of animated sequels on tap after Frozen 2. Moreover, as much as we like to complain about those “live-action” Disney remakes, the success of that sub-genre guarantees that Disney will make more original (or non-sequel) Disney Animation movies. You can’t remake what doesn’t exist in the Disney Vault, and I don’t think folks are clamoring for a live-action redo of Return of Jafar or Home on the Range.