Some say it’s 2012 because of “Marvel’s The Avengers”. Others think it’s 2015 because of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, among other titles. But if you truly want to break down the most fascinating and pivotal year for Walt Disney Pictures, you have to go back to 2003.
Disney had 10 theatrical releases in 2003, totaling $1.1 billion at the U.S. box office. All of them have interesting stories and strategies. Some paid off, others didn’t.
“THE JUNGLE BOOK 2”
In 2002, Disney released “Peter Pan” sequel “Return to Never Land” from their DisneyToon Studios division, to moderate success. So why not another adventure with Mowgli and Baloo? “The Jungle Book 2”, a follow-up to the 1967 classic, featured John Goodman as the voice of the big bear. Goodman also happened to voice the iconic Frosty the Snowman in the TV special sequel “Frosty Returns” that debuted two and a half decades after the original.
Box Office: $47.9 million
“PIGLET’S BIG MOVIE”
2000’s “The Tigger Movie”, also from DisneyToon, proved to be enough of a critical and audience hit that more big screen “Pooh” gang adventures would soon follow. “Piglet” opened about a month after “JB2”. “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie” screened in cinemas in 2005. And then in 2011, Walt Disney Animation Studios brought back the Pooh crew under their name with the simply titled “Winnie the Pooh”.
Box Office: $23.1 million
Films based on popular YA books and book series grew in popularity thanks to “Harry Potter”, “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games”. But Holes, a middle school staple, received enough positive attention and helped bring young “Even Stevens” actor Shia LaBeouf into eventual movie star status.
Box Office: $67.4 million
“THE LIZZIE MCGUIRE MOVIE”
Disney Channel’s most popular live-action series got the feature film treatment with Hilary Duff and her animated alter ego in Rome. A $17 million opening weekend (opposite the second “X-Men” installment) impressed the industry. “Lizzie” is one of the only Disney Channel series to receive a theatrical film (“Hannah Montana: The Movie” is another prominent one from 2009). And Disney chose to release the “Lizzie” movie while the series was still in its 65-episode run (which didn’t wrap-up until Feb. 2004).
Box Office: $42.7 million
Just a few weeks after “Lizzie”, Disney released their first Pixar animated feature since “Monsters, Inc.” in November 2001. “Nemo”’s opening sequence stunned audiences (and may have made yours truly cry). It was the first time Pixar made that kind of an impact statement in one of their movies, and it remains one of their most memorable. “Nemo” also benefited from the popularity of Ellen DeGeneres as the bubbly Dory. Its summertime run (also a first for Pixar) was as good as it gets, with “Nemo” becoming the 2nd biggest movie of the year.
Box Office: $339.7 million
“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”
In ’02, Disney turned one of their theme park attractions into a film with “The Country Bears”. But the stakes were raised significantly with director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Johnny Depp in this first “Pirates” installment. It was a swashbuckling success, launching a five-film franchise (the next two were shot back to back). It re-invigorated the idea that a summer blockbuster didn’t have to star a superhero. And Depp’s first go-around as Captain Jack Sparrow even earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination and a SAG Awards Best Actor WIN.
Box Office: $305.4 million
Lindsay Lohan was at the height of her popularity. A whole new generation was introduced to Jamie Lee Curtis. This switching bodies comedy ushered in the idea of remakes, reboots and re-treads that Disney has so famously invested in.
Box Office: $110.2 million
Joining “Nemo” on the Oscar ballot was this dramedy from Walt Disney Animation Studios with great Phil Collins music. Joaquin Phoenix leant his voice to Kenai in, what I believe, is one of the most underrated Disney animated features. The studio knew they had to release it over the holidays, so they decided to open it on Saturday November 1st, because releasing “BB” on Friday October 31st (Halloween) wasn’t going to bring-in any families. 17 years later, this is still a rarity.
Box Office: $85.3 million
“THE HAUNTED MANSION”
The second theme park attraction turned movie of ’03 might’ve been better suited for a Halloween open. But Disney decided on Thanksgiving for the spooky Eddie Murphy action comedy. The result: mostly negative reviews and an underwhelming theatrical performance.
Box Office: $75.9 million
“THE YOUNG BLACK STALLION”
Before IMAX became a go-to for big movie releases, it was much more experimental: solely focusing on nature docs and occasional trials with Disney (like the “Beauty and the Beast” re-release). Enter “TYBS” – a drama that was just released in IMAX theaters over Christmas 2003.
Box Office: $6.8 million.