Universal banks on 'Migration' to expand its animation lead over Disney (2024)

In this article

  • DIS

Universal and Illuminations latest animated film centers on a family of ducks who decides to leave the safety of a New England pond for an adventurous trip to Jamaica. However, their well-laid plans quickly go awry when they get lost and wind up in New York City.


Disney dropped the animation crown. Universal has picked it up.

And, with "Migration" opening Friday, the studio is looking to strengthen its grip.

"Migration," a comic tale about a family of New England ducks that leave their pond for Jamaica, but end up in New York City, is expected to tally $25 million during its domestic debut. Universal has more conservative expectations, forecasting between $10 million and $15 million in ticket sales for the film's opening.

While that pales in comparison to the $100 million-plus debuts of Illumination/Universal's "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" and the latest "Minions" film, it's comparable to the studio and DreamWorks Animation's "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish," which ran in theaters for several months, securing nearly $500 million globally.

"'Migration,' with solid word-of-mouth and strong reviews, will have to be judged more on its long-term results than the opening weekend splash," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

Disney's most recent animated film "Wish" failed to connect with audiences. After generating $31.6 million domestically over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday, the film has grossed a total of $55.2 million in the U.S. and Canada. Globally, the film has reached $127.1 million. The film had a budget of $200 million, not including marketing costs.

For comparison, "Trolls Band Together," which was released the week before Thanksgiving, secured $30 million for its three-day debut and nearly $180 million worldwide. The film had a budget of $95 million, not including marketing costs.

Representatives from Disney did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

How Disney lost the crown

Ariana DeBose stars as Asha in Disney's new animated film "Wish."


Disney established its animated feature empire in the early 20th century with 1937's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and continued to dominate, more or less, into the 1980s and 1990s with "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast."

Later, it acquired Pixar, which together with Walt Disney Animation, generated billions in box-office receipts for the company.

"The world of feature animation has been dominated for decades by Disney and for good reason," said Dergarabedian. "They set the gold standard."

Then came the Covid pandemic. While theaters closed, Disney sought to pad its fledgling streaming service Disney+ with content, stretching its creative teams thin, and sending theatrical movies during the pandemicstraight to digital.

The decision trained parents to seek out new Disney titles on streaming, not theaters, even when Disney opted to return its films to the big screen. Compounding Disney's woes was a general sense from audiences that the company's content had grown overly existential and too concerned with social issues beyond the reach of children.

As a result, no Disney animated feature from Pixar or Walt Disney Animation has generated more than $480 million at the global box office since 2019.

"I think what's changed is that Disney doesn't get the benefit of the doubt," said Josh Brown, CEO at Ritholtz Wealth Management and a CNBC contributor. "And people will not go to a movie just because it's the latest Disney movie in the way that previous generations did."

Universal appeal

Meanwhile, Universal's two animation arms — Illumination and DreamWorks — have thrived.

Illumination's "Minions: The Rise of Gru," which opened in 2022, tallied $942 million worldwide, DreamWorks' "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" capped at $485 million after its holiday 2022 opening, and Illumination's "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" soared to more than $1.3 billion in 2023.

Even the Magic Kingdom was impressed with the box office of "Super Mario." Disney CEO Bob Iger praised the rival studio back in May during the company's fiscal second-quarter earnings call.

But as moviegoers have returned to cinemas in the wake of the pandemic, more are gravitating toward Universal's fare.

"Simply put, Illumination Animation's only agenda is entertainment," said Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. "Their animated films are sweet and simple and family audiences appreciate that. Disney sometimes attempts to pack too much into their animated features, and lately have been losing sight of the simplicity of the genre."

Not to mention, Universal has been revisiting tried and true fan-favorite stories and characters. In fact, Illumination hasn't released a nonfranchise film since 2016, and only three of the last 10 DreamWorks features have been original stories.

For comparison, of the last eight films released by a Disney animation studio, seven have been original films with just 2022's "Lightyear," a "Toy Story" spinoff, tied to an existing franchise. Previously, Disney has thrived bringing new animated material to audiences, but in the post-pandemic world, it has struggled.

It is the exact opposite strategy of Disney's live-action theatrical releases, which have relied heavily on established franchises. Think "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny," "The Little Mermaid," Marvel franchise films and "Haunted Mansion."

Iger has said that Disney will continue to make sequels, without apology, but admitted that the company needs to be more selective in which franchises it revisits.

"I think there has to be a reason to make them, you have to have a good story," Iger said during The New York Times' DealBook Summit in late November.

"Minions: The Rise of Gru" is the sequel to the 2015 film, "Minions," and spin-off/prequel to the main "Despicable Me" film series.


In animation, returning to popular characters and worlds is an easy way to capture the attention of parents and kids.

"Because they have seen these characters and related stories before, they have high confidence that they will be high quality, entertaining and 'brand safe' for their kids," said Peter Csathy, founder and chair of advisory firm Creative Media. "And they may even anticipate franchise animated films as much as their kids."

In developing consistent franchise content like Minions and Trolls, Universal is now able to introduce a new film like "Migration" with a sense of clout. Parents who see that the film is from the same studio that brought other fan favorites to the big screen are then more likely to come out to see it.

It's what Pixar was able to do so well for nearly three decades.

"With 'Minions,' 'Secret Life of Pets' and 'Sing,' I think Illumination is a brand people are aware of by now," said Bock. "And that awareness will boost 'Migration's' flight pattern, likely extending its box-office run. That's key. The long play."

So far, "Migration" has generally favorable reviews from critics. If audiences respond well, and spread the word, the film could see a solid run, adding to the prestige of Universal's animation brand.

"The kids animation market opportunity will never grow old, so those playing at the top of the game – as is Illumination – hold the promise and possibility of becoming the next go-to brand for quality animation after Pixar," said Csathy.

Next year, Disney and Pixar are set to release "Inside Out 2" in June, while Universal and Illumination's "Despicable Me 4" is scheduled to hit theaters weeks later in July.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Universal Pictures and CNBC.

As someone deeply familiar with the entertainment industry, particularly film and animation, I can confidently provide insights and expertise on the various concepts and elements touched upon in the article you've shared.

First, let's break down the core concepts mentioned:

  1. Film Synopsis and Box Office Predictions: "Migration" is an animated film produced by Universal about a family of ducks that accidentally end up in New York City instead of Jamaica. The film's box office expectations are significant, and there's an emphasis on how Universal is looking to strengthen its position in the animation space.

  2. Disney's Declining Performance: Disney, historically known for its domination in animated features since classics like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," has faced challenges recently. The pandemic led Disney to prioritize its streaming platform, Disney+, affecting its theatrical releases and audience perception.

  3. Box Office Comparisons: The article presents box office figures and comparisons between various animated films, highlighting the performance of both Disney and Universal films over specific periods.

  4. Strategies and Decisions: Disney's strategy, especially in the post-pandemic era, contrasts with that of Universal. While Disney has been leaning more towards original content, Universal's Illumination and DreamWorks have focused on franchise films and familiar characters.

  5. Franchise vs. Original Content: There's a distinction made between the strategies of Disney and Universal. Disney has a history of pioneering original content but has faced challenges in recent times. In contrast, Universal has seen success by revisiting and expanding upon established franchises like "Minions" and "Trolls."

  6. Audience Perception and Branding: The article underscores how Universal's consistent output and branding have resonated with audiences. Familiarity with characters like the Minions has allowed Universal to leverage brand loyalty and anticipation for their releases.

  7. Future Releases and Industry Dynamics: The article touches on upcoming releases from both Disney and Universal, indicating the competitive landscape and what lies ahead for these studios.

Drawing upon this information and my comprehensive understanding of the entertainment sector, the industry's ebbs and flows, and the intricacies of film production, distribution, and audience reception, I can provide further insights or address specific queries related to the content you've shared.

Universal banks on 'Migration' to expand its animation lead over Disney (2024)


Universal banks on 'Migration' to expand its animation lead over Disney? ›

Universal banks on 'Migration' to expand its animation lead over Disney. Disney's animation studios have struggled to generate box-office returns in the wake of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Universal's Illumination

Illumination, formerly known as Illumination Entertainment, is an American animation studio founded by Chris Meledandri in 2007 and is a division of Universal Pictures, a division of Comcast through its wholly owned subsidiary NBCUniversal; Meledandri produces the films, while Universal finances and distributes them.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Illumination_(company)
and DreamWorks studios continue to deliver.

Did Disney make the movie Migration? ›

Migration is a 2023 American animated adventure comedy film produced by Universal Pictures and Illumination, and distributed by Universal. The film was directed by Benjamin Renner, co-directed by Guylo Homsy, and produced by Chris Meledandri, from a screenplay written by Mike White and a story by White and Renner.

Why did Disney change its animation? ›

Disney representatives have stated in the past that they originally made the switch to 3D animation because of lower labor costs, since it requires less work by animators. Since 2D is a stream of drawings, it takes much longer to animate every small movement the characters make.

Is Disney making more animated movies? ›

Several Disney animated sequels are currently in the works, with some of the company's biggest franchises returning for another theatrical outing. Inside Out 2 and Moana 2 are set to release in 2024, Zootopia is set to release in 2025, and Frozen 3 and Toy Story 5 are set to release in 2026.

Will Migration be on Disney plus? ›

However, Hulu offers a variety of other exciting options like Afro Samurai Resurrection or Ninja Scroll to keep you entertained. Disney+: Migration is not currently available for streaming on Disney+.

What animated movie saved Disney? ›

This was during The Dark Age of Disney from 1970-1988. This is why The Little Mermaid is known as “The Movie That Saved Disney” because it began the best decade in the history of the Walt Disney company known as The Renaissance Era from 1989-1999.

Why did Disney switch to CGI? ›

There are a few reasons why Disney shifted from hand-drawn animation to computer animation. Cost: Hand-drawn animation is a very time-consuming and labor-intensive process. This can make it very expensive to produce, especially for feature-length films.

Why doesn t Disney do 2D animation anymore? ›

2D animation takes a lot of labor, each frame is handmade by a team of real people. This is a very labor intensive job, with sometimes low pay due to all the companies' money going towards the film instead of the workers. Disney made the decision to completely switch to 3D animation because it lowered labor costs.

When did Disney change its animation? ›

1990–1991: The Rescuers Down Under and Beauty and the Beast

However, it was notable for being the first film to be completely produced using Disney's new Computer Animation Production System (CAPS). The rest of the traditionally-animated films during this period would be produced using CAPS.

What was animation like before Disney? ›

Hand-drawn animation, mostly animation painted on cels, was the dominant technique throughout most of the 20th century and became known as traditional animation.

What is the #1 animated Disney movie? ›

1. Pinocchio (1940) Our band of film critics named Pinocchio the best animated film of all time, but you don't need to be a historian to see why the tale of the little wooden boy seeking to become real is the high water mark for Disney.

When was Disney's last fully animated movie? ›

2011's Winnie the Pooh was the last 2D animated feature film released by Walt Disney Animation Studios, serving as a fitting bookend to the studio's iconic tradition. The film embraces a more modest beauty, rejecting grandiosity and focusing on friendship and love in their purest forms.

Why is Disney animation so expensive? ›

But these films are still extremely expensive endeavors. It needs to be understood that animation requires hours upon hours of time just to construct a single frame while shooting for live-action projects takes less than half of that time. Sometimes, the end result of hours of animation work is not worth it.

Is Peaco*ck a Migration? ›

If you somehow missed it in theaters, you can also watch it at home, or on Peaco*ck. Here are some of our favorite moments from Migration. Want to see more?

Will Migration movie be on Netflix? ›

Netflix US will receive the new movie from the creators of Despicable Me and Super Mario Bros in 2024.

Does Disney Plus have the same shows in every country? ›

Does content differ across countries/regions? While much of our content will be available everywhere, there may be slight differences based on your country/region or where you're streaming Disney+. Certain titles may be unavailable for streaming in selected countries/regions.

Who made the movie Migration? ›

Migration is a 2023 American computer-animated adventure comedy film produced by Universal Pictures and Illumination, directed by Benjamin Renner from a screenplay written by Mike White and produced by Chris Meledandri.

Who produced Migration movie? ›

Why did Disney make a Colombian movie? ›

In fact, thefilmmakers have shared that one of the reasons Encanto was set in Colombia is because of Colombia's racial and ethnic diversity, and, in particular, because the filmmakers felt Colombians embraced that diversity.

How did the movie Migration do at the box office? ›

Universal's Migration has seen sustained success at the box office, grossing $276 million worldwide. Animated films aimed at younger audiences, like Migration, tend to have strong box office performance. Despite being in theaters for over two months, Migration has remained in the Top 5, showcasing its endurance.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rev. Leonie Wyman

Last Updated:

Views: 6263

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (79 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rev. Leonie Wyman

Birthday: 1993-07-01

Address: Suite 763 6272 Lang Bypass, New Xochitlport, VT 72704-3308

Phone: +22014484519944

Job: Banking Officer

Hobby: Sailing, Gaming, Basketball, Calligraphy, Mycology, Astronomy, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Rev. Leonie Wyman, I am a colorful, tasty, splendid, fair, witty, gorgeous, splendid person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.