Theater owners weren't the only ones keeping their fingers crossed that "Ratatouille" would continue Pixar's hot streak.
Game publisher THQ distributed games for nine platforms last week based on the Disney-Pixar animated film. Retailers are hoping the movie's gourmet-cooking rat will be yet another in a line of recent huge family movies that have proved to be strong licenses on game shelves as well.
"Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" all ended up scoring at the boxoffice and hitting the top 10 on the gaming charts.
"Spider-Man" sold 975,300 units in April and May across six platforms for $46.9 million in revenue, according to NPD Group, while "Shrek," also from Activision, sold 179,400 units in May across five platforms, generating $6.4 million. Sales figures for "Pirates" are not yet available from NPD, but the title is believed to be selling briskly.
Robert Aniello, senior vp worldwide marketing at THQ, said "Ratatouille" has a good chance of achieving a similar feat. "We had the No. 1-selling family game of 2006 across a number of platforms with 'Cars' from the Pixar movie," he said. "We're planning on repeating that with 'Ratatouille.' "
The success of these licensed family games -- especially on such new platforms as the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii -- is a bit of a surprise given that conventional industry wisdom has always held that the early portion of any console life cycle should be more about the hardcore gamer than about younger players.
But IDC analyst Billy Pidgeon noted that the success of Nintendo's Wii has shown that the mass market family audience is there for the taking regardless of the timing or the platform. "The one thing Nintendo did properly was appeal to the mass market without compromising their hardcore base, and now Microsoft and Sony are trying to work that into their strategy," he said.
Of course, not every family-themed license has done well in the gaming arena this year, with retail sources noting that Disney's "Meet the Robinsons" by Disney Interactive and Ubisoft's licensed "Surf's Up" titles either were oversold into the sales channel or just had trouble attracting an audience.
Although the "Pirates," "Shrek" and "Spider-Man" trilogy did well as licenses early on, Aniello said: "There may be a certain burnout factor for product licensed from all these sequels. That's why Pixar deserves credit for committing to something original with 'Ratatouille' that's going to lead to an original game experience as well."
Added Keith Boesky, who founded the video games department at ICM before forming Boesky & Co., which represents game developers and intellectual property: "THQ has been Pixar's partner for a while, and they do a great job on the games. There's no reason why this shouldn't continue because I'd bet on Pixar."
"Ratatouille" will probably leave most multiplexes by summer's end, but THQ is optimistic the game will have strong legs through year's end. Aniello said the only game platform not being supported at the film's theatrical launch will be the PS3, but he noted: "We are going to be releasing 'Ratatouille' for the PS3 to coincide with the DVD release of the movie. Letting the PlayStation 3 installed base build was part of that decision, but we also think releasing it then makes it a giftable item under the Christmas tree."