When is a pigeon a turkey? When it's Valiant, Disney's (NYSE:DIS) latest box-office bomb in theatrical animation. The movie generated a measly $6.7 million in ticket sales over the weekend. Opening in seventh place, the computer-rendered flick wasn't even the most popular draw in the genre of bird-related films. March of the Penguins had a more generous box-office showing even though the nature documentary has already been screening at the local multiplex for two months.

Last week, I took Disney to task for trying to trick moviegoers into seeing the Valiant. Disney partnered with upstart Vanguard Animation to distribute the film, but buried its own name in the trailer. Instead, it chose to emphasize that Vanguard chieftain John Williams was also the producer of Shrek and Shrek 2. I figured that Disney was trying to cash in on the connection to lure in unsuspecting patrons, but perhaps it was simply trying to avoid the blame.

If you've seen John Cusack's Say Anything, this is the part where Disney stands in front of Pixar's (NASDAQ:PIXR) house, holding up a boombox blaring vintage Peter Gabriel. That's because Disney is going to miss Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation Pixar after the two hook up one last time for Cars come May.

One can hope that it won't be the last time that Disney distributes Pixar's proven properties. The six theatrical releases put out by Steve Jobs' studio have averaged $243 million in domestic ticket sales. Tack on the overseas showings, merchandising revenue, and lucrative retail DVD sales and the difference between blockbuster and dud grows even wider.

Disney has threatened to make sequels based on Pixar's past flicks even if Pixar passes on the projects. Disney may have the contractual right to do that, but can you imagine anyone but Pixar laying pixilated ink to Toy Story 3? That's why it's great to see Disney and Pixar confirm that they are still in negotiations.

Disney had turned to Vanguard in the hope of igniting another promising mentorship like its successful pact with Pixar. With Valiant off to a wingless start, Disney now knows that it won't be easy to replace its old pal. Sure, Disney will try to go it alone. It has put plenty of marketing muscle behind its in-house computerized cartoon Chicken Little. The doomsayer chicken is even on the cover of Disney's latest annual report.

Chicken Little should fare considerably better than Valiant. For Disney's sake, it better hope so. Disney is starting to miss way too often in its bread-and-butter family entertainment market. This observation isn't just limited to drawn pictures. Live-action, kid-friendly films like Sky High, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl, and Herbie: Fully Loaded all fared poorly this summer.

Maintaining a brand's luster isn't easy. That's why Disney has to be very careful to protect its lineage. Things can get ugly in a hurry if Disney doesn't come back strong here. Like its release slate for 2005, Disney could be for the birds.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves the art of animated filmmaking, and he owns shares of Pixar and Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.