Last week I joined other guests at Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) EPCOT in Florida as we experienced a 10-minute clip of Pixar's Inside Out. The preview itself is an easy draw. Florida can get hot and rainy this time of year, and the chance to escape the elements in the air-conditioned theater that used to host Michael Jackson's Captain EO doesn't take a lot of arm twisting.
EPCOT runs the preview continuously through the operating day. It also takes advantage of some of the theater's effects -- rumbling seats and specialized lighting -- to enhance the clip. In other words, it's as entertaining as a promotional piece is going to get.
I had my doubts about Inside Out going into the preview. The plot centers around the five primary emotional traits of an 11-year-old girl. The clip details a problematic first day at a new school and a confrontation with her parents at the dinner table later that night.
It was certainly entertaining at first, but then there's that "this is going to work" moment when the parents start to bicker. We then discover the five older emotional traits that govern the mother and father. Suddenly you realize that this isn't just about the emotional struggles of a pre-teen girl at a very delicate stage in her life. This is about an entire family, making it far more relatable to the audience in general.
The 10-minute segment is witty and hilarious, and any fear that this could be Pixar's first flop starts to evaporate by the time the fired-up audience exits the preview. This may not light up the box office right away, but it's easy to see how positive word of mouth could make this a sleeper hit that lasts at the multiplex deep into the meaty summer season.
If you build it, they will come
It's a brilliant Disney strategy. There's no way to tell how many people have experienced this extended preview, though EPCOT did entertain more than 11.4 million guests last year according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. It routinely uses its gargantuan theme park and Disney Channel audiences to promote its theatrical properties, and this seems like a great way to spin a vacant attraction into marketing gold.
To be fair, Disney's first foray with this experiment didn't exactly pan out. The Captain EO theater hosted a longer clip of Tomorrowland ahead of last month's theatrical debut. The movie has been a dud for exhibitors, generating just $77 million in domestic ticket sales through its first three weeks. Then again, that's a harder movie to get across to audiences with a mere clip.
Armed with the billion dollar acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, Disney should always have a few potential blockbusters in the pipeline. During the latter half of this year alone we'll be seeing all three chime in again with Ant-Man, The Good Dinosaur, and, of course, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. It would be a shock if most if not all of those releases get a similar preview at EPCOT. Disney knows what it's doing. It's the one governing the primary emotions of its park guests.