Yesterday, Anime News Network reported that Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty opened to exceptionally strong numbers. The film saw revenues of $6.4 million, to take the #9 spot in the box office chart. Considering that the film opened on 1,522 screens, this amounts to an average of $4,204.99 taken per theater. In terms of office receipt totals, this is a vast improvement over Ponyo, which earned 3.58 million over 927 screens ($3,868 per theater).

It was previously reported that Disney would cast a wider net in its attempt at marketing the film. Rather than stick to the anime crowd and the youngest set, the company tried to snare fans of the original book. To do so, Disney mounted a campaign that would use the fullest extent of their marketing muscle. They ensured a 64% increase in theater penetration, and a level of advertisement usually reserved for the company’s flagship films.

And, like their flagship films, Disney pitched the movie not as anime, but as an animated film in general. The company avoided making to many references to Studio Ghibli, the production crew, or Japanese content in general. They instead produced three TV spots, which aired at different times on a number of networks:

  • A basic 30-second teaser spot
  • A dub cast walkthrough (below)
  • A shortened version of the original trailer

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Through added exposure, and less of an attachment to the Japanese origins of the film, Arrietty touched upon an audience that normally would have avoided Ghibli’s films like the plague. After all, the foreign elements (and therefore the alien stigma that comes from them) were removed, leading people to effectively see the title as a Disney title. This is a double-edged sword, as many that attend Disney films are expecting a certain experience. Usually this consists of a bombastic affair with catchy musical numbers and a (generally) light-hearted atmosphere that will get audiences rushing to buy the soundtrack ,and the toys, and the Blu-Rays, and whatever other plastic crap the company releases. Studio Ghibli’s films don’t usually cater to this audience, with a lighter hand in the writing and less merchandisable casts of characters. So, while the reputation may draw people into the theater, it’s difficult to say whether these audiences will return for the next Ghibli film that rolls through the theater, or even buy the physical release.

In addition, it’s difficult to say just how much Disney spent on marketing and producing the film. Total costs may reduce the film’sĀ overallĀ profit margin, once costs of advertising, dubbing, and distribution are factored in. Union actors, and the gaggle of TV spots don’t come cheaply. However, on the other hand, the animation and basic script were already written, so this was essentially a finished piece on delivery to Disney. It will be interesting to see just how strongly the film performs financially once it ends its theatrical run.

There are many unknowns that have yet to be considered, it is heartening to see Arrietty open in the top ten. Disney’s decision to pitch to a bluer ocean paid off in spades, as new non-customers are being converted to customers. The rest of the film’s run will be worth looking into, to see if viewers continue to gravitate toward the film or if it was simply a flash in the pan that will be gone before long.