When people have asked me over the last year what was my most highly anticipated movie of 2022, I would answer immediately, like a reflex: The Bob’s Burgers Movie.
Over the span of the last decade, the Belchers made their mark in adult animation, surviving the great Fox purge that happens to every adult animated sitcom on an almost yearly basis. They’ve earned their status as one of the most iconic families in animation history. Their laid-back and delightfully charming energy was irresistible and even uplifting, like cartoon therapy.
When it was announced the Belchers were heading to the big screen, I was ecstatic.
It’s been a long time since television shows making the theatrical jump was a major craze. It’s like getting a promotion to the big leagues and showing off what you got on a cinematic scale. The Belcher family became a serotonin-booster for me during quarantine when things seemed at their bleakest. Bingeing the show made me even more eager to see them get that big theatrical treatment.
The prospect of Belchers on the silver screen itself was nostalgic. The Bob’s Burgers Movie is the first traditionally hand-drawn 2D studio animated movie in over a decade. Watching it in theaters felt magical. An audience full of fans coming together to watch one of their favorite shows in the sacred communal setting, laughing at the Belchers’ signature style of humor and reacting to the deep-cut references—it brought a homely warm feeling.
The movie retained the show’s fun and laid-back energy. It nailed the effortless charm and boasted some of the most beautiful animation I’ve seen in a long time. It stands out as one of the best animated series-to-film productions alongside Beavis and Butthead Do America and The Simpsons Movie. Then why isn’t it racking up the big bucks to other features such as those mentioned?
So many people love this TV series. The movie is so good. Just so funny and rewarding, especially for fans. So why in the world isn’t everybody seeing it?
One person to blame might be Mickey Mouse, as it’s Disney that technically owns Bob’s Burgers.
When The Walt Disney Company acquired 21st Century Fox back in 2019, everyone was unsure of what the future held for its subsidiaries. The title “Fox” was discarded, for they’ve rebranded as 20th Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures. Meanwhile, film projects that were in various stages of production ended up becoming contestants on The Weakest Link. Multiple movies were canceled, sold to other studios, and given multiple delays long before COVID-19 began making waves.
It’s hard not to think about this upheaval now that my beloved The Bob’s Burgers Movie, originally a 21st Century Fox production, has come out, and not nearly enough people are talking about it.
During its first weekend of release over the Memorial Day holiday, it earned $15 million—which was, thankfully, above projections, but not what it deserved. In its second week, it’s upped that total to $22 million. Again, hardly a disaster. But it is disheartening considering that the series’ rabid fanbase could have turned this into a major event. I can’t help but wonder if it has to do with that Disney acquisition and this movie perhaps getting the short shift in marketing.
To me, at least, it seemed like Disney’s approach to marketing was the equivalent of a teenager being asked to do his chores for financial compensation and saying, “Nah, I don’t feel like it.” It’s disappointing to see a franchise as popular and beloved as Bob’s Burgers get the shaft treatment for the show’s leap to the big screen. Then I realized that this applies to most of the 20th Century titles Disney has pushed under the rug for the last year.
Before Disney acquired Fox and Hulu, movies at the studio that were in production had several binding contract deals, one of which was a full guarantee that these movies will be released theatrically. In an interview with Collider, director Josh Boone (The New Mutants) revealed that, “With most movies, you sign contracts that guarantee a theatrical release, so it needs to open to ever go digital in the first place.”
Projects such as The New Mutants, The Bob’s Burgers Movie, and West Side Story were already deep into production while the acquisition was finalizing. It can only be expected that when the studio was a theatrical-only distributor, the filmmakers signed contracts that their movies were going to be released theatrically, no matter what.
When Disney inherited all these titles, they were contractually obligated to release them in cinemas. So when COVID-19 disrupted the entire moviegoing experience in 2020, Disney couldn’t dump anything on a platform they owned.
Some movies in their possession ended up being sold to streaming services: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie headed to Amazon and The Woman in the Window to Netflix. Others that were sent to theaters during the pre-vax period in 2020 bombed.
As COVID cases were going down in 2021 and movie theaters were slowly returning, Disney made sure their productions got through the theatrical window first, before anything under the 20th Century Studios branch did. When a new Disney, Marvel, or Walt Disney Animation Studios feature dropped, they were treated as an event, while 20th Century Studios seemed more like mere counterprogramming to all the heavy hitters.
Both Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and Locksmith Animation’s Ron’s Gone Wrong faced a fate worse than death: being two non-IP properties being released at the same time as franchise tentpoles like Dune, No Time to Die, Halloween Kills, and Venom: Let there Be Carnage. All notable titles had a year’s head start on marketing and generating hype while Last Duel and Ron started late to the game.
Disney put their money towards marketing their next MCU entry Eternals and their in-house animated feature Encanto, which was being released right around the corner.
The biggest, most gobsmackingly distressing fumbles were when it came to auteur-driven pictures aimed at older audiences during winter. Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story and Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley were marketed in an underwhelmingly similar fashion: underselling the appeal of filmmakers whose films are worth taking a trip to the movies for. On top of that, they had to face two sinister forces: the Omnicron variant surge and Spider-Man: No Way Home, resulting in their box office returns being far less than stellar.
The only feature to break that mold was Free Guy, which received a respectable marketing campaign that began before the pandemic and maintained strength throughout the year—though one can argue it’s more of a Disney movie due to iconography from Marvel and Star Wars being featured in it.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie was the final pre-merger title to get a theatrical run, and I wish more people were talking about it in the way that it deserves. Maybe it will have a word-of-mouth spike in interest and fandom when it hits streaming. It’s possible that even the show’s biggest fans didn’t want to shell out what it costs for movie tickets when they can bank on watching it from home eventually—especially when the big-budget buzz of Top Gun: Maverick was making a case for seeing a major action movie in theaters.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie has received all the love in the world via critics and audiences, but it deserves all the money too. Though the marketing has been underwhelming, it’s a cinematic joy that should be seen on the big screen. It’s the kind of crowd-pleaser that even a novice fan can digest and end up wanting more of.