Russians love Shrek. And Russians love the acorn-obsessed squirrel Scrat from "Ice Age." But Russians aren't showing a lot of love for Buzz and Woody.
"Toy Story 3," released June 18, has been a blockbuster success in the U.S. and most of the other countries where it has opened, racking up $244 million in ticket sales domestically and more than $100 million in foreign nations, including more than $34 million in Mexico.
But the Pixar Animation Studios sequel has posted surprisingly frigid box-office results in Russia, one of the hottest international markets for movies, especially for animated films. The critically acclaimed computer-animated sequel generated only $4.8 million in ticket sales through its first 10 days at Russian theaters, according to three people who have seen the figures.
By contrast, "Shrek Forever After" grossed $37.7 million in its first 10 days in Russia in May. Last summer, "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" collected about $35 million over the same period.
People familiar with the Russian movie market point to a variety of factors that have hurt the movie, including unseasonably warm weather that sent many children fleeing the oppressive heat of cities to stay with relatives in the cooler countryside. But perhaps the crucial reason, they say, is that Russians are unfamiliar with the story and characters because the first two "Toy Story" movies were released in the 1990s, before the country's recent explosion in theater growth.
"People here didn't grow up seeing the first two movies, so they think a film about toys is just for young children," said Paul Heth, chief executive of Russian theater chain Kinescope. "Everyone in the market here is a bit shocked at what the film has done, given its quality."
A spokesman for distributor Walt Disney Studios wouldn't confirm Russian box-office totals for "Toy Story 3" and declined to comment.
Russia is still a relatively small movie market. It has about 2,100 screens for its 142 million people — about 15 screens per million — with most of the theaters located in Moscow and St. Petersburg. (The U.S. has nearly 40,000 screens for 307 million people — about 130 screens per million.) But after being decimated in the fall of the Soviet Union, the theatrical movie business in Russia has grown 20-fold since 2000, according to the site Kinobusiness.com, to $736 million in 2009.
Although "Toy Story 3" has fared worse than average, Disney has not had much luck with Pixar films in Russia. 2009's "Up" and 2008's "Wall-E" grossed about $12 million each in the country.
"Shrek Forever After" from DreamWorks Animation and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" from 20th Century Fox each collected about $45 million at the box office during their runs in Russia.
"Disney overall has done well in this market," said Heth, pointing to a strong $21-million run for "Prince of Persia." "But Pixar has never managed to break out here."