The upshot? Disney hoped “The Little Mermaid” would generate as much as $1 billion worldwide, with the furor evaporating once the film arrived in theaters. Feedback scores from test screenings were strong, as were early reviews. “Alan Menken just told me that he thinks this one is better than the animated film,” Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said at the film’s premiere last month, referring to the Oscar-winning composer.
Instead, “The Little Mermaid” will top out closer to $600 million, box office analysts said on Sunday, largely because the film faltered overseas, where it was “review bombed,” with online trolls flooding movie sites with racist one-star reviews. The film has done well in North America, outperforming “Aladdin” and receiving an A grade from ticket buyers in CinemaScore exit polls, although attendance by white moviegoers has been soft in some parts of the United States, according to analysts. Support from Black and Latino audiences have made up the slack.
Mr. Bailey declined to comment on the racist responses to the film. “While the international opening was softer than we would have liked, the film is playing exceptionally well which we believe sets us up for a very long run,” he said on Saturday.
Mr. Bailey, 53, has survived box office shoals that were far worse. His misfires include “The Lone Ranger” and “Jungle Cruise.” The less said about his live-action “Mulan,” the better. But Disney has always supported him. “I’ve taken some big swings and had some big misses,” Mr. Bailey said. “I’m grateful that the leadership of the company understands that is part of any creative business.”
Mr. Bailey has been president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production for 13 years — an eternity in Hollywood, where film chiefs are often jettisoned every few years. Over that time, Disney has been roiled by executive firings, multiple restructuring efforts and shifting strategies for film distribution. The steady-handed Mr. Bailey, who is popular with stars and their agents, has helped provide stability.
“He’s a nice, decent, respectful, fair guy who does his job quietly, without fanfare,” said Kevin Huvane, a Creative Artists Agency co-chairman. “But that doesn’t mean that he is passive. Quite the opposite. He gets his hands dirty. If a deal isn’t working, he gets in there and he finds a way to make it happen.”