Why Paramount Will Keep Mining Viacom’s Vaults After Modest ‘Dora’ Movie Box Office

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“You have to take your biggest assets, and apply them everywhere you can,” Comscore media analyst Paul Dergarabedian says

Dora and the Lost City of Gold
Vince Valitutti | Paramount Pictures

Nickelodeon and its younger preschool sibling Nick Jr. once dominated kids cable programming with a long list of iconic shows, including  “Rugrats,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Blue’s Clues,” and “Dora the Explorer.” Now, as parent company Viacom continues its charge to reposition its movie studio Paramount Pictures toward the top of the heap, the media and entertainment company continues to mine its deep cavern of untapped IP in hopes of returning the studio to iconic status. The strategy is proving worthwhile, as Paramount’s new film “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” opened this past weekend with a decent box office total of $17 million. If “Dora” turns out to be even a modest hit, that would be the kind of stepping stone Paramount needs as the studio continues to put together a slate of films to boost its position in Hollywood, according to Comscore media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “You have to take your biggest assets and apply them everywhere you can. ‘Dora’ is the perfect example of that,” Dergarabedian said. “Paramount’s had its successes recently. It’s just now about putting together a long-term run and building that consistency. So if you’re Viacom and you have those brands, those characters and all of this IP, you have to go to your bench and capitalize on it.” Two years ago, Paramount Pictures’ then-newly appointed CEO Jim Gianopulos launched a new division within the studio, Paramount Players, tasked with developing new film and TV projects with Viacom’s biggest brands: Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and BET. Paramount Players has already produced the Taraji P. Henson comedy “What Men Want” with BET films earlier this year, as well as Tyler Perry’s “Nobody’s Fool” last year. “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” however, proceeds a slew of coming films meant to fulfill Viacom’s newly mandated strategy, including a new “SpongeBob SquarePants” comedy that is set to hit theaters in 2020 and a “Rugrats” movie the year after. Though Paramount is now making a much more concerted effort to capitalize on Viacom’s trove of IP, the studio has made attempts to do so before — though not all of them positive. Paramount has released a couple of movies based on the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” after acquiring the rights from Mirage in 2009. The first film was a middling success domestically and was followed by a 2016 sequel that flopped in the U.S. Then there’s the “The Last Airbender,” which Paramount released in 2010, based on Nickelodeon’s beloved animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” The film was widely panned while earning $131.8 million at the box office domestically, and $319.7 worldwide after costing the studio $150 million to make, not including marketing, according to Box Office Mojo. But now there’s a strategy in place, and Viacom has extended that to the TV side of its business as well. It has recently brought back new versions of popular old shows like “The Hills,” “The Real World” and “Jersey Shore.” “We realized that in the form of MTV, we actually have probably the most significant collection of pop culture IP for the last 20 years, and the reality is that a lot of it was laying dormant,” Viacom CEO Bob Bakish told a packed house at the Paley Center for Media in June. “And with Nickelodeon, same thing. Look at Nickelodeon’s library of IP. It’s incredible, so doing we’re doing some feature-length versions of it, why wouldn’t we do that… We have an incredible library.” “Dora the Explorer” first aired on Nick Jr. during the summer of 2000, and the seven-year-old Spanish-speaking cartoon with her adventures, monkey named Boots and talking backpack and map was an instant hit. In July of 2001, The New York Times wrote that in less than a year since airing, “Dora” had become the top-rated show for preschoolers, ages 2 to 5, a level of success that led the Nickelodeon to start selling ”Dora”-themed toys and clothes much sooner than it usually takes to develop a market for such products. Network executives at the time forecasted that ”Dora” would reach the level of success and profitability the likes of ”Rugrats” and ”Blue’s Clues,” which at the time generated roughly $1 billion in product sales a year. “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” updates the long-running animated series for a new age. Now a teenager, Dora, played by 18-year-old actress Isabella Moner (“Instant Family”), has to leave the jungle where she has grown up and head to the dangerous halls of high school. She and a group of friends (though they don’t start out that way) are then sucked into a jungle adventure to find Dora’s missing parents, played by Michael Peña and Eva Longoria. Eugenio Derbez, Madeleine Madden, Jeff Wahlberg and Nicholas Coombe also star in the film, with Benicio Del Toro voicing an infamous fox named Swiper and Danny Trejo popping up for a surprisingly fun voice performance. “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” which cost $49 million in production costs, has gotten solid reviews in its early showings, with a Rotten Tomato score of 81%. Box office analysts had expected the film to pull in $20 million in its opening weekend, but it faced tough competition from “The Lion King,” in its fourth weekend of release. “Dora” will need help outside of North America, though its predominantly Latinx cast should help. It’s the first major show of Viacom’s newly mandated strategy for Paramount, one that the media and entertainment company has already laid out on the TV side.  “The recipe is to look back, look at a piece of IP and then take creative people and have them brainstorm what is a contemporary version of this,” Bakish said during the Paley center event. “The hardest thing in the world to do is build a brand, and we have this treasure trove of essential brands in that library. Why not take it and create new versions with new casts, new storylines, new situations, whatever. We are in the early stages of restoring Paramount’s truly iconic status and that starts, as [Jim Gianopulos] says, by making films for everyone… and films that are made for someone.”