“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” nobody would’ve imagined that Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck would one day share a family with Iron Man and Chewbacca. Yet in 2012, that’s what happened. Disney approached George Lucas and $4.05B later the rights (and a few lightsabers) transferred hands.
This is just the latest movie empire-building move from The Walt Disney Company. Since the end of the 20th century, they have expanded by purchasing others studios. The hunt began in 1993 when Disney bought Miramax Films. In 1996, it purchased the ABC Television Group. That same year, Disney added dubbing rights to their joint control over the international distribution of Studio Ghibli films.
More recently, Disney gained took the reins on some of most lucrative franchises in the cinema history: Star Wars and Indiana Jones (thanks to Lucasfilm) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you consider that Disney also bought the The Muppets from The Jim Henson Company in 2004 and Pixar Animation Studios in 2006 (following a brief divorce), you can begin to see how far Disney’s arms spread these days.
Obviously The Walt Disney Company didn’t do all of this only to sit back and contemplate its assets. As with any investment, the goal of these acquisitions was to turn a profit. That’s why we can consider 2014 – the year before those final purchases bear fruit – to be the last year before Disney hegemony.
But is Disney’s ubiquity a good thing for the industry? And is it good for us, the viewers? Or are we approaching a Disney singularity – an inevitable future where one megacorporation controls all entertainment media?
Let’s take a look at the Disney calendar for 2015.
Two new movies will hit cinemas from Marvel Studios: Avengers: Age of Ultron (d. Joss Whedon, 5/1/2015) and Ant-Man (d. Peyton Reed, 7/17/2015).The former is one of the most anticipated sequels of next year (and the sequel to the third highest grossing film of all time). With the latter, Marvel will introduce a new hero. This will allow them to build a new IP as they undoubtedly ride the success of Age of Ultron and bring Phase 2 to a close.
Two new Pixar movies also hit that year: Inside Out (d. Pete Docter, 6/19/2015) and The Good Dinosaur (d. Peter Sohn and Bob Peterson, 11/25/2015). Notice that these aren’t sequels or prequels – they’re original stories.
After the success of Maleficent this year, The Walt Disney Studios will also continue its strategy of adapting some of their own animated classics into live-actions movies. Cinderella (d. Kenneth Branagh) is scheduled for March 13th, and The Jungle Book (d. Jon Favreau) hits theaters October 9th. Speaking of Walt Disney Studios’ live-action efforts, one original property arrives in cinemas that year, too; Tomorrowland (d. Brad Bird) hits May 22nd.
It is worth noting that all three of these directors have a history with Disney. Branagh is (in)famous for directing Marvel’s Thor, Jon Favreau directed Marvel’s Iron Man (1 and 2) and Brad Bird was behind Pixar’s Ratatouille and The Incredibles. Disney isn’t even outsourcing its directors at this point.
And let’s not forget the event that many fans all around the world await with impatience and, perhaps, anxiety: Star Wars: Episode VII. The movie was recently given a subtitle – The Force Awakens – and marks the first Disney-produced Star Wars film. Episode VII is already set to launch a whole new franchise and is scheduled for December 18, 2015.
Disney scheduled eight movies for next year and all of them come with enormous economic expectations. Pixar movies tend to turn a huge profit, Marvel movies are box office gold and revitalizing classic fairytales has already proven an auspicious choice for the studio (see Oz The Great and Powerful, Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent for proof). Of those, 50% are original movies. I think that is a good balance between originality and déjà-vu; if The Walt Disney Company sticks with the same ratio for the next few years, I’m in.
We already have some information about the Disney’s calendar through 2020, as well. On one side, Marvel Studios is developing new superheroes: Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel and The Inhumans. In the meantime, they will continue to ride older franchises with Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thor: Ragnarok and Captain America: Civil War.
On the other side, Pixar Animation Studios scheduled Finding Dory (a sequel to Finding Nemo) for 2016 and recently announced a fourth Toy Story for 2017. Walt Disney Animation Studios (Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6) is also set to release a hefty slate movies in the next few years, including Zootopia (d. Byron Howard, 3/4/2016), Moana (d. Ron Clements and John Musker, 11/23/16), Giants (d. Nathan Greno, 2018) and another as-yet untitled 2018 film.
Considering Marvel Studios and Pixar Animations Studios quality output, I don’t have anything against the Disney hegemony. If you enjoy superhero and animated movies as much as I do, you will be well-served for the next five years. Their track record thus far proves that.
On the other hand, I’m not sure picking up older live-action franchises is a good decision. Some classics should rest in peace. For example, although it made plenty of money, did anyone actually like Oz the Great and Powerful? Josh certainly didn’t. How about Alice in Wonderland? It seems as if the box office guarantee has trumped artistic merit.
But if that’s true, then why is it that the Mouse House persists in producing new Pirates of Caribbean movies? You’d think the unsatisfying domestic results at the box office and terrible critical reception for On Stranger Tides would serve as a warning. But Disney has paid no heed; the fifth movie in the franchise – Dead Men Tell No Tales – is scheduled for 2017.
This all culminates in my main worry: the Star Wars revival. Should any studio bother with yet another sequel? I admit that that’s a personal and conservative opinion, but I’m far from the only person who feels that way.
I’m afraid that the new movies may embrace that Disney spirit and skew infantile, just as Richard Marquand did in Return of the Jedi (yes, I hated the Ewoks who only served as a dark foreshadowing of the Jar Jar Binks character in The Phantom Menace). Still, it’s clear that this perversion of the series’ ambiance happened without Disney. So how could it be worse with them at the wheel?
I just pray that J.J. Abrams and his team do a good job. I appreciate all of J.J. Abrams’ works thus far. I just hope that Disney and Lucasfilm give him enough liberty to show how much of a fan he was of the original trilogy a they work to shed the coils of the prequels.
Despite my concerns regarding some of Disney’s choices, were I the CEO of some competitor of The Walt Disney Company, I would definitely shake in my boots for the next few years. Their upcoming slate is impressive to say the least.
I’d say we haven’t reached a Disney singularity just yet. Warner, Fox, Paramount, Lionsgate and other studios will continue to fight for their own franchises no matter how big their rival gets. And in the end – if that competition breeds originality and quality – we, the audience, will benefit.