State Of The Walt Disney Company: The Studios

Ever since 1923, Disney is in the business of making movies. This has expanded throughout the years, especially under Iger’s acquisition deals. As of right now, there are 7 production studios under the Disney brand. Every single one of them has its own set of problems, but I want to pinpoint what can be done to keep a direction within different studios. With the $6 billion mark done in 2017, we can say there’s room for creative dilemmas that might improve where the division is heading.

John Lasseter

In November 2017, John Lasseter announced a 6-month leave of absence due to sexual misconduct. He’s not only the genius of Pixar but the main creative leader for everything regarding animation (Pixar, Walt Disney Animation, Disney Toon Studios). What I’m wondering is how this situation affects his relationship with the company and if Disney has a future leader in place.

In the case of Pixar, it has been mention Peter Docter (Up, Inside Out) and Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Finding Dory) as possible replacements for Lassetter within Pixar, but we don’t know if he would become head of the other animation studios. Considering what has already happened, it is the time that Disney starts shuffling the leadership roles. It is difficult to make cultural changes within the studio when the output has been consistent, but maybe a little change might expand the possibilities.

Walt Disney Animation

Since Rapunzel, every single movie from the studio has been great. I’m not saying this lightly. The studio is exploring new ways to tell stories in a visual way that hasn’t been done.

With the release of Ralph Breaks The Internet later this year, we will see Disney again working outside the princess realm, trying out totally different universes. Wreck-It Ralph has been one of the best movies from the studios in recent years and the sequel must bring the same experience of world building with a heart in mind. Still, things aren’t in the best way possible.

Gigantic, a retelling of the classic beanstalk story tale, was shelved besides being announced with concept art in D23. Maybe the story wasn’t one that could work, but I was hyped to see where Disney could have gone with this kind of story. Also, Frozen 2 will be released next year, even though Olaf’s Frozen Adventure didn’t have that much of a big hit in 2017. The animation studio shouldn’t rely too much on sequels, besides doing it when there is a good story to be told. Even though sequels could be interesting, they’re sure-fire project at the box office. If a healthy release of sequels leads to other groundbreaking projects, I’m all in. If not, then Disney’s resurgence in animation might lose its flame.

Pixar

Many critics are worried about the creative health of this studio ever since the number of sequels that Pixar started to ramp up. The Incredibles 2 will be released this year, which is the most wanted sequel ever since Pixar released the first movie. Seriously Pixar, why did it took you so long? Yes, Toy Story has been solid with its sequels but The Incredibles deserved their treatment too.

Cars 3 and Coco were released in 2017, with the Day Of The Dead taking the first place. Coco may have given a good dose of medicine for those critics that worried about the studio. Coco may be one of the top 5 movies from Pixar (1st place in my book). With The Incredibles 2 this year and Toy Story 4 on the horizon (expected for 2019), this might give some space to more original films. Pixar has matured as a studio, but it shouldn’t stagnate because of it.

John Lassetter might be the spiritual guide for the studio, but we should start seeing more attention from younger talents at the studio. We already know that Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, Pete Doctor and Lee Unkrich have influence over the studios’ decision, but the exposure of younger talents might be the right way to go. Let’s bring women to the screenwriting, producer and director position. Experiment with some short films to learn what younger talent could do. There are few new faces from Pixar and giving them the exposure they deserve is a good way to go for the studios’ future.

Walt Disney Pictures

This studio has consolidated their slate. With the blend of some sequels and remakes with other original projects, the live-action department has never been as good as it is now. A Wrinkle In Time should offer a new glimpse at what could be done under the fairytale genre, Nutcracker and The Four Realms has the potential to become a classic retelling of a Christmas story, and everyone will buy tickets to meet again with their favorite nanny with Mary Poppins Returns.

The stakes are high this year for each film. A Wrinkle In Time has been known to be Ava DuVernay’s pet project. She’s even rejected ta Star Wars film for it.

In Nutcracker And The Four Realms, the ensemble of actors should be able to move people to the theatre and give it a chance as a Christmas movie.

But the most anticipated movie of all is Mary Poppins returns with Emily Blunt taking the character that people remember it for Julie Andrews for at least half a century. With Lin Manuel Miranda as Bert, this film could be one of the strongest hits for Disney in recent years or a total disaster. By moving the project forward, I believe that the studios consider there’s an interesting story to tell and the cast has done a great job. The biggest responsibility is under Emily Blunt’s shoulders as the most beloved nanny of all time.

DisneyToon Studios

This studio may not be a fan’s favorite, but it definitely represents an important part of Disney’s overall strategy. Let’s not forget how Tinker Bell and their friends rose to prominence up to the point that Disney considered making a complete land in the Magic Kingdom dedicated to the fairies. Even though they represent a sad period in Disney history (those sequels to Cinderella, Tarzan, Hunchback Of Notredame, and Beauty and the Beast), there have been many positive projects life A Goofy Movie and the Tinker Bell films.

Now that this studio stopped being a direct-to-video sequel powerhouse, it doesn’t have a clear direction. The only released film that is barely original (with a strong resemblance to Cars) is Planes. Maybe it is time to reconsider the place of this studio within the company’s strategy. If it doesn’t have a clear direction in the next few years, better shut down production as it is already struggling. The only future projects in place are from Disney Fairies and another sequel for Planes.

Disneynature

Disneynature has a strong link to Walt Disney because it is the spiritual successor to the True-Life Adventure films. The nature documentary studio has released one movie per year, keeping up with production although some films barely profit at the box office. The problem with these films is that Disney doesn’t fo much marketing, missing some opportunity to offer these style of documentaries to new audiences. Personally, sometimes I learn about these films at the end of the year.

Disneynature could be more prominent with some slight marketing changes. Stop giving full focus to the film in April and give teasers and trailers in advance. Make people have some interest some months in advance. Also, some cross-media synergy could be made in the Animal Kingdom, with preview showings in some part of the part just like it has been done in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the Walt Disney Presents Theatre (originally One Man’s Dream).

I believe these films deserve more attention due to the amazing photography work is has been achieved in these films. Maybe these will never be blockbuster films, but with some changes in the marketing more people could be intrigued in watching some of these nature films.

Lucasfilm

So far we’ve had three Star Wars films: The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and Rogue One. With Solo just six months away, Lucasfilm has done a great job at reviving the franchise with new characters and a solid cast. After the fan criticism generated by The Last Jedi, Solo has the job to reconcile the fans and lure newer audiences with one of the most recognizable characters in Star Wars.

There have been rumors of Alden Ehrenreich having difficulties to deliver the character due to his lack of acting abilities, but it doesn’t make any sense. His career has been filled with auteur film like Blue Jasmine, Retro, Twixt and Hail, Cesar! Maybe he is having difficulties with the character due to the difficulty of being on Harrison Ford’s boots, but anyone will be scared of performing such a recognizable character.

What I want from Lucasfilm this year is to start exploring the Indiana Jones territory, as they’re pigeonholed right now with the Star Wars movies. Maybe they need to work on a different universe or franchise in order to stay fresh and experiment new horizons. Also, I want to see how they will keep dealing with the Star Wars stand alone films as they have been very useful to introduce new fans to the universe. I have many friends that they’re favorite Star Wars film is Rogue One, showing that these films have the potential to present Star Wars to newer audiences.

Kathleen Kennedy

Kathleen Kennedy has been part of the Lucasfilm family since Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Her track record of blockbuster films is impressive and makes sense why she is the head of Lucasfilm. But maybe things haven’t turned out as good.

So far, the two Star Wars standalone films have had some directorial shake-ups, with Gareth Edwards having to do reshoots per the producer’s request. Most noticeably, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced by Ron Howard half way of the filming of Solo. In this sense, Lucasfilm hasn’t been straightforward with the directos on what they want from a Star Wars film. While Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were being replaced because they tried in making the Solo film a comedy movie, Rian Johnson has free will to add as much comedy as he wants in The Last Jedi. Maybe there should be guidelines regarding what Kathleen Kennedy wants from the Star Wars Trilogy and the Star Wars Stories.

I don’t see anyone replacing Kathleen Kennedy as of now, but maybe we’ll see some slight change in leadership for the upcoming years. I might even consider bringing George Lucas back for some creative guidance.

Marvel Studios

So far, Marvel Studios is in good hands. The superheroes keep doing hit after hit. Now with their new expansion into other genres, with Thor: Ragnarok being a comedy and the upcoming Ant-Man and The Wasp being a Romantic Comedy, Marvel is reinventing their characters to get rid of the so-called superhero fatigue.

Avengers: Infinity Way will be a transition point for the next phase of Marvel films, introducing new characters with the Avengers ensemble we’ve seen so far. We still don’t know what this could mean moving forward, but I’m glad that Marvel is willing to put some renowned characters on the bench for a while as lesser-known characters like Ant-Man, Black Panther and Guardians Of The Galaxy have a more prominent role in the MCU. In order to keep producing the same amount of films Marvel wants, they need to embrace newer characters to refresh the universe and prevent the super hero fatigue that many critics have talked about.

Keep It Consistent

As I’ve said in a previous article, most of these decisions and criticisms boil down to consistency within the company’s overall strategy. There are some cases where there’s not that much of a problem, like Marvel and Walt Disney Animation Studios. In other cases, there are some issues that affect the performance of the projects, like the case of Disneynature and Pixar. Bob Iger might be too busy dealing with the Fox merger, but there are some fires that need to be shut before stepping down as CEO.

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Author: Rafael Gorrochotegui

Creo en la creatividad como un estilo de vida.