In a recent episode of The Disney Movie Review, the hosts discussed about a recent interview Bog Iger did for Bloomberg, talking about how he views the legacy of The Walt Disney Company among other topics. Bob Iger mentioned that the company should respect the legacy, but don’t revere it, acknowledging the achievements of the past without letting it define the potential future of upcoming projects. The current CEO believes in this thought as a guiding principle, even admitting that he changed staff on order to make this cultural shift within the company.
This change of course that Iger tries to achieve is a battle that dates back to the early days of Michael Eisner as a CEO, begging the creative staff to stop asking “What would Walt do?”. With a company closely connected to Walt Disney, the master producer whose input goes from animated films to urban planning, with a rich legacy of stories that are part of the global culture decades later, it is difficult to know what to do with such a historical past.
What’s sacred in The Walt Disney Company? That is the question many fans ask, especially dealing with the parks’ attractions. If “respect, don’t revere” is the guiding principle, it makes it easier to understand the decisions they’ve made for the films and the parks. This is how they justify that remakes of old classics make sense, parks should evolve no matter which attraction needs to shut down, acquisitions are good as long as they make sense for the brand and why there’s less mentions of Walt Disney as the man behind everything.
“Respect, don’t revere” takes away the idea of something sacred within the company. This allows you to give tribute to many fulfilled creations, but also change them. This guiding principle reminds me about the phrase “Parks aren’t museums, a quote Imagineers say every time fans rage about an attractions’ closure. I believe these creatives value the projects of the past. At the same time, they’ll never hesitate if they need to get rid of them in order to move ahead.
Acquisitions reflect the school of thought under Iger’s tenure. They know their studios have an indisputable track record, but other companies and studios can show Disney new ways to manage creative projects. Pixar is one of those, bringing a new animation language and storytelling beyond the three dimensional aspect, including different characters that differ from the traditional Disney animation. John Lassetter would expand these aspect as Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Marvel was a tough one to understand back then. Iron Man and Hulk were independently financed, unsure if the Marvel Cinematic Universe could move forward with lesser known character due to the restrictions they had due to licensing contracts with Sony and Fox. Kevin Feige has created what Star Wars initiated, bringing a new universe of characters and storylines that keep loyal fans and casual moviegoers expecting the next superhero movie. The difference with Marvel’s sequel based strategy is that it actually weaves situations that pass the baton to other movies and characters to be explored.
Lucasfilm, a company that has one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time, have had a close relationship with Disney in the past, starting with the link both companies have due to Pixar’s beginnings. A studio that has family oriented adventures, a vast experience with merchandising, and one of the most talented visual artists, Lucasfilm allowed to expand upon existing characters from Star Wars and Indiana Jones as well as a great asset for film production.
“Respect, don’t revere” seems to be a common theme that unifies each move that Bob Iger has done to the company. From huge acquisitions, like the Fox deal, to revitalizing projects, such as the reimagining of Disney California Adventure, and more. As long as Iger has a strategy for each acquisition, allowing for each component to have its own identity, this philosophy could keep Disney a healthy creative space that builds upon the old and the new.