Disney Headlines for January 13th, 2022
This week, Bob Chapek laid out his grand plan for Disney theme parks.
Also, some Pixar workers pushed back on a recent bombshell.
We’ll talk about these stories and something called the Dopey Challenge in the latest Disney Headlines.
Chapek’s Strategic Pillars
We all knew this was coming. On January 1st, 2022, Bob Chapek officially got out from under Bob Iger’s shadow.
Okay, that may be overstating the matter, but Iger no longer works for Disney. Sure, his reputation will remain a ghost for the foreseeable future.
Even so, Disney is now Bob Chapek’s show. So, he had to say something at some point to establish who he is and what he stands for.
That proclamation came this week, as Chapek sent out a memo to staff. In it, he proclaimed that his tenure will prioritize “three pillars.”
According to Chapek, those pillars are – in the order he listed them – storytelling excellence, innovation, and “relentless focus on our audience.”
What jumps off the page at me is what Chapek emphasized first.
On his way out the door, Iger all but begged Disney to keep the focus on story.
Chapek famously doesn’t have the Hollywood experience that Iger did. The latter gentleman worked in television under the legendary Roone Arledge.
The closest Chapek came to the film industry was operating Disney’s Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the VHS and DVD segment.
Now, I don’t undersell this the way Chapek’s critics do, as understanding what does and does not sell is critical to commerce.
About the Pillars
Still, the fact that Chapek led with this is proof enough that he at least heard Iger enough to acknowledge that request.
Ergo, Chapek’s Disney will prioritize storytelling, just as all previous versions of the company have.
I realize that cynics will deride this statement. Still, Disney’s 2021 releases included Black Widow, Encanto, Eternals, Luca, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Free Guy, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Jungle Cruise.
Disney’s not hurting for stories right now. In fact, their 2021 was quietly one of the strongest ever in terms of film quality.
The second pillar strikes me as a harder sell at the moment. Disney just forced a boatload of Imagineers to switch coasts to Lake Nona, Florida.
Several of them quit, which is pretty much what Disney had dared them to do.
Honestly, I wouldn’t try to sell the innovation talk when you just pushed some of your best creatives out the door.
From Chapek’s perspective, what he really means is the metaverse. Disney sounds convinced that this is the Next Big Thing.
As such, they may make an earlier push than any of us had anticipated.
That brings us to the “relentless focus on our audience.” Fortunately, Disney has always excelled at this.
When Chapek says it, the point comes across a bit defensively, though. He’s referencing the changing media consumption behavior of Disney fans.
In other words, he’s letting his staff know that Disney will release films wherever he damn well pleases, whether it’s movie theaters, Disney+, or on the side of Cinderella Castle.
Thankfully, Chapek’s heart is in the right place. He wants Disney fans dictating release patterns, not film exhibitors or Hollywood agents.
That’s how the process should work. Everyone’s just forgotten that since Hollywood has been broken for so long.
The Turning Red Problem
Chapek’s memo was a blatant attempt to boost morale after a challenging couple of years.
Unfortunately, recent events had positioned him poorly for this attempt. Disney’s CEO still doesn’t understand the nature of film industry media.
You can paint an extremely hostile picture of an entire company thanks to one anonymous source offering a sexy pull quote.
To wit, Variety got someone to say – not on the record – that they were hugely disappointed with Chapek’s decision to release Turning Red on Disney+.
This unnamed person happens to work for Pixar. So, Variety can write a clickbait headline that makes this decision sound highly unpopular.
About the Decision
In truth, as I discussed on the most recent episode of my media podcast, Streaming into the Void, Disney didn’t have a choice here.
The second and third most popular movies in North America earned a combined $880,000 on Tuesday.
Once Omicron numbers surged, people stopped going to any movie that didn’t have Spider-Man in the title.
As such, Disney COULD NOT release Turning Red in theaters in March as planned. Chapek’s options were an indefinite delay and release on Disney+.
This seems like a good time to mention that Raya and the Last Dragon and Luca have performed extraordinarily well on that service.
Having first-run animated movies has boosted Disney+ subscriber rates.
Alas, nobody gets into the film industry in hopes of their work going straight to streaming services. Instead, they fantasize about glitzy Hollywood premieres.
So, some frustration seems understandable. But, on the other hand, I think it’s impressive that Variety couldn’t get anyone to go on record about this.
I infer that nobody is upset enough to make a public stink about the matter. Instead, two of the quotes in the Variety piece were these:
“Sucks, but I get it.”
“With omicron infections so high, I haven’t heard anyone say the decision to pivot to streaming is wrong.”
That’s smart people acknowledging the harsh realities of a pandemic. Variety tried to muckrake discord but couldn’t find a willing partner.
I take this to mean that Chapek has more support within the building than outsiders admit.
His colleagues know he’s faced an impossible situation and done the best that he can.
The Dopey Challenge
I had to mention this one because the story cracks me up.
Disney fans come in all shapes and sizes and walks of life. For example, they can be Olympic athletes in training.
This past weekend, a would-be Olympian marathon runner named Brittany Charboneau lived out her Disney dream.
She participated in all four RunDisney events, and she won them all. Now, you might call her a ringer, a fair criticism.
Nobody can dispute that Charboneau is a Disney superfan, though. The runner dressed up as a different Disney character for each of the four races.
She styled her hair and outfit to match Cruella de Vil during the final one, which made for some great video as she crossed the finish line.
Charboneau became the first person ever to claim victory in what people are calling the Dopey Challenge by winning all four events.
For that, we all salute her. But, of course, what makes this Disney fan one of us is that she celebrated her success by…spending the next few days at the parks.
On a side note, a dear friend of mine ran all four races and collapsed of heatstroke at the end of the marathon. He’s going to make the quarterly report of Disney accidents over this.
So, if you’re reading this, get better soon, Daron! Stuff like this is why I just sit on the couch and eat cookies.