Has Disney Addressed Its Worst Problems from Last Year?
Late last year, I wrote about Disney’s worst problems as it entered 2022.
Now, nearly a year later, we can look back and evaluate where Disney stands with each issue.
How did Disney handle its biggest problems at the start of the year? The answer is “surprisingly well.”
Ten months ago, I identified five critical issues that Disney had to overcome.
That article reflects a moment in time that already feels strange less than a year later.
Several of the crisis topics back then already seem like relics, although this one recently became topical again.
During 2020 and 2021, many Imagineers indicated that they would walk away from The Walt Disney Company.
Their choices were to find new work/retire or move to Central Florida. Disney had determined that Lake Nona would operate as the new center of operations.
Well, I don’t need to tell you that these plans are on hold. Recent events in Florida have pitted Disney against the state government.
Due to some dubious legislation, Disney executives recognized that a forced transfer from California to Florida no longer made sense for many.
A year ago, Imagineers were claiming that they would move merely to remain employed at Disney for another couple of years.
Now, those same people may never need to switch coasts, thereby ensuring that Disney’s knowledge base remains intact.
Coincidentally or not, Bob Weis, the former head of Walt Disney Imagineering, just announced his retirement, though.
Last year, a whisper campaign suggested that he was pushed out of that gig. However, the D23 interview I just linked paints a different picture.
Weis sounds comfortable with his legacy and ready to tackle new adventures in life.
Meanwhile, Barbara Bouza, the new person in charge of Imagineering, appears extraordinarily well-liked and respected.
That’ll be a recurring theme here. Most of Disney’s 2021 problems have diminished, if not vanished entirely, in 2022.
The key word there was most. Yes, the recent price increases at the parks are the cause of this article.
I remembered writing this last December and thought, “Here we go again….” Honestly, I think that a lot with Disney.
There’s a running joke with scientists involving animal testing. It involves cause and effect.
Whenever an animal recognizes that a lab experiment rewards them for performing a particular action, they do it repeatedly.
A rabbit hits a button, and a food pellet drops. So, the rabbit hits the button until it becomes obesely fat…and still keeps hitting the button.
For Bob Chapek, that button is the price increase. He. Just. Cannot. Stop. Hitting. It!
Last year, guests lamented the rising cost of all things Disney. However, at the current trajectory, people will soon fondly reminisce about 2021 pricing as the good old days.
However, none of the price increases negatively impact streaming service subscriptions, merchandise revenue, or theme park attendance.
In fact, all are trending toward all-time highs, which does little but encourage Chapek to keep hitting the button.
In 2021, one of Disney’s worst problems stemmed from a nonsensical feud with Scarlett Johansson.
As far as Disney’s self-inflicted wounds go, this one may have been the worst. Disney had promised Johansson an amount of money for Black Widow.
Since ScarJo had waited many years for that project, the payout was long overdue. But then, the pandemic happened, forcing Black Widow to a day-and-date release model.
This decision cost the actress tens of millions of dollars, which she wanted. However, Chapek didn’t feel that Disney should pay and aggressively attacked her.
The public sided with the person they knew and adored, Johansson. Meanwhile, Chapek took a beating internally from people like Kevin Feige.
With the entire Marvel franchise needlessly jeopardized, Chapek backed down and paid ScarJo her money.
Now, Disney has indicated that the actress will still make a Tower of Terror movie.
Chapek and his new team have mostly avoided unforced errors like this in 2022…with one notable exception.
Disney squared off against Florida’s state government over the Don’t Say Gay bill I referenced earlier.
While the legality of the matter remains up for debate, Florida politicians punished Disney by scheduling Reedy Creek Improvement District for dissolution in 2023.
Whether you consider that an unforced error is entirely up to you.
Personally, I think it’s what Bob Iger would have done as well. As such, I don’t blame Chapek/Disney or consider this a mistake.
Bob Chapek’s Popularity
Here’s the shocker on this list. Last year, Chapek made so many mistakes that his deathwatch became a popular topic on Wall Street and in Hollywood.
Both the money people and the creatives loudly wondered who would replace Chapek as Disney’s next CEO. What a difference a year makes…
Chapek recently gained a three-year contract extension, although it’s really more of a two-year deal. So, he has survived the initial onslaught.
More importantly, Chapek has appeared dramatically more comfortable in recent months. His newfound confidence stems from Disney’s strong financial status.
Yes, that circles back to Chapek pushing the button repeatedly. Still, he’s a CEO of a Fortune 30 company. So the numbers matter the most.
While Disney’s stock price remains deflated, that’s more of a product of the current American economy.
Disney will expect its fiscal 2022 revenue in a few days. Of course, everyone anticipates a historic year.
As long as that keeps happening, Chapek will stay popular with the people who matter.
Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another aspect of this conversation. Last year, Chapek hired a new PR lead, Geoff Morrell.
That marriage proved slightly less successful than, well, any of these celebrity marriages. There wasn’t even a honeymoon, with Morrell out of a job in mere months.
Since then, Disney has hired Kristina Schake as the head of communications.
Coincidentally or not, Disney has been night and day better under Schake’s tenure. So, that keeps the pressure off Chapek.
Overwhelmed Cast Members
Here’s the other way that Disney has improved. In 2020 and 2021, working at the parks proved nightmarish for cast members.
These lovely individuals spend their professional lives making magic for others. The last thing they want to do is police park behavior.
Unexpectedly divisive issues like face coverings and rude park behavior have become the norm. Also, a staggering number of people try to bring firearms into the parks.
Stopping this behavior isn’t what cast members signed on to do. Thankfully, as the pandemic has diminished in scope, the policing issue has lessened in scope.
Cast members no longer need to nag guests about their face coverings. Meanwhile, security changes have automated the process more.
Generally speaking, Disney parks still suffer staffing issues caused by the Great Resignation. However, those problems aren’t exclusive to Disney.
Overall, the job situation at Disney has improved dramatically in 2022 and should only get better in the coming years.
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Photo: FT News