In its centennial year, Disney found itself facing a series of setbacks that cast a shadow over its once-unblemished reputation. The studio, renowned for its meticulous brand strategy, encountered challenges in the form of underperforming films like ‘Wish’ and ‘The Marvels,’ marking the first year since 2014, excluding the pandemic era, that Disney failed to produce a billion-dollar hit.
One significant factor contributing to Disney’s woes has been its dubious brand strategy, criticized for blending a multitude of interconnected universes, leading to a decline in creativity and originality. The once neatly siloed brand and sub-brands, including Walt Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and 20th Century Fox, now seem to overwhelm audiences with a sense of oversaturation. The studio’s decision to supplement mega-releases with more conventional films from 20th Century Fox failed to resonate, leaving audiences unimpressed.
Disney’s streaming service, Disney Plus, launched just before the pandemic hit, initially positioned the company well for an extended theatrical shutdown. However, the increasing number of new streaming series, coupled with a pervasive expectation that Disney-related content would migrate to its streaming service, led to a decline in theatrical appeal. The strength of Disney’s branding, while keeping its library of characters under one roof, made it harder to persuade audiences to opt for full-priced theatrical admissions.
While some critics attributed Disney’s decline to accusations of being ‘woke,’ suggesting a disconnect with its audience, others pointed to the impact of Disney Plus. The streaming platform, with its extensive archive of Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars content, further complicated the theatrical landscape. The unpredictability of ongoing Covid-19 challenges influenced decisions to release movies directly on Disney Plus, blurring the lines between theatrical and streaming experiences.
Financially, Disney saw success with ‘Elemental’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3,’ but these were overshadowed by the disappointing performance of ‘Wish’ and ‘The Marvels.’ ‘Wish,’ released to commemorate Disney’s 100th anniversary, attempted to weave together a century’s worth of Disney Animation Easter eggs, culminating in a prequel to the studio’s entire library. The convoluted narrative, laden with self-tribute, failed to resonate thematically, leaving audiences with a sense of confusion.
The studio’s relentless branding, evident in the constant montage of characters and moments in every Marvel project, created a feeling of a brand eating its own tail. Audiences, whether Disney enthusiasts or casual viewers, began to question the genuine creativity and appeal of movies that felt more like obligatory extensions of an established brand. Disney’s ubiquity, once a strength, now seemed to dilute the unique charm of its individual releases.
In the face of these challenges, Disney’s future success remains uncertain. As it grapples with a changing landscape and evolving audience preferences, the studio must navigate a delicate balance between maintaining its iconic brand and fostering a spirit of creativity and innovation that defined its earlier years.
Launchpad McQuack, Darkwing Duck, Gosalyn Mallard, Honker Muddlefoot, Tank Muddlefoot