My Take On… #224: Why Has Disney Kept Making Good Movies Recently?

If there’s been a studio in Hollywood that continues to find success in any shape or form, it’s Disney. Not only have they had a successful line of motion pictures but also, they’ve found success in many other ways including marketing the characters out to toys, games, clothing, other forms of merchandising and, of course, the theme parks all over the world. At one point in the course of the company’s history, there was even some rumblings that the studio didn’t even need to make movies anymore because the resorts and theme parks were still popular enough to keep bringing money into the studio.

Well, thank heavens that didn’t happen because not only has Disney continued to produce movies but their recent output of movies have not only become big hits but a good majority of them have been really damn good.

Disney is a studio that has been on a strong roll for a number of years now creating massive box office hits and movies that not only are hits but hold up with the general public, creating new memorable characters and memorable quotes that people still repeat to this day.

So, what happened? When did Disney start making consistently good movie one after another? To fully understand, we have to go back to where the trouble began about 20 years ago.

In the 1990s, Disney was reaping in its’ second golden age of animation with the massive successes of Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Pocahontas and also had its’ fair share of live-action hits with such movies as Newsies and The Santa Clause but then all of a sudden, in the mid 1990s, something at the studio began to change, they had bought ABC to keep “the studio surviving and allowing it to compete with international multimedia conglomerates” according to Michael Eisner and they felt like other internal “hot properties” deserved the company’s attention after the studio lost the lawsuit to Marsu B.V. over the Marsupliami cartoon in 1997.

It also wasn’t helping that the live-action films coming out in the second half of the 1990s were not very good and solely made to appeal to what Disney thought the kids of today would like, essentially they tried to appeal to what they thought kids liked back then. Every once in a while, you’d get a success like the live-action 101 Dalmatians remake or George Of The Jungle but most of the live-action stuff they were turning out was pretty bad, the remake of That Darn Cat with Christina Ricci and Doug E. Doug, Jungle 2 Jungle, Air Bud, Rocketman, Flubber, Mr. Magoo, Meet The Deedles, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, My Favorite Martian, Inspector Gadget, Max Keeble’s Big Move, just these awful live-action movies that just did not feel like movies released by Disney, these all felt like movies a studio would make because they need a kids movie to fill the gap with no creativity or edge to it whatsoever.

The film division was only getting by with their animated movies at the time but even then, a lot of them were not up to the high success of the stuff from the early 90s, Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Hercules, Dinosaur, and The Emperor’s New Groove were mild successes, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, and Brother Bear were big underperformers and Mulan, Tarzan, and Lilo & Stitch were big successes. Even a studio like Disney suffered at the hand of the 2D animation drought of the mid 2000s.

So, that’s where they were? The question is where did the tide begin to turn for Disney? When did Disney realize they had much more to offer people? Well, let’s look at the various ways they’ve been able to get to where they are today:

1. Putting the animation studio in the hands of John Lasseter

In 2006, when John Lasseter renegotiated a deal to keep Pixar at Disney and was also given control to the Disney animation studio, it changed the game for the studio big time because not only do you get to keep a proven studio from moving to a rival company but you also let somebody like Lasseter who has proven his success factor with Pixar allow to do the same for the main animation studio that has been struggling to produce quality hits in then recent years. The result of that merger leads into the next reason why Disney has been on a roll…

2. Higher quality animated features from both Disney & Pixar

The animated output that has come out from Disney and Pixar in recent years has been phenomenal, since the merger, we have gotten great movies like Ratatouille, Wall-E, Bolt, Up, The Princess & The Frog, Toy Story 3, Winnie The Pooh, Wreck-It-Ralph, Monsters University, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Inside Out, Zootopia, Finding Dory, and Moana. There have been some less than spectacular movies like Cars 2, Brave, and The Good Dinosaur but for the most part, the animation studios have been red hot in recent years and it does not seem like it is going away anytime soon.

3. Better live-action movies

When the first Pirates Of The Caribbean was back in 2003, it was a risky gamble for Disney as they were putting a lot of money into this with a director who was then unproven for success in Gore Verbinski and making a movie based off a theme park ride seemed like a bad decision. Heck, Before its release, many journalists expected Pirates of the Caribbean to be a flop. The pirate genre had not been successful for years, with Cutthroat Island (1995) a notable flop. The film was also based on a theme park ride, and Depp, known mostly for starring in cult films at the time, had little track record as a box office leading man.

But then the film ended up becoming a gigantic success both critically and financially grossing nearly $300 million domestically alone and later spawning a massive film franchise out of it. I’m betting that Disney was hoping for more success in The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy that came out the exactly same year and that was the massive failure.

Where the biggest change of pace for the live-action movie, I believe, began was in 2009 and 2010. 2009 was the year we got that god-awful Old Dogs movie, which supposedly was the last movie greenlit by the head of the studio at the time before the new regime took over, it ended up begin a massive flop both critically and financially and thus, there seemed to be more focus on taking risky gambles with more bigger projects and while that may be considered intense for a studio, they’ve been fairly successful for a good majority of this decade.

One of the biggest gambles has been the live-action remakes of classic Disney movies that has been met with great success so far. The first example was Alice In Wonderland, which was being sold mostly on the power of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, and it ended up becoming a massive financial success. Which better explains why its’ sequel six years later was not met with the same success, Depp’s star power at that point had gone down considerably plus you didn’t have Burton’s name attached.

Maleficient was sold on the star power of Angelina Jolie in a film that was being directed by a first time director in Robert Stromberg and that ended up being a massive success as well. Same for Cinderella and especially The Jungle Book, both of which did not have massive star power in the leading roles but more in the supporting area but managed to find success for being both unique and visually stunning adaptations of classic Disney animated features. Something of which that should continue when the new Beauty & The Beast comes out.

4. Excellent marketing 

The marketing department at Disney has done an excellent job of selling their features to the public, the trailers for many of Disney’s recent movies have been amazing. The companies that work on the trailers for these Disney movies should be commended and applauded because wow, they do such a great job of selling these films to the public. One of the earliest example of their impressive trailers was this teaser they did for Cinderella:

And even most recently, their latest trailer for Beauty & The Beast has done an impressive job of selling people the movie:

They’ve done this for a number of their trailers and if I was head of Disney, I would keep these marketing guys around for a number of years to come because their work has been phenomenal.

5. Marvel & Star Wars

I remember when Disney bought both Marvel and Star Wars, all anybody could say was “wow, this is a disaster”, “this is going to fail”, “Marvel has sold out”, “Lucasfilm has sold out”, “nothing good can ever come from this.

Yeah, eight and five years later….both Marvel & Star Wars have become more profitable and successful then they have ever been. Marvel has been a major success under Disney in helping to launch characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and the Guardians Of The Galaxy into the pop culture lexicon and their movies have enjoyed various ranges of success under the studio.

Star Wars has found its’ renaissance under Disney after being mutilated by the lackluster efforts that were the prequels. The Force Awakens is not only the highest grossing domestically released movie of all time with close to $1 billion in America alone but it’s third in worldwide all time grosses only behind Avatar and Titanic. And Rogue One was even a massive success too grossing $529 million domestically and $1 billion worldwide. And the success under Disney should continue if The Last Jedi, the Han Solo movie, and the upcoming third movie are made with as much effort as the first two films were.

And that leads into the last reason why Disney has been so successful recently.

6. Disney knows what works and what doesn’t work

People were so scared when Disney bought Marvel and Star Wars that they were going to change up everything about both franchises and make them more family friendly but Disney is not stupid. They are not stupid to take something that was already working on its’ own and just destroy it for their own purposes.

If they need to fix something, they will do it in the way that they think it will work. With Star Wars, it’s pretty obvious that there was a lot that needed to be fixed and it has led to great success so far.

Disney will not take a property and just destroy it like most studios would just to fuck over the audience, they would not do that, this isn’t the Disney of the late 90s.

Disney has kept making good movies recently because they know what’s going to sell to audiences and they know what is not going to sell. They have been around long enough to fully understand what sells to people and know that they are very rarely going to make something people will not like, sometimes that stings them with Lone Ranger, Tomorrowland, John Carter, and Alice Through The Looking Glass, but overall, the studio knows what is going to sell to the public and who am I to judge a studio that keeps delivering quality work. Needless to say, we can only hope this latest Disney renaissance will continue on for years and years to come.

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One comment on “My Take On… #224: Why Has Disney Kept Making Good Movies Recently?
  1. […] talked a while back about how I felt Disney was on a role with making good movies recently and I still stick by that. Yeah, Disney has had some […]

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