How long can Disney top pigs with pigs?

evil-three-little-pigs

“You can’t top pigs with pigs,” Walt Disney reportedly answered after being asked by theater owners whether he’d make another Three Little Pigs short after the first one had won an Academy Award and had considerable box office success. Of course, the irony is that Walt eventually did go on to make several sequels to that short.

A new editorial by Peter Bart in Variety takes a slightly tongue in cheek look at the quandary Disney CEO Bob Iger is facing. Does he cash in with sequels or try the more difficult path of original productions. After spending more than $15 billion to buy the franchise factories that are Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm. I think you can figure out the answer.

Why invest in live-action gambles like “John Carter” or “The Lone Ranger” when a mere $100 million can resuscitate a foolproof property like “Cinderella” — one that has been regularly recycled since George Melies’ version in 1899? How can you lose with “Frozen 2,” when its first iteration grossed $1.27 billion worldwide?

Of course, there’s Pirates of the Caribbean, which is filming again, and Star Wars, which has five movies scheduled in the next five years. Not to mention the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is really one sequel after another. Disney has shown considerable success going down that path. Iger is not shy that he wants franchises to be the bedrock upon which Disney’s financial future is built.

Up against those sequels are the remakes. After “Cinderella,” Disney has announced remakes of “Beauty & The Beast,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Dumbo.” Surely, a remake of every film in the Disney classic library can not be too far behind.

What I’m interested in are the “Brand Deposits.” That’s Iger’s term for those smaller films that help re-enforce the Disney brand. These include those feel good sports movies (“McFarland USA,” “Million Dollar Arm”), family comedies (Alexander and the no good…, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”), and ‘art’ films (“Saving Mr. Banks,” “Into The Woods”). The theory is that if Disney banks enough of these films a year, they can get away with some movies that stretch the limit a bit. It’s not a bad theory, Steve Jobs used it to great effect at Apple for many years.

Read the whole piece at Variety and then let us know if you think Disney is on the right track with its film strategy.

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3 thoughts on “How long can Disney top pigs with pigs?

  1. Chris

    This begs the question: what is an original story? John Carter and The Lone Ranger aren’t. Neither are most of Disney’s feel good, sports movies as they are based on real events. Saving Mr. Banks also falls into that category. Alexander’s Bad Day and Into The Woods are also not original stories.

    Is an original story simply something that isn’t a sequel or something that is actually an original concept (if there are any of those anymore)?

    Also, are sequels always a sign of lack of originality? You can create original stories while visiting old friends.

  2. Tom

    I for one am not entirely against sequels and franchises, if that’s what keeps Disney afloat. Because more money always means more movies, better parks, etc.

    Rather, my argument against the current path of Disney films is not that they should have more ‘original’ movies, but rather that they should “take more risks” with their films. Even the supposedly risky PIxar films like ‘Inside Out’ seem a bit neutered to me.
    Here’s an example, I remember hearing rumors a few years ago about a possible feature film starring Mickey Mouse and Roger Rabbit based on ‘The Stooge’ characters. I couldn’t believe it. Would Disney have the guts to put Mickey back on the big screen? Would the dark humor of Roger return and would Disney be okay with that? Would the film break all current boundaries and win over both young and old audiences. If done wrong, a movie like that could be a colossal failure and hurt the Mouse’s image for years. But if done right, a risky film like that could revolutionize a brand.
    Everybody knows the rumor was obviously not true of course, and nothing ever came to fruition..but lemme tell you, in the weeks before that story was shot down, that was the coolest thing I had heard come out of the Disney movie brand for a long long time.

    And so imo, with all the money coming in with franchises and sequels, Disney has MORE than enough money to start taking some more risks and heck, even fall on their faces sometimes. Because “originality” is okay, but “taking risks” is what truly made Walt and his company what it is today.

  3. sjthespian

    The big problem with this is that you can’t make sequels forever. You have to have new “original” ideas from time to time to build the franchise from. True, those “origanal” stories are typically going exist in some other form before making them into a film. It’s must less of a risk to make a film like John Carter that is based on a series of novels that people already know than it is to tell a completely unknown original story.

    Say what you want about DreamWorks Animation, but they have a good strategy for leveraging the franchise films. If you look at their release schedule for the next three years, half of the films are new properties, half are building on franchises. With this model, you can use the audience loyalty from the franchise films to offset the risk you take making an original piece.

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