by Hunter Johnson
When Disney bought Pixar, fans had nothing but excitement. When they bought Marvel, fans were cautiously optimistic. When they bought Lucasfilm, that optimism turned to concern. Then they bought 20th Century Fox, one of their biggest competitors in the movie-making industry, fans came to an agreement that Disney’s growth had become downright terrifying.
Now, Disney seems to own everything. They sneakily bought the majority shares of ABC and ESPN back in the ‘90s and then, just two years ago, did the same thing with Hulu. They own 20th Century Fox and its subsidiary companies (FX, Searchlight Pictures, the now-defunct Blue Sky Studios, etc), and on top of all that, even National Geographic now belongs to the conglomerate.
To what extent should we be worried? The answer to that question depends on how much you like their content. They are certainly proving themselves capable of handling their properties well. As a massive fan of both Star Wars and Marvel, I personally am hyped for the 20 upcoming movies and TV shows they announced back in November. They’re clearly not slowing down their production of content any time soon.
They’re also not slowing down their revenue, and that begs the question: Which competitor will be overthrown next? Is any studio safe? What happens when one of Disney’s biggest competitors, Warner Bros, inevitably gets bought out as well? Besides the fact that it would be so weird for Marvel and DC to be owned by the same company, we also would find ourselves in a world where Disney essentially has no competitors left. What happens when they buy out the whole entertainment industry?
Would they find a way to compete in other areas?
They are already heavyweight competitors in the world of theme parks and consumer products; will they move beyond even that? What happens when our real estate is sold by the House of Mouse? Or even stranger…what if we find ourselves depositing checks at the Walt Disney National Bank?
These scenarios may sound far-fetched, but the idea of Disney buying another film studio for $71 billion would have been unthinkable just five years ago. Until 2019, the biggest acquisitions Disney had ever made were Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, and none of those had cost more than $7 billion. But then, news hit the circuits of the biggest studio merger of all time. Fox was out. The reign of Disney had officially begun.
Now, amid all this ominous expansion, many still say “better Disney than someone worse.” That’s not a terrible argument. Disney has consistently put out fairly wholesome (or, at worst, innocuous) content. Alongside that, Disney donated $338.2 million to various charities and non-profits in 2019. And on top of all that, the company has been under the leadership of the notably humble and kind-hearted Bob Iger for the last fifteen years.
Iger oversaw the Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Fox deals, and his crowning achievement was the launch of Disney Plus, his final major project for the company. Iger’s time as CEO has possibly been one the most successful runs of any CEO in Disney history.
And now it’s over. Between the Fox deal, the Disney Plus launch, and the transition from CEO to Executive Chairman, 2019 was a major year for Iger, but his former role has now been officially handed over to Bob Chapek, who previously worked as Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products.
This move was naturally a scary one for many onlookers. The winsome Bob Iger has been replaced by the guy who handles all the consumer products and theme parks. The worry is that Disney could lose touch with its humanity and begin pumping out mindless content with the sole purpose of making money. Perhaps Disney’s goal has always been to make money, but Iger specifically set out to never let Disney lose its fundamental humanity. Now that he’s gone, what’s next for Disney?
This all leads up to the most recent announcement. It’s quite exciting for fans to hear about countless new films and TV shows from their favorite franchises, but Disney is pumping out so much content. Many would argue that it has become stale in recent years, even during Iger’s reign.
Take the animated remakes, for example. Between “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” and now “Mulan,” fans are starting to tire of the lack of originality that these films offer. And that was a complaint even before Iger retired from CEO. What’s going to happen now that the product-oriented Chapek has taken the reins?
And what’s going to happen to “Star Wars”? The November announcement has taken the beloved Disney Plus flagship series “The Mandalorian” and used it as a jumping-off point into a whole new universe of shows. We’ll be getting series like “Ahsoka,” “The Book of Boba Fett,” and “Rangers of the New Republic,” all intertwined and connected in the same way the films and shows of the MCU are.
Speaking of the MCU, how can Disney even contain the massive amounts of Marvel content they are about to release? Now that the COVID-19 hiatus on Marvel content has come to an end, everyone’s excited, but how long can the hype be sustained? This year alone, Marvel is releasing series like “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “Loki,” “Ms. Marvel,” and “Hawkeye,” as well as movies like “Black Widow,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and “The Eternals.” That is a lot to ask fans to keep up with. Will the popularity be maintained, or will Marvel fall into the same trap that DC recently did with its Arrowverse, releasing so many shows that most people eventually stopped watching?
All this to say, Disney is putting itself in a dangerous spot. Yes, fans are hyped that the COVID-19 break is over, but that hype will inevitably dwindle…unless this content is great. That’s the one potential saving grace to all this. If Bob Chapek turns out to have a real handle on the creative side of Disney and not simply on the consumer end, then maybe Disney will stay on top.
But history has a way of repeating itself, and according to Disney history, every high is followed by a low. Every silver age (“Cinderella,” “Peter Pan”) is followed by a bronze age (“The Rescuers,” “The Great Mouse Detective”). Every renaissance (“Aladdin,” “The Lion King”) is followed by a post-renaissance (“Chicken Little,” “Home on the Range”). Every revival is followed by a dark age, and that dark age might be coming sooner than we think. Whenever it inevitably comes, businessman Chapek might see an opportunity for the Walt Disney National Bank or Mickey Mouse Real Estate.
The mouse is coming, and we’d better watch out. Or we’re just being paranoid, and Bob Chapek will turn out to be a great guy who just really wants to make Frozen III so his granddaughters get to watch more funny Olaf scenes. Only time will tell.
Hunter Johnson is a Senior Theatre Performance Major and an A&E writer Cedars. He spends his time acting on stage, directing off stage, and critiquing the endless amounts of content that Disney pumps out.