Dark Day in Mousetown

This is a preview of today’s edition of The Ankler, the entertainment industry’s most feared newsletter.

Remember all the way back to yesterday morning when a mere disappointment was the worst thing that could happen to a company like Disney? What a difference a Tweet makes!

Remember last week when all CEO IP Bob had to worry about was his still uncertain path to victory against Netflix in the Great Entertainment Semi-Finals, how to finesse a Lasseter return, and Comcast’s challenge to his Fox acquisition?

As of this week, you can add to that: canceling his network’s top-rated show and suddenly, concerns about one of the major tentpoles of his whole corporate strategy, Lucasfilm.

(Okay, if you want to really get mean, you can throw in that once we get past the Incredibles 2, Disney has a suddenly very iffy release calendar for the next 12 months).

That’s a lot to bite off – even for IP Bob Himself! Now you see why they call the CEOship of Disney the hardest job on Earth.

But to take them one at a time, before we turn the page on the Solo chapter, here’s a few thoughts on what happened here.

1. IP Isn’t Destiny. The whole point of IP Bob’s great leap forward was supposed to be that once you had these mega-brands they would just sell themselves. Well . . . apparently not! Marvel’s incredible winning streak remains the lone exception. The Rule, which has not been repealed, remains defined by DC, Universal Monsters, etc: A run continues as long as you keep making great movies people can’t wait to see.

Marvel is having an incredible run, but as is the way of all flesh, it’s two bad movies away from total collapse.

2. Time’s on No One’s Side. The official explanation Disney is feeding the industry is it’s all about timing. People love Star Wars! But Disney has created such goliaths that there’s no room for the next one at the box office.

“”There’s a question of frequency, and how many times people will go to the movies. Is this too much and too soon for a third time in a five-week period?” says Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis” to THR.

Perhaps, to some extent, but that doesn’t explain why Solo was tracking weak since it first showed up. I’ll let the Star Wars nerds debate the prequel vs. Standalones vs new trilogy vs. Side trilogy vs. Anti-trilogy vs alternative universe; this is a project that gave every look of being snakebit from the get-go. Judging from the underwhelming reviews and reactions, there’s not much evidence that even if this film had the entire summer to itself and a two-year build-up, the results would’ve been significantly different. Maybe you could’ve added on some millions to the opening, but this feels about where it was meant to be. If I’m wrong, let’s see Solo become a cult sensation over the next couple weeks.

3. The Sausage Factory. The marketing machine feels that there’s this appetite for information about the movies that needs to be fed weekly for three years, teasing fans with pictures of the hero’s new boot or news about who is playing the villain’s sidekick. This tactic, though, stokes their hunger for content, and like it or not, once you’ve invited the gorilla into the living room, the gorilla decides what he’s going to look at and what he isn’t.

The conventional wisdom is that backstage drama doesn’t matter to the general public. But I don’t think I read an article about Solo or interview with Ron Howard that didn’t start with the Lord/Miller debacle. This entire release was cast in that light, putting at the very least a question mark over the production and sending the public’s attention to anything but . . . when Han met Chewie!

4. Track of Our Tears. The entire box-office Monday morning narrative these days is now guided by how some movie wildly under or overperformed their tracking, with the overperformers painted as expectation-defying superheroes and grasping for explanations of what went so wrong with the underperformers. Is it maybe possible that we’ve got all this backwards, defining our expectations around a tracking system that now routinely misses the mark? Is it time to talk about Who Elected NRG?

5. Babes in Toyland. How much do the box office receipts matter on this anyway? Obviously, no one (except Netflix) wants to lose a couple hundred million, or come in half a billion less than they might have hoped. But given the empire of toys and rides, can these films just function as loss leaders? As ads guiding fans towards a galaxy of consumer products, where the real money is to be made?

Eventually, obviously, if interest in Star Wars collapses entirely after, say a run of disappointing films, that’s going to have an effect on the product line, but if you walk through the toy aisles of Target, you’ll see that day is still a galaxy far far away.

6. Jedis on the Head of a Pin. George Lucas made a good action movie, and then a very good sequel to it, and then a lousy sequel to that. How much anticipation and intensity can you squeeze into what’s contained in a few hours of film from 40 years ago? At some point, building infinitely on a finite piece of IP real estate is going to reach its limits, if you can’t find some way to redefine that universe. What’s come so far has been endlessly referential to those original two films. That can’t go on forever.

  • ALSO IN TODAY’S EDITION! • ROSEANNE IS OUT! WHO’S HEAD SHOULD ROLL?
  • WME PUTS ITS MONEY WHERE ITS MOUTH IS! IS CAA RUNNING SCARED?
  • PEEK INSIDE THE PIXAR COMPANY XMAS FESTIVITIES!

• THE NETFLIX PARTY RAGES ON!  AND SO MUCH MORE!  SUBSCRIBE TODAY AND DON’T MISS OUT ALL THE NEWS THAT’S GOT HOLLYWOOD IN A TIZZY FOR THE STILL LOW LOW INTRODUCTORY PRICE OF JUST $45 FOR ONE YEAR OF HOLLYWOOD MADNESS!