This month we’re going to see the media get very confused about what story to tell about Disney. It could focus solely on the upside: Incredibles 2 is about to make something northward of a gazillion and a half dollars, reminding everyone of the power of these brands when executed at the level Disney can still execute.
On the one hand: you’ve got a shopping cart overflowing with fiascos and more curses unfolding than one company should have to bear. Losing John Lasseter in such a drawn-out manner certainly counts as a fiasco. What he does next may count as a wrecking ball.
That said, to paraphrase a recovery catchphrase, they’ve got problems in areas where other studios don’t have areas. This month we’ve seen a couple of downsides of the Big IP game. The first one, from the Solo experience, is clear: When you concentrate all your chips in the Big IP game, those are bets you can’t afford to lose. Sometimes, despite all your hedges and data and pre-sold awareness, you lose.
Imagine something still unlikely but no longer unimaginable–that the next Star Wars movie 18 months from now also significantly underperforms. You’ve got to say now there’s a greater than zero chance of that. Call it 10%? Twenty? When back-to-back Star Warses come in short, then what?
Or if you’re making eight movies a year, and say four of them fall very short. Significantly. Again given Disney’s track record, this is still not a likely scenario, but with Wrinkle in Time and Solo part of this year’s lineup, it’s a scenario that has greater than zero probability. Are people really dying to see Christopher Robin? What if The Nutcracker or Mary Poppins prove to be like grandma offering a dish of butterscotch hard candies to her sour gummy-addled darling?
Could this be the year Disney produces as many misses as hits? It’s not impossible. And then they find themselves back in the old-fashioned business model of the hits covering the misses, just like every other studio that’s ever lived whatever flim flammery they peddled.
Then there’s the other problem with all your chips on a few squares in the Big IP roulette game: You miss out on the smaller but smarter bets that other, more agile companies swoop in and take advantage of. Disney is currently in the process of letting one of those smaller, but very interesting bets slip away.
Who wouldn’t want Jordan Peele’s next movie right now? And if Jordan Peele wanted to take a piece of genre IP with a cult following and turn it into a new tentpole, is there a studio that wouldn’t jump at that?
Well, yes. There is one.
Gargoyles was an animated series produced by Disney TV that ran for 78 episodes from 1994 to 1997. The show centered on a group of church sculptures by day/crime fighters by night who protect the streets of New York after hours. It was moderately successful in its three-season run but was notably darker than the typical Disney TV animation. Which is not to say that it was actually dark; it wasn’t Lars Von Trier, but compared to Duck Tales, there was a certain amount of chiaroscuro.
While never wildly popular, the show has amassed a cult following and is regularly noted by animation enthusiasts as groundbreaking in the field.
Given its eight films a year, Big IP bet-clustering, as well as the breadth of their vaults, Disney has not been in business that most other studios have been, of searching for IP scraps under the sofa cushions. Other studios would be well content to say, “You had me at regularly noted by animation enthusiasts.”
But never wildly popular has not exactly been the Disney terrain. Neither is “uncharacteristically dark.” Disney’s comfort zone: “Rock-solid sure-thing bets” and “tooth-achingly saccharine.”
So imagine Disney’s excitement when Peele walks in and says he wants to do a new version of Gargoyles. He is the hottest director in the industry. Gargoylesis a piece of Disney wholly-owned IP that, in theory, is just sitting there waiting to be exploited. But for the company that has of late devoted itself to revivingBeauty and the Beast, Snow White, Star Wars, The Lion King, and Aladdin (and with Pooh, Nutcracker, and Poppins coming), Gargoyles isn’t exactly the corner of the vault they’ve been digging through.
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