Beyond the Screen #29 – The State of Disney

This week we cover Disney’s recent troubles.

Huge Shakeup at Disney

CEO of the Walt Disney Company Bob Chapek has been let go closely following a three-year contract renewal on the 28th of June, ending a relatively tumultuous tenure characterised by pivots throughout the pandemic era. As replacement, previous Disney CEO Bob Iger has been tapped for a two-year strategy development period. Iger held the CEO position for 18 years beforehand selecting Chapek as his successor in February 2020.

There has been much speculation as to the motivation behind Chapek’s removal, many involving Disney’s freshly revealed poor fiscal performance (specifically reporting key losses at the company’s streaming media unit, Disney+ included) and Chapek’s response thereto. Streaming giant Netflix has similarly suffered a loss in subscribers; it appears streaming is having a tough go of it as the world settles into a recovery period post the numbers boom of at-home entertainment’s necessity during the lockdowns. The Los Angeles Times reports Disney+ and other streaming services have cost the company in the realm of $1.5 billion. A hiring freeze shortly followed the latest fiscal earnings report, which has since been paused.

Chapek’s ‘right hand man’ Kareem Daniel, who largely oversaw the company’s “global streaming strategy”, is reported to have left the company in the wake of Chapek’s removal. The pair had been responsible for several shifts in company strategy, including a controversial US streaming exclusivity policy applied to Pixar films, theatrical-window adjustments, etc., mostly made to bolster Disney’s newly minted streaming power, which, as of late, has not been going according to plan. Previously head of the Disney parks division, Chapek sought to cut costs in order to usher the company through the pandemic era, all the while arguably fumbling several high-profile controversies.

The Scarlett Johansson fair-pay debacle gave us an early taste of streaming-related mismanagement, then there was the Florida Parental Rights in Education law public relations disaster, firing the head of television Peter Rice, more recent lay-offs, and a poorly phrased comment about his views on adult-audiences and their apparent disinterest in animated fare. “I always say that when our fans and our audiences put their kids to bed at night after watching Pinocchio, or Dumbo, or The Little Mermaid, they’re probably not gonna tune into another animated movie. They want something for them.”

Bob Iger’s return implies a shift in approach (“The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period”), which has encouraged investors, resulting in a significant boost in Disney stock in the immediate aftermath of this announcement.

The exiting Chapek will receive a reported ‘severance’ in the realm of $23 million.

Read more here:
Outgoing Diseny CEO Bob Chapek Likely Leaves with at Least $23 Million’ – Daily Maverick
‘The Chapek Era Wasn’t the Best of Times for the Disneyland Resort’ – The LA Times
‘Disney Bob Iger Returning CEO Bob Chapek Exits’ – The Hollywood Reporter

Strange World Flops at Box Office

The latest Disney Animated feature Strange World was shuffled into theatres over the Thanksgiving weekend, to a reception that could charitably be described as ‘muted’. If you didn’t know that the world’s largest animation powerhouse had a new release in the pipeline, let alone a holiday-weekend release, you’re not alone. Critical reception has been mildly, mildly positive, while public platforms like IMDb debuted to review-bombings (more than likely spurred on by the inclusion of LGBTQ characters). Strange World is, however, the very first Disney Animations Studios film to fall below the A threshold on the CinemaScore scale, garnering a B. That’s lower than Chicken Little, Home on the Range and Meet the Robinsons. Chapek was wrong to say that animation “isn’t for” adults, but it seems Strange World “isn’t for” anyone.

The box office seemed to reflect this sentiment, as Strange World debuted to a measly $11.9 million over the three-day weekend. That was enough to secure second place at the domestic top-ten, but this is poor consolation considering the film’s steep $180 million budget (before advertising, mind you).

When it comes to identifying Strange World’s key flaw, fingers have been pointed in all manner of direction. A convincing point: these days an original IP animation really requires a hook, even Disney films, and Strange World doesn’t really have one (that is, not one which could be included in the film’s marketing). Furthermore, animated science-fiction has a pretty poor financial track record. Strange World drummed up $27.8 million worldwide, that’s including a five-day Thanksgiving total, a holiday box office weekend that goes down as one of the worst of its kind in decades.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been good news for the company (there’s always good news for Disney); Avatar: The Way of Water is right around the corner, with a Chinese release secured for the time being. Not to mention the top spot at the box office went, once again, to The Walt Disney Company’s Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures’ Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution’s Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which now stands at a $676 million world-wide.

New Pixar Teaser

With both Strange World and Lightyear underperforming, some have been quick to pronounce Disney as having entered a new animation slump. The recently released teaser trailer for Elemental doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in a return to form, though it’s never smart to bet against Pixar. The teaser is lowkey; essentially an uncut clip featuring the humdrum commute in the film’s ‘elemental’ world, made up of folks split between the watery, fiery, earthy and air-headed. Two of them, Ember and Wade (get it?), seem to make a connection, and that’s about all there is to it.

There’s always a chance that this could be the studio’s next masterpiece, but… do you remember that time in from the ’90s to the early 2000s when Pixar would announce their next project, and in short order there’d be a knock-off rushed into theatres around the same time (ala A Bug’s Life and Antz, Finding Nemo and Shark Tale). Yeah? This concept feels like one of those. There’s something to be said for the apparent focus on the film being about these two characters and their unlikely bond thus far in marketing. Plenty of us could do without contrived day-saving stakes. We’ll have to wait and see.