What Next For the Disney Remakes?
While Marvel and Star Wars have proven to be major money spinners for Disney, it could easily be argued that their named franchise clout lies in their recent stream of remakes. Their decision to do big-budget live-action remakes of their most beloved properties hasn’t won Disney many critical favors but the box office receipts speak for themselves. Films like The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and even Maleficent offered the studio an opportunity to tap into that all-important nostalgia demographic, as well as a chance to update various elements for modern audiences and strengthen the brands themselves. Disney has shown no sign of slowing down with this strategy either, with Tim Burton’s Dumbo, Guy Ritchie's Aladdin, Jon Favreau's The Lion King and Charlie Bean's Lady and the Tramp all arriving next year.
The issue with a business plan like this is that it inevitably has a shelf life. It took Disney's animation studios close to 80 years to make 56 animated films (with a skew towards recent years), but if they continue remaking them at the speed they've committed to then it won't take quite so many decades to have a new crop of reimaginings. The studio are currently focusing on the most beloved properties that are the most recognizable to audiences, but soon they’ll run out of those. While it may actually be more creatively beneficial to remake the properties that were less successful as animations, it remains to be seen how excited general audiences would be for, say, a live-action version of Atlantis: The Lost Empire or The Black Cauldron.
The Fox merger does not bring many nostalgic properties that could face the same live-action remake treatment. Don Bluth’s Anastasia, a princess film itself very much in the mold of the 1990s Disney Renaissance, has experienced a nostalgic boom in recent years as well as a lavish Broadway musical. Many fans have theorized that Anastasia could benefit from similar treatment and add a new princess to the official line-up.
But, really, what the Fox properties do is provide a reason to slow or curb the remakes. These are Disney's big brands, and so they're using them (while struggling to get new names like John Carter or Tomorrowland off the ground). With so many more nostalgic names, then surely there's the opportunity for a changeup.
What Next For Disney and Fox’s Animation Studios?
Disney and Pixar remain the undisputed kings of animation in American cinema. While Dreamworks and Illumination Studios have put up good fights, none of them have the illustrious lineage of Disney’s decades of work and its immeasurable influence on the industry. Fox previously tried to get into the animation game with Fox Animation Studios. They even brought legendary animator Don Bluth on board. While Anastasia did well enough, Titan A.E. lost 20th Century Fox around $100 million, and soon the entire team were laid off.
Fox found better success with one of their own acquisitions, Blue Sky Studios. After Ice Age established them as real power players in animation, the studio saw big box office hits with films like Rio, The Peanuts Movie and Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! However, outside of the Ice Age franchise, their work has never reached the box office heights of, say, Frozen or Illumination's Despicable Me series. Now, Blue Sky joins the Disney team.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt Disney to have a popular new intellectual property like Ice Age under their belt. However, it’s unlikely that Disney will yield any of their animation duties to Blue Sky, especially when they have Pixar on their team too. The most likely endgame here is a round of layoffs at Blue Sky, with some of the more talented members making their way to Disney (layoffs are expected across many areas once the acquisition is fully completed). Animation is costly and Disney/Pixar’s work tends to cost more than their competitors, so a good way to balance things out is to simply swallow up one of your bigger opponents.
The major sign of this acquisition for Disney is how even the most prominent properties gained from the deal pale in comparison to those that Disney has already made their fortunes on. While they have greater options now, the true display of their immense power lies in how they are able to categorize legendary franchises like Alien, Planet of the Apes and Avatar as their B-Team. Even if they do more with these properties than many are predicting, it seems inevitable that their franchise will lie with the tried and tested products, since that strategy has worked so well for many years.
However, the real boon for Disney with the Fox acquisition is how it gives them the freedom of time. Disney can spread their offerings more evenly across the long-term movie calendar, balancing out their key properties with favorites and unexplored treats in the Fox back-catalogue. Then, of course, there is the freedom of the slate when a decent chunk of your competition has been eliminated. Disney has the ability to do as they please in a way few studios can or ever will, and therein lies the strength of their strategy. Disney’s properties, as a result, may be bigger than ever.