Has Disney secretly been building a shared universe? There certainly is no shortage of theories speculating that this is the case. Is Tarzan Anna and Elsa's little brother? Is Rapunzel their cousin? Is the ship that was carrying their parents the one that Ariel explores? Is Jane the granddaughter of Belle and the Beast? There's certainly nothing wrong with speculating. Frozen co-director Chris Buck incited the Tarzan theory, though he's since admitted it's not necessarily canon. According to Buck, "If you want to tie them all together, then do it. That's the spirit of Disney."
That's actually the spirit of most film franchises in the wake of the Marvel Studio's wildly successful The Avengers. It seems every studio is tripping over itself to establish a cinematic universe, though not all are taking the time and care to build each chapter with care. While Marvel films may not be for everyone, it's hard to argue with their critical and box office success. Their creators seem to love their heroes, and that love has been infectious. Just like the comics, exploring how these heroes relate to, and sometimes clash with, each other goes a long way towards keeping each new chapter fresh. Even Sony Pictures has finally had the foresight to jump on the Marvel bandwagon, allowing Spider-Man to interact with his peers on the big screen.
If Disney has done anything well since the mid-aughts, it has been making sure only the very best creators are running their company. It's why they (finally) admitted that they needed Pixar's talent to continue their legacy of animation domination, and why they subsequently acquired Marvel and Lucasfilm. In these cases, acquisition has been less of an internal shake-up for the aquirees, and more a chance for Disney to promote, and occasionally tap the talent involved for projects companywide. Since then, Marvel's shared universe has only gotten more interconnected, and Rogue One is launching a whole wave of Star Wars spinoffs. But Disney has a whole catalog of beloved animated films, many of which share a general style and feature loosely-defined timeframes. Disney has made solid profits (and occasional outrage) by tweaking its princesses' designs for standardized doll lines. Despite slipping ratings and possible cancellation after its sixth season, ABC's Once Upon a Time has shown that there's an appetite for a shared universe of Disney heroes and heroines. Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts series even broadens the universe to include characters from Final Fantasy and has maintained passionate interest since its first iteration. So why hasn't this untapped potential been realized on the big screen?
The Ultimate Princess Team-Up
The most obvious pick for a crossover film would focus on Disney's catalog of princesses (plus their significant others and animal sidekicks). Understandably, this could be a difficult proposition, since best guesses based on a variety of factors, removes their stories by hundreds to thousands of years from one another. Fortunately, magic has already been established in nearly every one of their films and bringing them together via time-travelling portal wouldn't be that much of a stretch.
Perhaps the most appropriate adventure would be a Clue-style mystery that surrounds an invitation to a ball whose doors are removed from time. Alliances and rivalries could be formed as the princesses don't yet know each other. It would be difficult for them to know who to trust, but having them interact with one another as temporary friends and foes would allow Disney to structure its protagonists in a whole new light, and offer plenty of room for comedy.
It's unlikely that Disney would want to go "full Avengers," in an action-based adventure that pits their heroines against a foe that would require physical destruction. While some of the girls (like Elsa, Rapunzel, and Mulan) have the powers or fighting skills necessary to battle such a foe, it would be a bit of a stretch to see others (like Snow White or Cinderella) going toe-to-toe with a mystically powered villain. Then again, seeing some of the most classic damsels taking control of their own fates could go a long way towards empowering female viewers.
Pixar's Unfriendly Shared Universe Setup
Toys! Fish! Anthropomorphized automobiles! What do all these things have in common? That's right. Nothing. While some wild fan theories have sought to connect the various Pixar films (and even cast Boo from Monsters, Inc. as the witch in Brave), the Pixar films are so divergent in their purpose that bringing them together would be ill advised. Carl Fredricksen from Up could live in the same world where toys are alive and monsters power their city on the joy of children, but that doesn't mean that he'd benefit from teaming up with Woody or Sulley.
It's fun to see hints at these connections in the Pixar movies, and could even offer some fun Easter eggs if the time travel or dimension hopping in a Disney princess team-up got really crazy. (It's hard to even imagine a Cars crossover in any other setting.) That said, as an official Disney princess, Merida should definitely show up in the previously-mentioned crossover. Not only would her bowmanship come in handy in an adventure, the company could redeem themselves by keeping her personality fixed as the lovable tomboy of the crew.
The Subtle Approach
So let's say Disney is concerned about the ramifications of a massive, magically possible crossover event. Perhaps a subtler approach would serve best, even if only as a lead into something bigger. There's no reason why Rapunzel, for instance, couldn't be a major character in a Frozen sequel or spinoff film. She already physically appeared in Frozen, and her own film's historical timeframe lines up. Why not let the princesses get to know each other in a more intimate adventure?
The Ultimate Live Action Hero Crossover
"And the fuhrer digs for trinkets in the desert." Hitler may have been interested in the occult in real life, but this line by Red Skull at the beginning of Captain America: The First Avenger seemed like a subtle nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark. At the time, the idea of a WWII crossover between Captain America and Indiana Jones was an impossibility, but now that the properties are both owned by Disney it's hard to imagine why they wouldn't team the two up. Disney also still owns the movie rights to the comic adapted, WWII hero, The Rocketeer. They are currently working on a reboot/continuation of the franchise, but the first film's director, Joe Johnston also directed The First Avenger, with a tone not dissimilar from his MCU offering.
While neither Indiana Jones or the Rocketeer have historically been a part of Marvel's history, their worlds of intensely mystical and sci-fi based adventures would fit right in with Marvel's world. There is clearly a lot of Captain America's war history that was glossed over in The First Avenger. The original Rocketeer film ended just before America's involvement in WWII. And while Dr. Jones isn't superpowered, he could definitely serve as the brains of an expedition.
The biggest question in such a team-up would be who would play Indiana Jones and Rocketeer, Cliff Secord. Fortunately, this is already a concern to Disney, considering they are currently on the lookout for ways to return to both series. Disney has already replaced Harrison Ford with the young Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) for the upcoming Han Solo spinoff film. If this strategy pays off, and Ehrenreich is able to replicate Ford's charm, there's a good chance they'll want him to recreate the magic as Indy. But who would replace Billy Campbell as Cliff Secord? Be sure to share your picks in the comments section.
There's plenty that could go wrong in any of the proposed scenarios, the worst of which would be a product that's less "fun, thoughtful, story" than it is "cheap cash-in on bankable properties." This is certainly a risk, as is evidenced by some shared universe attempts, but if anyone can pull it off, it would be the collective forces of Disney's talent pool.
Do you have your own idea for a Disney crossover? Let us know in the comments section!