5 Ways Disney Failed
By George Rose
August 2, 2018
In a perfect world, I’d be writing about Mission: Impossible 6 this week. It exemplifies summer action, is very well reviewed and I enjoy any/all opportunities to recommend someone go back to watch Mission: Impossible 4. Really, that movie was amazing. However, sometimes there’s a bully on the playground and he’s ruining everybody’s good time, and somebody has to stand up to them. When that bully is also actually the teachers pet, it becomes a difficult task that requires a kind of in-depth defense that only words and discussion can resolve. This week, there is no 5 Ways to Prep for the next great summer hit. No, this week we’re talking about how Disney - that Godsend movie studio that is basically the only guaranteed good time at the movies left in the business - is also ruining the industry they are seemingly fighting to take over.
It hurts my heart to attack Disney, the loving brand that expanded their library with such franchises as Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar. They did almost everything they could to please their audience and we, in return, have supported their product to the point where the Disney label appears on the majority of profitable blockbusters released in theaters. It’s lovely circle of trust and I’m all for the merry-go-round. That was until Disney’s most recent betrayal of their audience. Once the ride stops, hindsight kicks in and the Mouse House doesn’t have the best track record. That’s the thing about current mistakes; they have the power to dig up old dirt. If you’re going to do bad things and demands forgiveness, then you better be able to do the same.
Fanboys (and girls) are in a serious relationship with Disney. We fell in love with this Prince of Producing during our childhoods after an army of Princess movies captured our hearts. Then, this caring studio decided to spoil us with grand gestures. They bought us some fancy jewelry when they acquired Pixar, turning our youth into some lighthearted fare for our more adult future ahead. Then they proposed to us, giving us the most Marvel-ous diamond ring that would become a decade-long cinematic romance. Once engaged, they took us on a fabulous flight into space on the Star Wars honeymoon of a lifetime. All seemed well and we were building our future together. But what good is an engagement ring if we aren’t working toward a house? Wait, you spent billions buying 20th Century Fox so you could cement our future together with exciting moments to come like the Avengers and the X-Men crossover potential?! YOU DO LOVE ME! But what good is a house if this marriage is built on a foundation of lies?
#1) JAMES GUNN FIRED FROM GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 3
Let’s be honest, this entire rant of mine stems from Disney’s decision to fire James Gunn from GOTG Vol 3. Ten years ago, he made inappropriate jokes about rape and pedophilia on Twitter. Since then, his career and humor have matured. He is now the highly regarded director of the two Guardians films and was poised to be a big contributing factor to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) after Phase 3 ends next year with Avengers 4. If the MCU is going to start diving more into galactic adventures than it seems smart to keep onboard the man that launched the MCU into space with the unexpectedly great Guardians films. That was the plan.
But one day, after ten years of Gunn proving his maturity and growth - and two great additions to the MCU - some conservative internet terrorist (Mike Cernovich) dug up a few old deleted tweets from this Marvel legend and put them back up on the internet. That same day, Disney fired James Gunn. Sooooo in one hand Roseanne has consistently Tweeted inappropriately over the last decade, Disney still gives her show a reboot, and then fires her after she continues to Tweet racist things. In the other hand, ten years ago James Gunn was a nobody that sought attention as a provocateur, cleaned up his act as his career began to grow, hasn’t done anything wrong in a decade, has spent that time taking Marvel into space and succeeding, and then Disney fires him because some political internet loser posts old tweets by Gunn? If you’re blood is starting to boil, just give it a second because it’s about to get worse.
Mike Cernovich was charged with rape in 2003. So an actual rapist is still allowed to work today and have a public internet profile, and that man is allowed to condemn the decade-old actions of a successful, beloved director and… WIN?!?! Granted, Disney is in a tough spot but they took the words of a cyber bully and gave in to that fear. If Roseanne’s path was any indication, it seemed Disney was ok with a troubled past so long as the future holds nothing but peace. Roseanne continued doing wrong and was fired. Gunn hasn’t done wrong in a decade and gets fired, because an actual rapist brought up Gunn’s old jokes about rape. Cernovich, the man who has joked about date rape (and has a daughter) and has joked that women over 40 are basically trannies (and has a wife), somehow was given power and Disney balked. Well if a rapist can have his say on the current landscape of Hollywood, why shouldn’t I?
#2) THE DISNEY PRINCESS PROBLEM
So ten years ago, Gunn said some stupid things and now is fired for them. But what was Disney doing ten years ago? Did Disney only ever say just a few bad things or was a it a whole bunch of bad things? I understand straight white men have it bad in the current social climate and that James Gunn is a straight white guy so he makes a perfect scapegoat. Then again, if you think about it, is there any person or company that has treated women more unfairly in the past than Disney themselves? In the older eyes of Disney, you can date rape women (Sleeping Beauty), you can kidnap women (Beauty and the Beast), you can gang-bang women (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves), you can catfish women (Aladdin), and you can make women change and abandon their home (Little Mermaid). Just because the modern Disney princess is strong (Moana), doesn’t need a man (Frozen) and should fight for freedom (Tangled) doesn’t mean we should forget about how they portrayed women for decades. But who cares? No big deal! Disney wants moooooooooore!!! Scapegoats. More scapegoats. Well, they got ‘em.
#3) KATHLEEN KENNEDY TAKES THE FALL FOR SOLO’S CRASH LANDING
After Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney, Kathleen Kennedy was named the new George Lucas and was put in control of the franchise. After the brand was brought back to life with Force Awakens and Rogue One, everybody was happy. I mean, fans are never 100% happy with anything so they whined a little, but the studio was happy. Everything was fine after The Last Jedi too, although the profits were much better than the audience reception. Disney, at first, seemed to want to streamline the series into one cohesive universe. After Last Jedi undid much of what Force Awakens set up (Snoke dies, Phasma dies, Luke dies and Rey gets no answers about her lineage), fans could sense that maybe Star Wars was going off the rails. That would have been ok if they stuck with their guns.
Enter Solo: A Star Wars story. Originally, Phil Lord and Chris Miller were brought on board. They were the acclaimed helmers behind the hilarious LEGO Movie and 21 Jump Street and films. What a great directing choice, right? I, for one, was very excited to see them bring a lighthearted, comedic approach to Han Solo. But, wait a second, Disney decided the film was going too far away from the standard Star Wars approach and wanted something a bit more serious. The directors were fired, Ron Howard was brought on board to finish the film, and the end result is a movie that barely broke $200 million and lost money for the studio (reshoots turned the budget from $150 million to $250 million).
Regardless of whether Kennedy made the decision herself or not, the end result is the same: the filmmakers said they wanted comedy, changed their mind halfway through the relationship, and dumped the funny men for a more serious director. Rumors online suggested Kennedy was going to be replaced for making a bad call, but she isn’t the problem. No one person can control a whole brand, unless the plan all along was to have a patsy ready in the wings. Ultimately, the problem is commitment. When you make a choice, you follow through. Lord and Miller should have finished the film, and if it failed then it falls on them. With a lower budget, the fallout might have not happened at all or been so bad. Now, the problem isn’t with the directors but with the studio. If daddy keeps treating mommy as replaceable, eventually the family fails.
#4) WILL THE REAL PERVERT AT PIXAR PLEASE STAND UP
One of my favorite legal terms is precedent. If a ruling was made before, it should happen again. So, let’s say that the HEAD OF A STUDIO (John Lasseter of Pixar) is accused of sexual inappropriateness in the workplace… by several people. Well, if Disney only decides to suspend that PERSON IN CHARGE for a few months while they investigate, then I expect anyone else in trouble gets the same fair treatment. Lasseter was suspended at the end of 2017, was then brought back in a consulting capacity and will eventually leave the company at the end of 2018. So an actual pervert gets almost 18 months of leniency and then gets to resign, but Gunn gets fired from old tweets that Disney knew about despite a decade of success and maturity. This seems… inconsistent. Are they just trying to save money by firing Gunn?
#5) DISNEY BUYS FOX, BECOMES KING OF HOLLYWOOD
Disney buying Fox isn’t a problem. They initially bid just over $52 billion to buy the company that would see the likes of Avatar, X-Men and Star Wars: A New Hope make the jump to Disney’s ownership. Fans began to rejoice because of all the potential that could come with such a merger, namely the Marvel brand re-acquiring the remaining characters from their catalog. Then Comcast bid $65 billion and everyone started to freak out. If Comcast owned the X-Men we’d NEVER get to see them battle the Avengers, or team up with them. Disney did the heroic act and proved their love to the fans by upping their bid to $71 billion. Everything was back to normal and the world now continues to wait for the day the deal wraps up.
Except, oh crap, now Disney has spent $71 billion and will be the producer of almost half of the content released in cinemas for the future of forever and always. Hollywood’s leading power house is now also in epic debt. Money is tight. The once reigning husband of this wonderful relationship is straining himself. Daddy bought the ring and then bought a house, but he started stressing himself out with bills and work and debt and now he’s starting to screw up. Money troubles and power trips are a bad combination, and eventually that stress starts to spill over into family life. If Disney wants to be the kind of company that owns half of Hollywood, they need to be prepared for all eyes focusing on them and set a good example. If Disney is going to start caring about decade-old tweets from someone who has given success, they better have a perfect track record. Let’s be honest, they don’t.
Our relationship with Disney has been going on for a long time. We fell in love (Princess movies), we let them spoil us (Pixar), we accepted the engagement (Marvel) and we did the vacations (Star Wars). Everyone assumed this hot streak would continue after we got married (20th Century Fox) and that life would be happy for the foreseeable future. But with great power comes great responsibility. Why get married if the man of the house keeps threatening to replace us with younger, cheaper talent? Gunn’s replacement could potentially be Taika Waititi after his success in space with Thor: Ragnarok, which would be the only potential replacement that wouldn’t infuriate fans. But that’s not the point. Being ok with the stepmom isn’t the same as being happy mommy left the house. We want Gunn back NOW!
Disney wanted to own half of Hollywood and now they’re about to, but what good is that if they’re struggling to keep Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars together? Can they even handle more workload? I’m sure there are people out there who are totally fine with Gunn getting canned. I’m not thrilled with his decade-old jokes either, but I certainly believe in forgiveness and I consider myself a man of commitment. Relationships are tricky and they’re definitely hard work. The ups-and-downs of it all can’t be avoided. It’s how you handled those mistakes that defines you. Disney did the right thing by halting production on Guardians but not by firing Gunn. If Lasseter gets a chance then so should everyone else. Innocent until proven guilty, right?
At the end of the day, signs don’t point to a sunny future. If Disney can be so cavalier about firing old talent in favor of cheap, fresh blood than what makes the audience think they don’t do the same to us? We’ve invested a decade into the MCU, and decades into Star Wars and Pixar. We deserve this relationship. This marriage is half because of our fandom. Daddy might make the money and maybe he can leave mommy for a younger director. But, let’s not forget, we (the kids) are old enough now to choose which parent we go with in the divorce. Is Disney really ready to gamble on losing their audience? Trading the fans that have been there since the beginning for a new generation of oblivious followers isn’t the answer. Not in this tech savvy world, anyway. Disney better get their act back on track, or writers like me will be happy to dig up the old dirt in ten years time. Now is Disney’s chance to set a new precedent.