There’s an old Simpsons episode — going back more than 20 years now — where Homer passes through a Hollywood lot, and he stumbles across a studio building that reads: “20th Century Fox, a Division of Walt Disney Co.”
At the time, it was a clever dig at Fox (makers of The Simpsons), but today it feels a great deal more prophetic than perhaps was initially intended. Proof that Matt Groening is indeed from the future.
In the two decades since the episode originally aired, Disney has acquired a staggering number of studios and franchises. Lucasfilm, Marvel Entertainment and Pixar are just a few of the major properties now belonging to Mickey ‘Big D’ Mouse. And only as recent as last week, Disney announced it would be dropping the name ‘Fox’ from all its 20th Century properties, essentially culling any previous associations the brand may have.
Now, just weeks away from the UK launch of its new streaming service, we take a look at the studio’s more recent rise to prominence. Was it all just a coincidence — or is Disney simply destined to own everything the light touches?
Disney has been entertaining generations of audiences since the company was first founded in 1923. From its Golden era of classic animation to cutting-edge computer visuals, by way of a ‘Renaissance’ in the 90s, everybody can recall the movies that best define their formative years.
Disney’s output today is essentially the same. Like, literally, the same. So many of their newer movies are either reboots or remakes or re-releases that it’s easy to think the empire has gone creatively stagnant. But we’re talking about an empire built on emotional resonance — telling stories that convey themes and ideas that not only entertain but also strike a resonant chord with its audiences. Disney’s vault is teeming with properties that mean a lot to so many people, on so many different levels, and they’ve made it a priority to ensure the vault remains well-stocked.
A huge part of this involves onboarding properties that fit snugly into Disney’s own line-up. Unlike Netflix and Amazon Prime, whose streaming platforms are a diverse mix of movies, television shows and (murder) documentaries, Disney’s catalogue is comparatively sparse, at least thematically, but far more distinctive in tone and style. It’s also more heavily influenced by the past; mining old franchises that people already have a strong connection with, like Star Wars, to create new content, such as The Mandalorian.
If you don’t already know what a Mandalorian is, then you’re probably not in the market for Disney’s new streaming platform, Disney Plus, when it launches here next month. But that’s okay — the whole point of cultivating these properties (Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel), which they’ve done so carefully and deliberately over the years, is to build something that appeals consistently to a certain demographic. And besides, there’s always The Irishman.
In the US, however, viewers are already flocking in their droves, with as many as 1 million Netflix subscribers reportedly making the switch. Forgetting about content for a moment — Disney’s other strength lies in its ability to tell stories through its marketing. This is another area where the company excels at making an emotional connection, and that emotion or feeling, as you’ve probably already guessed, is nostalgia.
Growing up kinda sucks. Being told to eat your vegetables and when to go to bed are nowhere near as disheartening as the responsibilities and pressures of adult life. We can’t go back, but we can attempt to recapture those moments by revisiting our most memorable experiences. This is where Disney steps in, placating our 8-year-old inner-selves with a flying elephant-sized dose of nostalgia. Or in the case of Disney’s new streaming platform, infinite cosmic power at an itty bitty cost of just a few quid per month.
– Walt Disney
In other words, Disney aren’t just telling stories in their films — they’re using films and popular franchises to narrate some of the most significant stories of our lives. To that end, it’s no surprise the majority of subscribers predicted to adopt Disney’s new streaming service are aged between 18-45 (source. Statista). Sure, some of these will include families with children, but it’s fair to say today’s millennials and Gen Zs will make up a healthy portion of that viewing audience.
Walt Disney himself suggested as much almost a century ago when he said: “Tomorrow can be a wonderful age.” He also said: “You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown-up”, but it doesn’t really carry the same sentiment.
(Please don’t sue us, Disney)
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