Disney is a company that has cultivated an image of wholesome entertainment that has provided many people with nostalgic memories, beloved characters, and popular franchises. But behind that image is a ruthless corporate entity whose true image is starting to show more and more.
Disney is a business, their aim is to make money: that is hardly going to come as a surprise to anyone. Their net was spread wide because they have operations in film and TV, video games, theme parks, and merchandise. But there were able to mix business savvy with creativity. In the early 2010s Disney started an aggressive expansion policy, first by buying Marvel, then the LucasFilm, and closing the decade with 20th Century Fox. They are now the biggest media company in the world and have garnered an image of being a conglomerate that gobbles up the competition.
Since the expansion, Disney has looked to make safe bets. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a juggernaut of a franchise that every other studio has tried to copy them. Disney had ambitious plans for the Star Wars franchise with them releasing a film once a year and lots of ideas for TV shows. Worst of all were Disney’s action-live remakes of their popular animated classics which was weaponized nostalgia. Many of these are just shot-for-shot remakes and creatively bankrupt: Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King were the worst examples.
Disney has also entered the streaming market with its service Disney+. The service was a one-stop hub for Disney movies, shows, and properties they have acquired i.e. X-Men: The Animated Series and The Greatest Showman. But they pulled all their content from other services, a predictable move as the streaming wars flare-up. Now even Disney’s harden fans are now seeing the company’s high levels of corporate greed they are prepared to sink to.
Back in 2015 Disney and Sony made a deal that shared Spider-Man. This allowed Spider-Man to appear in the MCU. Disney got to keep gross for any MCU films Spider-Man appeared in (i.e. Captain America: Civil War and The Avengers series), whilst Sony kept 95% of the theatrical gross of any Spider-Man films. Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home were able to use characters like Iron Man and Nick Fury. But in 2019 Disney tried to change the arrangement to a 50-50 co-financing deal and Disney would 50% of the theatrical gross which Sony rejected. Due to Disney’s positive reputation, some of the online reaction was pro-Disney. Even I joked that Disney’s solution was to buy Sony. Sony and Disney settled the dispute at the end of September and the deal was rumored to be a 75-25 split.
The big changes have come recently regarding Disney’s business. Disney has announced plans to release Mulan straight-to-Disney+ in nations that have the service and it has reported that Disney has canceled plans to 4K UHD Blu-ray for their classic films and Fox’s back catalog. In isolation, these moves can be seen as a response to the pandemic because Disney has been hit hard financially. But together these moves make it look like Disney are making moves to try and change the distribution model and force people to subscribe Disney+.
Mulan is set to be released on Disney+ with a $30 price tag. Due to an initial backlash to the price Disney had to announce that the high price was for a purchase, not a rental. But this is still a high price for a purchase when Blu-ray can be cheaper, and the film is only available if people keep their Disney+ subscriptions. If a user decides to cancel their subscription, they lose their purchases.
Disney’s decision was met with anger by theater owners outside of the US. Theaters in Europe, Asia, and Oceania are begging for new releases and Mulan was meant to be a big draw. Instead, Disney has bypassed theaters and if it’s successful Disney gets to keep all the profits. Disney has said Mulan’s release on Disney+ would be a one-off, but if this project is successful what stops the company from releasing other major films this way and push how far they could charge audiences. Or Disney could charge audiences for early access to their hit shows or pay extra for classic content pulled off rotation. It would force them to pay twice.
The website The Digital Bits have reported that Disney are going to scale back on releasing 4K UHD Blu-rays to only recent theatrical releases, animated films, and Star Wars and Marvel-related projects. Classic live-action films and Fox films like the Alien and Predator franchises will not get 4K home releases. 4K Blu-ray format hasn’t taken off as a mainstream format and more popular with hardcore collectors. But this move can be seen as an attempt to bring back the Disney Vault where the company would give a classic film a limited edition home release and force up the price. The more troubling prospect is Disney maybe trying to phrase out physical media and make their films and TV shows available online and eventually only available on Disney+. It would a dastardly move to force people to subscribe to Disney+. If this comes to pass, then Disney could rival EA as a company that exploits their customers.
It’s not just the world of film and TV where Disney has been devious. The company was meant with a huge amount of criticism for trying to reopen Disney World Florida when COVID cases were rising in the state. Disney released a commercial to advertise they’re reopening the theme park and the backlash was evident by the high amount of dislikes on Youtube and a parody that made the rounds on Twitter. Disney World Florida has had to layoff staff because attendance numbers were lower than expected. Obviously people don’t want to go travel during a pandemic and economic crisis, especially to one of the COVID-19 hotspots.
They finally got the Disney World ad right. pic.twitter.com/avy2PUOQXQ
— Jimmi Simpson (@jimmisimpson) July 12, 2020
Disney’s image of being a wholesome provider of entertainment has turned into to being a ruthless corporate machine. The parody of Mickey Mouse in South Park where he says “now get out there and make me some goddamn money” seems prophetic now.