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Disney In Depth: Disney’s 2014 Hits and Misses
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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2014 may be complete, but the year’s impact will continue to mark all facets of The Walt Disney Company. The corporation’s hands in nearly all aspects of entertainment (film, television, theater, merchandise, theme parks, and music, among other forms) has experienced its shares of highs and lows. Let’s reflect on where and how Disney succeeded in 2014, as well as analyze components it could have improved.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

MARVEL MANIA

HITS: Two of the top five highest-grossing domestic films in 2014 came from one division of Disney. That $4.6 billion purchase of Marvel has paid its dividends, especially during years like this. Both Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier defied expectations in attaining more revenue and positive feedback than most anyone could have imagined.

MISSES: Although very popular, their mass success triggered a power struggle within The Walt Disney Studios, which is taking fewer gambles on its own Disney live-action projects. Investing in Marvel Studios is almost a sure win, whereas placing the chips on a major project from the main Disney label could amount to an unexpected surprise or a major loss. Though 2015 promises a few risky projects (Tomorrowland and The Jungle Book), the quantity of bigger “Disney” movies will remain limited for the foreseeable future.

THROWBACK TIME ON TELEVISION

HITS: Realizing the value of both twentysomething consumers, as well as those in their fifties and older, Disney has launched several new programming options for these audiences. ABC Family’s recurring “Funday” block offers an assortment of classic Disney animated films for the nostalgic young adult set. Meanwhile, a partnership with TCM brings “Treasures from the Disney Vault,” another recurring block of Disney films, shorts and television specials – most from the 1960s and earlier – geared for those who enjoy vintage content. Even Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World has attracted viewers who want to see the new adventures of Cory and Topanga. Kudos to the company for taking these steps!

MISSES: Honoring the past is fundamental to a brand, but conceiving new shows that will prove likeable in the future poses a challenge. Cable networks like Disney XD are slowly coming into their own with Star Wars Rebels and other programs, but still struggle in providing original content. More acquired shows and reruns of older Disney Channel shows populate the network.

MAKE MINE MIXED MUSIC

HITS: The establishment of Walt Disney Records’ Legacy Collection has proven fruitful for individuals who cherish remastered soundtracks. The Lion King and Mary Poppins, its first two releases, exemplify the exciting potential of this line.

MISSES: Will this brand continue past August 2015? The uncertainty of this collection’s future remains in doubt for now. Sales will likely dictate this, but assigning dates for even a few more albums would show a sign of confidence in the series. I am keeping my fingers crossed. Additionally, we still have not seen a second volume in the Disney Jazz line. Please make this happen, Walt Disney Records.

FROSTBITTEN BY FROZEN

HITS: On a positive note, this cultural phenomenon – which truly took off in January 2014, more than a month after its release – has reinvigorated Walt Disney Animation Studios. Though in retrospect I think Tangled represented more of feat, I appreciate that people once again have faith in Disney animation. Frozen‘s music is nothing short of fantastic, if not very inconsistent in thematic structure.

MISSES: Disney is riding the Frozen avalanche due to its enormous success, but it feels too much in too constricted a time period. In 2014, we received an ice show, a longer-than-seasonal overhaul of Disney’s Hollywood Studios into Frozen spaces that is now seeing a similar treatment at Disney California Adventure, tons of toys, a making-of television special, a storyline on Once Upon a Time, and that’s just the start. The closure of Epcot’s Maelstrom ride – to be replaced by a Frozen attraction – has divided the Disney community, too. I appreciate jumping on a hot brand, but so much has happened in 2014 that we may experience Frozen fatigue by the time the inevitable sequel lands in theaters.

Disney character Elsa of "Frozen" shapes snow and ice

A DIVERSE ALPHABET AT ABC

HITS: Cheers to ABC for investing in shows that have more mixed casts than we often see on television. How to Get Away with Murder, the network’s biggest new show in years, is led by the extraordinary Viola Davis. Producer Shonda Rhimes is a force to be reckoned with, as her shows – all with diverse casts – have made ABC’s Thursday nights appointment television. Other newer and returning shows have placed more of an emphasis on including talented performers with backgrounds that represent the landscape of today’s United States.

MISSES: But not all of the shows are garnering praise. Comedies like black-ish and Cristela have received mixed reviews, notably due to their heavy reliance on constantly pointing out race. The diversity message loses its impact if you constantly remind your audience of those issues. The most effective piece of content allows a viewer to not see gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other “diverse” element, but rather to solely focus on the quality of the performer. That’s where Rhimes’ shows are quite powerful.

TAKE ME TO THE GREAT WHITE WAY

HITS: Aladdin debuted on Broadway in March 2014 and has quickly become one of the must-see shows upon visiting New York City. Account some of the popularity to James Monroe Inglehart, who was awarded with a Tony Award for playing Genie. Disney on Broadway continues to break records due to its sold-out performances of The Lion King and exciting new projects on the horizon.

MISSES: Regrettably, Newsies closed shop at the Nederlander Theatre this past summer. It was a surprise hit that beat the odds and ignited a new generation of wannabe young performers. While the show is currently on a North America tour, its departure from New York – an appropriate setting for the musical – came as a disappointment considering its nontraditional path to the stage in the first place. Hopefully Disney sees the potential of turning another live-action film into a stage show – perhaps Pirates of the Caribbean?

A GALAXY NOT SO FAR AWAY

HITS: When Disney announced its acquisition of Lucasfilm just over two years ago, it seemed like it would take forever to see any new Star Wars content from the company. The ramp-up for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has generated the same type of excitement as the biggest blockbusters in the past few decades, especially with the release of the elusive teaser trailer. Star Wars Rebels is performing well, and this year’s Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios introduced both character dining experiences and Mark Hamill’s first appearance.

MISSES: Despite the preoccupation over The Force Awakens, many Star Wars fans are growing discontent in not hearing any updates about a greater influence at the theme parks. Disney CEO Bob Iger has hinted recently that potential new attractions would focus on the upcoming films, but still no “official announcement” has hit the presses.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

DOES FILM SIZE MATTER?

HITS: Disney’s three film projects that debuted during the spring (Muppets Most Wanted, Million Dollar Arm, and Disneynature’s Bears) epitomize the importance of possessing a diverse array of films. Some, like Maleficent, are $200 million investments. Others may only cost a fraction of that price tag and deliver on quality. Muppets, Million, and Bears show Disney’s ability to assemble a slate that appeals to all types of audiences, from comedy connoisseurs and sports fans to nature documentary aficionados. They’re smaller films that feel majorly moving in enjoyment.

MISSES: However, box office revenues might argue otherwise. These films underperformed, save for Bears, whose earnings aligned similarly to previous Disneynature productions. Muppets took in only $78 million worldwide, half the take of its 2011 predecessor. Million Dollar Arm may have only cost $25 million to make, but it disappointed with $38 million worldwide. Though Disney will continue to produce smaller films, for the impact of a loss is not quite as hard as taking a $100 million hit on a spectacular failure, this still stings. In many ways, for this moviegoer at least, these lower-budget movies produce just as much joy as the most expensive projects from the studio.

IMAGINEERING INTERNATIONALLY

HITS: Ratatouille now greets guests in a state-of-the-art attraction at Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris. Tokyo Disneyland announced a Fantasyland expansion, much like the Walt Disney World one, that will nearly double the size of the space. Hong Kong Disneyland is prepping for the Iron Man Experience in Tomorrowland, to tentatively open in 2016. Even in-the-works Shanghai Disneyland shared news of its lodging options, including a hotel themed completely around Toy Story. Imagineering has many exciting international projects in progress, indeed!

MISSES: Shanghai Disneyland, arguably Disney’s most monumental endeavor in more than a decade, has also proven to be an equally monumental challenge. It was estimated to open in December 2015, although that is far from probable. Investors have put an additional $800 million into the resort, which already has a price tag close to $5 billion. The Disneyland-style park with many modifications will feature an entire Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired land, as well as the grandest Disney castle ever. Needless to say, these projects and others take much time. Count on Summer 2016 as more realistic.

HOLLYWOOD REIMAGINED

HITS: Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the third theme park to open in Walt Disney World, is in the early stages of undergoing a massive facelift. First, close down many of the not-so-adored attractions, including The American Idol Experience, The Legend of Jack Sparrow, and the Studio Backot Tour. Next, get set to revamp some elements of The Great Movie Ride, once the park’s quintessential ride. Later, remove the “temporary” giant Sorcerer’s Hat that has blocked the original icon for more than 13 years. This huge overhaul only means one thing: new adventures in store, presumably including more Pixar and Star Wars.

MISSES: The wait for novelty begins. We know how long it can take for new experiences to arrive. It could take upwards of three years before anything of major scale opens. I am guessing the park renovation will occur in stages according to sections, much like how Disney California Adventure was reimagined several years ago. Time is frustrating, but in the end, works to help enhance the finished product.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Studio Backlot Tour plane (Photo by Brett Nachman)

What do you think served as Disney’s biggest hits and misses in 2014? Share your thoughts!

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom!

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