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The Walt Disney Company embraces the "F" Word ...

The Walt Disney Company embraces the "F" Word ...

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Disney dweebs the world over are still chattering about the bombshell that Al Lutz dropped over on Miceage on Tuesday morning. About how Walt Disney Pictures is reportedly toying with the idea of producing a second trio of "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. With the first installment of this next trilogy possibly debuting in theaters as soon as 2010.

But according to my sources at Disney Studios, this is just the tip of the miceberg ... er ... iceberg. I mean, how about those three new "Narnia" films that the Mouse is planning on making with Walden Media? Or that follow-up to "Enchanted" that Disney Feature Animation is allegedly already knocking around story ideas for. And even though "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" won't begin shooting 'til early next month, people in Burbank are already looking ahead toward "National Treasure 3" and "National Treasure 4."

These days, folks, the magic word on the Disney lot is "franchise." And to be honest, Mouse House managers don't like greenlighting any new projects for the studio unless these potential productions naturally lend themselves to a series of follow-up films.

This is why Walt Disney Pictures -- in conjunction with Jerry Bruckheimer Films -- is now gearing up to put a "Prince of Persia" movie into production. Because it's thought that a film based on this hugely popular series of Ubisoft Entertainment games (Which -- in theory -- will be Disney's big action-adventure release for the Summer of 2008) could then lead to a new hit series of movies for the studio.

This is also the thinking behind Disney's recent re-acquisition of the movie rights to Edgar Rice Burrough's "John Carter of Mars" series. With the hope that -- if this project is properly developed for the screen -- the 11 books in this series could then lend themselves to a hugely popular set of motion pictures.

And it's not just the people at Walt Disney Pictures who are thinking this way. These days, it seems like everyone at the Mouse House has gone franchise-crazy.

Take -- for example -- how the folks at the Disney Channel plan on building on & then extending their already wildly popular "High School Musical" franchise. Using footage that was shot during the recently completed HSM concert tour, Buena Vista Home Entertainment will release a DVD version of "High School Musical: The Concert" later this summer. With one of the main selling points of this disc being that it will contain an exclusive preview for "High School Musical 2." Which will begin airing on the Disney Channel in August.

Then -- in December -- the DVD version of "High School Musical 2" will be released to stores. And this disc will not only feature a brand-new musical number (Which will deliberately not be shown whenever this new TV movie airs on the Disney Channel), but it will also include a special preview for Walt Disney Pictures' recently announced October 2008 theatrical release, "Haunted High School Musical."

And let's not forget about the "High School Musical on Ice" arena show that Feld Entertainment hopes to have touring the U.S. by late this Fall. Or the second edition of "High School Musical: The Concert" (Which would once again feature original members of the cast of the then-two HSM TV movies) that the Walt Disney Company wants to send out on another 40-city tour next winter.

Mind you, not everyone at the Mouse House is enthusiastically embracing this wave of franchise frenzy. Take -- for example -- Zac Efron, the original Troy from "High School Musical" (The TV Movie). Efron opted out of appearing in the concert version of HSM mostly because he was still working on the movie version of "Hairspray: The Musical." And while Zac is already signed to appear in "High School Musical 2," he doesn't sound all that enthusiastic about "Haunted High School Musical."

In fact, in a recent interview with TV Guide, Efron was quoted as saying:

"I highly doubt I would be involved in that. There's so much Disney stuff being made right now, I would rather pick something more challenging."


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Jerry Bruckheimer Films

And even as "Pirates" screenwriters Terry Rossio & Ted Elliot are finishing up polishing the screenplay for "National Treasure 2," Rossio has expressed some reservations about Disney going forward with a second trio of "Pirates" pictures. In a February 12 interview with Moviehole, when Terry was asked about a fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" film, Rossio replied:

"It's like the fourth Indiana Jones picture. There are forces in play to make it happen, and forces in play to make it not happen. I think (that Ted & I) will try to write a screenplay. I can't say if we'll be able to solve the challenge of making a good fourth film, or if our screenplay will be enough to get a film made."

And let's not forget about John Lasseter & Ed Catmull, the new Big Cheeses at WDFA. Even though these two have allowed Pixar to put "Toy Story 3" into production, John & Ed are still quite vocal when it comes to the subject of sequels, film franchises and brand building. With Lasseter reportedly borrowing Roy E. Disney's famous quote: That "... brands are for cattle."

Still, that hasn't stopped senior managers at the studio from talking about how " ... 'National Treasure' could be our Indiana Jones." Or signing British actor Ben Barnes to a three picture deal so that he can then be locked in to play Prince Caspian in the next three "Narnia" films. With "Caspian" being released to theaters in May of 2008 and the film version of "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" already being penciled as Disney's big holiday season release for 2009.

But will all of this talk of tentpoles & new film franchises actually ever translate into something solid for Walt Disney Studios? Let's remember that -- back during the Summer of 2001, while "Country Bears" was still production -- the Mouse was so positive that it had a hit on its hands that the studio hired Paul Rugg to write a "Country Bears" sequel. But that project was quickly abandoned once this Peter Hastings film came out in July of 2002 and proved to be a box office disappointment.

Still, these days, Disney officials seem anxious to build on each & every success the company has. Which is why even a seemingly throwaway project like "Air Buddies" (I.E. The most recent direct-to-video sequel to Walt Disney Pictures' 1997 release, "Air Bud") is now receiving the franchise treatment. Because that Buena Vista Home Entertainment moved so many discs during the 2006 holiday season, "Snow Buddies" is now in pre-production. Look for that video premiere -- which sends those Golden Lab pups off on an Alaskan adventure -- to turn up on store shelves just before Christmas of 2007.

So what do you folks think about the Walt Disney Company getting aggressive when it comes to franchises? Is this the right thing for the Mouse to do? Or is Mickey's new plan (pardon my French here) a little f'd up?

Your thoughts?

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  • If the scripts are good.  No problem for me.

    As long as they make a compelling story and put the right people in to produc, direct, write and act there is no problem with making a franchise.

    I simply don't want anymore "cheapquels" as Lasseter would say.  But if a story works and lends itself to a sequel... go right ahead.

  • Well franchises are nothing new.  Studios are *always* looking for a potiential new franchise; not really sure why we should be surprised.  Up until recently Disney didn't have anything franchise worthy.  Way back in the early 90s they had high hopes that The Rocketeer would be their Indiana Jones and well...it didn't.

    If sequels are done right you can have a successful franchise.....so the word to Disney...make good movies..

  • I love sequels.  Or at least, the idea of sequels.  The desire to find out what happens next in a beloved story is profound.  It kept Scheherazade alive.  Heck, it's even kept some studios alive (for Warner Bros. 7 of their top 10 have been franchise pics, 14 of their top 20).  So is it f'ed up for Disney to get aggressive with franchising?  The Pollyanna in me would dodge the question and say that it's encouraging that Disney has properties worth franchising.  My hope is that Disney will balance these safe bets with more adventurous, challenging projects (like Bridge to Terabithia).

  • *shrug*

    I thought they didn't want sequels anymore, or less at least! So what do you get? 6 Pirates movies, 6 Narnia pix....

    I want fresh, cool, creative ideas!

  • Like imagineerwarrior, I don't mind if the scripts are strong. But also if some of this energy is used into finding the NEXT big thing (which can then be franchised!).

    I'd hate for the next few years to be one of strong sequels and nothing else. New stories need to be explored to, or where else will the future franchises come from?

  • Mentioning the "Country Bears" sequel that never was makes me want a JHM article (or series!) on some movies that never were...

    I love "High School Musical".  I had been really looking forward to the movie before it debuted, and I love it just as much now.  I'm sure I'll like the sequel, but I'm just not looking forward to it as much as I did the first.  And, in my mind, I see a gym decorated with Halloween decorations for the third film...why must it be Halloween-themed and theatrical?  That makes no sense to me.  I have mixed feelings about the Zac Efron quote.  I'm not surprised: he's what, 19 years old, and millions of tweens adore him.  He wants to be a serious actor, and yet he signed on for HSM not knowing what he got himself in for.  I'm sure he's getting paid nicely, but I guess he cares more about his credibility than the money, which shows a lot about his character.  I say that Gabriella can do better than Troy.  

    I'm totally overanalyziing HSM.  That's the tween in me coming out, I tell ya! (But I'm really almost 22.)

    As for "Pirates", I say cool down after the third one, and release a nifty box set with more extras than we've ever seen before.  Work on "Narnia", and, if they're going to, "National Treasure".  Then, after we've waited a while, maybe then give us more "Pirates".  Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

    I agree with everyone else- it's the stories that matter the most.  Captain Jack Sparrow is such a great character- so, what I'm also saying is that we need great characters, too.  

    I'm excited for "Enchanted", but, really, they're working on a sequel over 8 months before the movie even comes out?  I'm hoping it does really well- I can't wait to see it.  If the sequel is necessary in furtheriing along the story (will the first not end with a 'Happily Ever After'?), then I say bring it on, as long as it has more traditional animation.

  • I'm mixed on sequels and franchises.  15 years ago, it seemed like teh most-sure fire way to feel the rest of the Disney machine.   Had a Dick Tracy or a Rocketeer, ahem, taken off then it seemed like more films would be made, attractions would be built, and the franchise would be evergreen.

    But I don't know if "evergreen" exists that way.  Look at the Universal Studios parks...they have grabbed hold of some pretty successful franchises that have had multiple sequels, the Back to the Future, Men in Black, the Terminators.  But how evergreen are these attractions?   Honestly, I walk around Uni and see some of these and I'm like, wow, that takes me back.

    Once these films fall off the radar, once they are not being refreshed with sequels or being featured as the hot film on USA or ABC, they cool pretty quickly.  Its a nasty backlash.

  • I'm... dubious. I'm worried that Disney is doing the whole watered down DTV sequels thing again only now with live action movies. Which is understandable because Disney is having quite a few live action successes lately, but I don't think they should b counting their chickens before they hatch.

    I think they should focus on developing a lot more live actio films before they start exhausting the few they own. The Narnia ones I have no problem with because there are seven books in the series any way and I'm presuming Disney plans on adapting all of them. But a second Pirates trilogy? I'm sure it would be a huge success but would it actually be any good? Remember how the Star Wars prequels ruined the franchise for millions?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not completely against creating sequels. I just believe that a sequel should be made for the story, not a story made for a sequel.

  • IMO, "franchise" is just another corporate buzzword for, "We really don't know what the hell we're doing, so we'll just keep grinding out the same tripe as long as people will keep choking it down."

    This, to me, is exactly like what Disney tried with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Lilo and Stitch ... they tried to do so much with these "franchises" that people backlashed and got sick of them.

    Sequels are okay if they're sequels made to long-lasting, compelling films in which people care deeply about the characters and the storylines. Things like High School Musical are a fad ... a quickly fading trend ... by the time you can get a sequel out the kids who were into it have grown up and don't care about it anymore and the next generation of kids has moved on to something else.

    Hollywood today, Disney included, is populated with way too many corporate types who are far too concerned about "franchises" and "branding" and all that corporate mumbo jumbo that amounts to nothing more than, "How can we spend the list amount of money while still milking the most amount of profits out of our products?"

    Originality is dead. Everything that comes along today is a carbon copy of something someone has already done ... we're bombarded with remakes of old movies or T.V. shows, sequels to films that weren't that great in the first place, and copycats of stuff that has been successful for other studios. How many reality shows are we gonna get on T.V.? Or crime dramas? Or doctor shows?

    Hollywood is stagnating because it's been taken over by suits. THAT'S why they're losing money ... not because of DVD's or piracy or whatever else they're blaming. It's because they've driven prices through the roof all the while driving quality of entertainment through the floor.

    Blech ...

  • Sometimes, things just need to be let alone.

    Yes, if a script is strong, I see no problem in a sequel... Toy Story 2 is currently coming to mind.  However, I feel the constant promotion of brands undermines the beauty of the original: for example, the Pirates and Princesses are EVERYWHERE in anything Disney-related, to the point where I'm nausiated at the words themselves.  The Disney Princess line has moved those dressed-up heroines so far from their original personalities and charm that they are unrecognizable [did anyone else read that New York Times study that girls age 2-6 did not understand the Cinderella movie because they were confused that Cinderella was not in her famous, blue dress through its entirety?]

    Me, I'd rather see the millions of dollars being used to spread existing characters so thin being put towards a new set of characters.  From a business point of view, it also makes sense - in stead of 1-2 rides you can create from characters from a single movie franschise, you can now create 3-5 rides from the money you are saving on sequels.

    I think that ultimately, I am reminded of Henry James' novel "The Turn of the Screw", which ended on a cliffhanger.  While I have heard many that just want to hear the ending - see what happens to the characters - James himself has said that had he written any more or less, the vision he created would be destroyed.

    I guess it comes down to....

    Disney Fairies = GOOD.  The books enrich and expand the characters.

    Disney Princesses = BAD.  The characters become bland and move away from their original selves.  They no longer have a purpose [since was Belle happy with being subserviant?]

    .... but that's just me.

  • Well, the "Narnia" films are really part of a series, not sequels. And the main prob with the series IMO is that after "Prince Caspian", two of the four kids drop out of the stories. Then after "Dawn Treader", the other two drop out and two new kids take over. I'm not sure how moviegoers will react to that.

    IMO, there is one potential franchise that Disney is totally missing...Kingdom Hearts. The games are frickin' great, and I can totally see a huge movie franchise arising from them. Why Disney isn't (apparently) considering this is a mystery to me. Jim, have you heard anything about Disney expanding on Kingdom Hearts?

  • WDWacky shoots ....he scores !

    Suits reading spreadsheets love franchises, since they can justify budgets. If a suit goes out on a limb and supports a new idea, and it doesn't hit the numbers projected by an analyst/psychic, the suits can be in trouble. Suits rarely get in trouble for approving Titanic II. "Well it should have been a slam dunk - must be marketing's fault."

    The other dynamic that has changed is expected profits from sequels. Once upon a time, sequels were successful if they hit 60-75% of the original's box office. With videos and dvd's coming out 3-4 months after theatrical release (used to be around a year or more), people can get the dvd, meet the characters, and by the time the sequel rolls around the audience is even bigger than it was for the original. The Austin Powers series woke the current round of suits up to this new phenomenon.

    Marketing guys love it too, since they don't have to work as hard. Which is easier ? Explaining how Ratatouille will be an entertaining fun movie about cuddly rats that the whole family will enjoy, or just saying "Johnny Depp's back as a pirate."

    Ironically, the company used to be able to successfully market any film, just by slapping "Walt Disney Presents" in front of the title. Thanks to the spreadsheet loving, creativity-impaired, cheapquel-promoting suits, those days are long gone.

  • Brands are for cattle.

    Disney's corporate boardrooms are filled with those with the herd mentality.

    Bottoms up, gentlemen...

  • Chronicles of Narnia is a franchise and should be as the series of books lends itself to several sequels.  National Treasure may lend itself to sequels, but lets see how number 2 goes first.  The first movie was a suprising hit.  Can they do it again?  Snow Buddies?  Give me a break.  I guess if it makes money for the studio to make other GOOD movies then whatever.  My family has no interest in it at all.  

    As far as Pirates goes I don't know if another triology would go over too well.  It may be an overkill.  If they can make the story great and bring some fresh new ideas and some new main characters in then it may work.

  • I agree with most of the posters in that it's all about the story. If there is a compelling story to tell, then who cares. No one was complaining about a 3rd movie for Lord of the Rings because it was a compelling story.

    I think that beyond 3 or 4 movies, it starts to get old (with the exception of successful book series, Narina, Harry Potter, etc).

    But since we are talking about sequels, WHERE THE HECK IS TRON 2.0!!!!!!!!!!

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