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Monday Mouse Watch : 2010 to be a time of transition at Walt Disney Studios

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Monday Mouse Watch : 2010 to be a time of transition at Walt Disney Studios

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The last four months of 2009 saw plenty of upheaval on the Studio side of things at The Walt Disney Company. With many senior staffers in Marketing being let go. Not to mention Disney Channel president Rich Ross replacing Dick Cook, a 38-year Mouse House vet, as Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios.

Since then, entertainment industry insiders have been trying to get a handle on what a Ross-led Disney Studios will look like. Sifting for clues in the projects that Ross puts into active development (EX: A “Black Hole” reimagining that could be helmed by “TRON: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski) versus the ones he pulls the plug on (i.e. an $150 million prequel to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” that the Studio had already spent $10 million on.  In preparation for a shoot that was to have gotten underway in February).

Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund as they appear on TRON:Legacy
(L to R) Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund in “TRON: Legacy.” Photograph by
Douglas Curran.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The only problem is – for every “Wild Hogs 2: Bachelor Ride” (EX: the previously-announced sequel to Disney’s 2007 hit that was to have re-united John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy with “Wild Hogs” director Walt Becker. Which Ross suddenly shut down two weeks ago), there’s a "What's He Got?" (i.e. a comedy project for Josh Duhamel that Rich acquired for the Company in October that Walt Becker will not only be co-producing, but potentially be directing).

So is it any wonder that there’s a lot of confusion about where Disney Studios is heading these days? That for every story that seems to give a solid indication of how Rich is thinking (EX: Ross reportedly told Studio insiders that the reason “Old Dogs” didn’t do better at the box office is that that production lacked elements / characters / situations that would appeal to female movie-goers) there’s another decision by Disney’s new Chairman that doesn’t quite fit the pattern (i.e. Rich putting “Wedding Banned” into turnaround.  This Robin Williams road comedy – given that it was to have co-starred Diane Keaton and Anna Faris – was thought to have had plenty of female appeal).

So what will the Ross era at Walt Disney Studios look like? To be honest, given that movies are like ocean liners (i.e. they take an awfully long time to make and then launch), it could be 2011 before we finally get our first real glimpse at the sorts of movies that the Mouse House will make under Rich’s rule.

Nicholas Cage and Jay Baruchel as they appear in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" directed by Jerry Bruckheimer
(L to R) Nicholas Cage and Jay Baruchel in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Photo by Abbott Genser.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So as for 2010 … It’s probably best to think of the coming year as a transitional period for Walt Disney Studios. Where – as Ross ramps up his own production slate – WDS’s new chairman makes sure that all of the motion pictures that Dick Cook set in motion have the best possible shot at box office success.

That said, don’t expect the Company to spend tens of millions of dollars on any more elaborate promotional stunts like this summer’s “Christmas Carol Train Tour” or those “Ultimate Disney Experiences” that the Company built in NYC & Burbank for the launch of “The Princess and the Frog.”

Don’t get me wrong. Every effort will be made to make sure that each film that Disney currently has in the pipeline for next year – everything from eagerly awaited sequels like “Toy Story 3,” summer tentpoles like “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and feel-good old-style family films like “Secretariat” – are properly positioned & promoted. That each of these Dick Cook-era productions receives the promotional support that it needs.

Jake Gyllenhaal in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"
Jake Gyllenhaal in “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Photo by Andrew Cooper.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Now where things will get really interesting is in the latter half of next year. When you’ll most likely see Disney take a far more targeted approach to the promotion of its motion pictures. I’m told that the Company is actually considering an “Avatar”-like campaign for “TRON: Legacy.” One that will potentially harness various social networks as well as interactive film trailers to reach potential moviegoers and make them aware of this “TRON” sequel .

Beyond that … Looking ahead to 2011, this is also when Disney’s distribution deal with DreamWorks really kicks into gear. And with that studio providing the Mouse House with upwards of six live-action titles for marketing & distribution … Ross can then be that far more particular when it comes to which Disney-branded pictures that he chooses to greenlight.

So when it comes to how Rich Ross’s version of Walt Disney Studios will differ from Dick Cook’s take on the Studio, I guess we’re all going to have to wait a while in order to see how this all works out.

Your thoughts?

And speaking of how things worked out? Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas? If not … Well, if you’re looking to take advantage of Amazon.com’s post-holiday sales, could you – before you do any online bargain hunting – please click on the above link?

If you do that … Well, Jim Hill Media then gets a teeny tiny chunk of whatever you spend. Which would be a very generous way to show your appreciation for all the great stories that you’ve read on this site over the past year.

Happy Holidays!

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  • Agreed, Jim - next year's going to be interesting on the movie side of the house.  It'll be interesting to see if the shake-up in the Studio marketing department has an impact, particularly in the marketing of WDAS features.

    I mean, c'mon - a sequel with the freakin' singing rodents made more in its opening weekend than "Princess and the Frog" made in its whole run, in spite of "Princess" being a much better movie? It's hard not to blame something like that on anybody but the people in marketing.

  • Bad marketing can kill a good movie, that's true. Astro Boy being an example (saw this over the Xmas holiday with my sister's kids, and it was astonishingly good. Kids couldn't take their eyes off the screen, and the movie gave their uncle a very good time as well. Actually liked it better than Up and a heck of a lot more than Princess and the Frog. And yet the trailers for the film were an incomprehensible mess). And it doesn't help that marketers here in the States seem to think that we're all a bunch of morons who won't pay attention to a movie trailer unless it contains a lot of yelling and comic violence. Just look at how PatF was marketed here in the USA, and then look at the Japanese trailer, which delves much more into the film's emotional side. And I've seen other movies where the marketing has been similar - for Americans, make it loud and stupid, for Japanese and Europeans, make it subtler and more thoughtful. Nice to know what our countrymen think of us, huh?

  • No kidding GS, I think it's all across the marketing board. Which means the people in charge of the marketing are morons. Or they have been in marketing to long(because they are the only ones who know what they are trying to sell).

    The only one that looks interesting to me is Prince of Persia, I have no interest in seeing reboots of anything. CG for me is now very uninteresting, they have proven that they can do anything. Well, except tell a good story.  

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