It’s hard not to be impressed with the Disney empire that Bob Iger has assembled at the movie studio. It’s a label strategy that assumes that if you buy the best and the brightest properties and manage them well you will come out ahead–from John Lasseter’s Pixar and Ike Permutter’s Marvel to Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks and Kathleen Kennedy’s Lucasfilm. At the CinemaCon Disney presentation, new studio chief Alan Horn, who took over the Disney reins from ousted rookie Rick Ross, was well-known to the exhibitors, as he had been the warm and genial head of Warner Bros. for 11 years. He started out, rather oddly, stating his support of the long windows status quo, given boss Iger’s known desire to squash ancillary windows and other studios’ hard work behind the scenes to push back on this issue.
What has struck so many in Hollywood is how comfortable the fit with family man Horn is with Disney–he was never that comfortable with many of his Warner lieutenant Jeff Robinov’s more violent R entries. Everyone all over the world is familiar with the family entertainment brand Disney represents, he reminded: movie audiences “may not know what they are going to see, but they will know what they are not going to see.”
He plans 14-15 titles year, and will continue his pursuit of a franchise strategy, of which 8 will be tentpoles. Two a year will come from Marvel, which is run like a tight Spartan ship by Kevin Feige. Marvel will deliver Shane Black’s take on “Iron Man 3” in 3-D in May, starring well-paid Robert Downey Jr. (who is coming back), with added ensemble members Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall, as well as the second Thor installment, 3-D “The Dark World” (November 8), starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, and Natalie Portman and directed by “Game of Thrones” helmer Alan Taylor.
Robert Redford plays a higher-up in secret government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (April 4, 2014), starring Chris Evans in the title role and directed by Joe and Anthony Russo from a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who also wrote the first film. And James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and Edgar Wright’s “Ant Men” are farther down the Marvel pipeline, along with Joss Whedon’s “Avengers 2.”
Live action Disney is set to deliver about five films a year, three
small and two big. That would include Gore Verbinski’s follow-up to his
Oscar-winning animated feature “Rango,” the $250-million-and-counting
western “The Lone Ranger” (July 3) produced by Disney veteran Jerry
Bruckheimer and starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the
Lone Ranger, complete with oversize white hat and stallion Silver and a
“Pirates of the Caribbean” writers Ted Elliott
& Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe worked out an origin myth based on
the old property and damn if the “never-before-seen footage” doesn’t
look terrific—if a tad expensive. The filmmakers built and destroyed a
real railway–the superb train-top running stunts are Buster
Keaton-inspired– and it’s all quite splendid. Depp looks warm, wise and
charming as Comanche Tonto who is hellbent on revenge and recruits a
young new deputy (Hammer) who has similar goals. There’s broad comedy,
as they make an enjoyably improbable team. Will this be able to make
enough money to justify its cost, especially overseas? Tom Wilkinson is
the classic power-mad magnate villain. Likely not, but as a western
lover I can’t wait to see it–how many of us are there? (I’m less
interested in yet another “Pirates,” due in 2015.)
down the track in December is a Brit-produced biopic directed by John
Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”) about Walt Disney’s prickly relationship
with “Mary Poppins” creator P.L. Travers, played by Emma Thompson; Tom
Hanks is the genial mustachioed studio boss. “It will make you laugh and
cry,” promised Horn. This one looks like a tough sell to arthouse
adults and critics with Oscar hopes at best, but obviously, this origin
story of the classic musical had to be handled by Disney.
March 2014 comes the next live-action “Muppets” movie, an international
caper, followed by Angelina Jolie starring at the center of the action
as another evil fairy queen, “Maleficent,” directed by production
designer Robert Stromberg (“Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Oz: the
Great and Powerful”) and written by Linda Woolverton (“Alice in
Wonderland,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King”). Elle Fanning, Sam
Reilly, Miranda Richardson and Sharlto Copley co-star and “Oz”‘s Joe
Roth produces. “Star Trek” scribe Damon Lindeloff writes mystery
adventure “Tomorrowland” (December 2014) for director Brad Bird
(“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”), set to star George Clooney.
Of course Disney boasts a strong animation slate, and Horn set out the upcoming offerings from the Pixar and Disney labels. He screened the entire Pixar prequel “Monsters University” (June 21), which reunites hulking blue Sulley (John Goodman) and diminutive Mike (Billy Crystal) as rival college freshmen who want to win a contest as scariest monster. As gorgeously wrought as usual, “Monsters U” played well but may boast a narrower parents-and-their-kids appeal than most Pixar films. Horn reminded that the company is 13 for 13, an unprecedented track record. I’m not surprised Disney decided to take “Planes” out theatrically in 3-D (August 9), from the world of “Cars.”
Bob Peterson’s “The Good Dinosaur,” set in a world where an asteroid did not wipe out the species, comes in May 2014, followed by Pete Docter’s little girl brain movie “Inside Out” (June 19, 2015). And “John Carter” writer-director Andrew Stanton is back in the Pixar fold at the helm of “Finding Nemo” sequel “Finding Dory,” starring Albert Brooks and Ellen De Generis (November 15, 2015).
From Disney Animation comes its latest princess musical, this one based on Hans Christian Andersen, starring actress-singers Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel (the Snow Queen), along with Jonathan Groff (November 27, 2013) as well as 2014’s “Phineas and Ferb,” written by “Toy Story 3” scribe Michael Arndt and starring Thomas Brodie-Sangster.
The team at Lucasfilm is beavering away on the next “Star Wars” iteration due in 2015, written by Arndt, with at least one spin-off written by “Raiders of the Lost Ark” scribe Lawrence Kasdan. They’re set to come out every two years, said Horn. Spielberg and Stacey Snider’s DreamWorks is supplying three films a year to the Disney
slate. Vince Vaughn stars as “Delivery Man” (October 4), a guy who has spawned more
than 500 children. Bill Condon directs “The Fifth Estate” (November 15) starring
go-to man Benedict Cumberbatch as Wikileaks radical Julian Assange and Daniel Bruhl.