Walt Disney‘s Carousel of Progress, an attraction built for the 1964’s World’s Fair that is still in operation at Florida’s Magic Kingdom theme park, is one of the most emblematic for the company – it incorporates an emphasis on family values with a kind of sunny futurism that both Walt Disney the man (who oversaw the original attraction) and Walt Disney the company strove to maintain. Its theme song contains an earworm-y chorus of “It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day.” That great big beautiful tomorrow is coming soon; in 2015, Disney will dominate the cinematic marketplace in a way that no other studio has in the history of the medium (at least since people started paying attention to that kind of thing). But what will that mean for everybody else? How greatly will movies in general be affected by Disney’s great big beautiful tomorrow?
Firstly, these are the movies Disney has in the pipeline for 2015: high-powered sequels directed by dudes with geeky street cred (J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon) in “Star Wars: Episode VII” and “The Avengers 2“; Pixar‘s animated follow-up “Finding Dory“; Johnny Depp‘s seafaring adventure “Pirates of the Caribbean V” (which still doesn’t have a director, although there’s a good chance Gore Verbinski will return following his work on the studio’s “Lone Ranger“); “wildly ambitious” original Pixar movie “Inside Out,” and new Marvel property “Ant-Man,” which, like “Star Wars: Episode VII” and “The Avengers 2” will be helmed by a fan favorite (in this case, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” director Edgar Wright).
2015 represents a year when every facet of the Disney company is operating at once – all of the companies and properties that the studio has gobbled up over the years (Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm) are present and accounted for, humming with synergistic efficiency. It’s no coincidence that Bob Iger, the Disney chief executive responsible for all of these pricy acquisitions, intends to step down in 2015, supposedly to run for political office in New York State on the Democratic ticket. Basically, it’s the studio executive equivalent of dropping the microphone and walking off the stage.
Every one of these movies, especially the sequels, aren’t movies that people are merely looking forward to – they are movies that people are desperately craving. “The Avengers” and the last ‘Pirates’ movie (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides“) both made over $1 billion worldwide. “Star Wars” is, still, one of the most important brands in all of pop-culturedom, and the fact that it’s being shepherded by J.J. Abrams, who recently reinvigorated the ailing “Star Trek” property, makes for a very exciting proposition. “Finding Dory” is the sequel to “Finding Nemo,” which was the highest grossing animated film of all time until “Toy Story 3.” It just so happens, though, that “Toy Story 3″‘s screenwriter, Michael Arndt, also wrote “Inside Out” for Pete Docter, whose “Up” became the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar since 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast.” And he’s working on the script for ‘Star Wars 7,’ too (busy guy).
Not that these are all necessarily slam dunks: “Inside Out” has been described as pretty experimental, while Marvel’s “Ant Man” project is easily the most obscure character introduced since Marvel Studios started with some guy in a robotic suit. That said, Pixar has a way of making its weirdness palpable and widely appealing (think about the plot of “Up” or “WALL-E“) and if lesser-known characters like “Thor” or “Captain America” can deliver thoughtful, entertaining hits, then “Ant Man” has just as good a shot at landing box office gold. The last ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ too, didn’t connect with domestic audiences as much as it did with worldwide viewers, so they’ll need to freshen the franchise considerably for it to be another feather in Disney’s 2015 cap.
But what does this mean for other studios? They are either nervous or unprepared. One of the reasons Warner Bros is hurriedly trying to assemble the pieces for a “Justice League” movie is in an attempt to stand their ground during the summer of 2015 bloodbath, although at this point it seems unlikely that those pieces will come together in time. Some of the only movies scheduled for release in 2015 are animated movies that take years to develop, design and bring to life – “The Smurfs 3,” “Hotel Transylvania 2,” “Charlie Brown,” and “The Penguins of Madagascar” all have tentative dates. Fox‘s “Fantastic Four” reboot is scheduled – but far away from the Disney juggernauts in a sleepy spring weekend. And the only other thing on the calendar at the moment is the sure-to-be-a-massive-hit conclusion to the “The Hunger Games” series, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.”
There is the possibility, too, that these releases will just bang up against each other and drown everything else out – that people will either lose interest or, worse still, the other studios, fearing a limited audience for their own product, will release tepid fare that they know stands no chance of actually competing. This would leave an atmosphere where moviegoers looking for smartly crafted spectacle would simply have to wait for whatever the next Disney confection is. The opposite could end up being true, too, with each studio trying to one-up Disney with the bigger, louder, more star-studded vehicle, at which point the entire marketplace could be awash in astronomically budgeted white noise. (Whatever the other studios decide to do, they’ve got to do it soon – given the lengthy production and post-production phases of most of these movies – their offensive strategies have to be in place by the end of this year at the very latest. Or they’ll be scrambling to keep up.)
There is also the possibility (pardon the expression) of Disney blowing their wad. While they’ve made a commitment to do a new “Star Wars” feature every year, the 2015 line-up is an embarrassment of riches that the press (and stockholders) will talk about for years to come, mostly in the sense that, “Well, 2016 was not exactly as strong as last year’s offerings…” It’s an impossibly strong line-up but that same level of impossibility could end up haunting the studio. Maybe the message at D23 this year will be: the momentum can continue. Or, in the words of Carousel of Progress, even after 2015, there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.