Disney’s first quarter with 20th Century Fox was hardly a success, as major box office flops like “Dark Phoenix” lost the company $170 million. A new report from Variety, entitled “Fox Feels the Pressure From Disney As Film Flops Mount,” reveals how Disney is moving ahead on the Fox film projects it acquired after the $71.3 billion deal. The merger means Disney now owns and releases films from indie powerhouse Fox Searchlight Pictures. First out of the gate this fall from the 25-year-old indie studio is Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit.” The Nazi Germany-set comedy-drama is billed as an “anti-hate satire” and features Waititi playing an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler, hardly the content associated with Disney’s family-friendly brand.
According to Variety, the Nazi subject matter at the heart of “Jojo Rabbit” is worrying some Disney executives. Variety’s report reads: “The scathing takedown of Nazism may, however, prove a little too edgy for Disney brass accustomed to producing movies suitable for parents and kids. Searchlight has started to screen the film for its new parent company. Halfway through one recent viewing one executive grew audibly uncomfortable, worrying aloud that the material would alienate Disney fans.”
Disney and Waititi have a great relationship after the New Zealand filmmaker worked on the Marvel Cinematic Universe entry “Thor: Ragnarok,” which grossed $854 million worldwide. Waititi was clearly a beloved figure by Disney as Marvel announced at Comic-Con the director would return to helm the November 2021 sequel “Thor: Love and Thunder.” “Jojo Rabbit” was developed and produced at Fox Searchlight before the Disney merger and is now one of the titles Disney is releasing this fall.
One reason Waititi’s Nazi satire might ease Disney executives’ fears is that it’s a major awards hopeful. “Jojo Rabbit” will world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, a launching pad for Oscar films, and is one of Fox Searchlight’s potential fall awards contenders alongside “Lucy in the Sky” and “A Hidden Life.” Searchlight has a long history of dominating the Oscars, winning Best Picture for “The Shape of Water” in 2018 and scoring 10 Oscar nominations for “The Favourite” earlier this year. Acquiring Fox Searchlight has given Disney a big break into Oscar season. Should “Jojo Rabbit” deliver with Oscar voters, the subject matter might be easier for the Mouse House to swallow. More importantly, a “Jojo Rabbit” success will prove to Disney that edgy, left-of-center concepts are still profitable on the indie level.
“Jojo Rabbit” opens in theaters nationwide October 18.