How Disney fell from grace

Feb. 8, 2024, 1:54 p.m. | By Sophia Li | 4 months, 1 week ago

Disney’s box office failures reflect a shift in entertainment

2023 marked the year of Disney100: 100 years of Disney magic and warm memories of karaoking to “Under the Sea, ” “Let It Go,” and “How Far I’ll Go.” Yet, when Disney released “Wish,” described as its 100th-anniversary feature film, viewers felt sorely underwhelmed by a lazy script full of clichés and underdeveloped characters. When and how did Disney begin to fall off?

After Disney's 100 year celebration, Disney loses the legal rights to Steamboat Willie. Photo courtesy of Sophia Li.

For Disney’s grand 100th year, 2023 was full of box office blunders. Of Disney’s eight major theatrical releases last year, only one— “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”, making $845 million at the box office—was deemed a success, with the rest severely underperforming at the box office, bringing little returns in comparison to their million dollar budgets. Marvel Entertainment, acquired by Disney in 2009, suffered their lowest-grossing film of all time last year—“The Marvels”—one of the first box office disasters for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). 

Similarly, 2023 was also the first time since 2014 that Disney did not premiere a billion-dollar movie, not including the box office during the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems that the high bar Disney set for itself in the 2010s has gotten harder and harder to reach. 

Disney’s set of flops didn’t begin last year. To cut them some slack, however, most of Disney’s failures in recent years were due to theater closures during the pandemic that drastically affected the box office performances of films like “Onward” and “Soul.” Still, “Strange World” and “Lightyear,” both released in 2022, received virtually no promotion before release, and thus little attention from critics and casual moviegoers alike. Phase V (2023-2025) of the MCU is also suffering historically low ratings, despite its back-to-back hits in Phase IV, “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.”

For 2024, however, Disney seems to have a fairly impressive lineup of releases that may help the studio recover some of its losses. Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” is Disney’s most promising hit for this year, though it may not live up to its $858.8 million-grossing predecessor. 

Disney’s domination in animation also appears to have come to an end. Competing studios releasing movies such as Sony’s two “Spider-Verse” films, DreamWorks’ latest installment of “Puss In Boots,” Paramount’s newest adaption of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and Illumination’s recent box office victory with “The Super Mario Movie” have upped the game for what viewers expect in vibrant, animated storytelling. Even in comparing “Wish” to Disney’s “Encanto,” the musical numbers and experimental character animations are severely lacking.

Faltering storytelling and simple animation show that Disney’s monopoly over the Oscars is slipping out of their hands. Since 2001, 15 Disney films have been awarded the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. While “Elemental” was nominated for Best Animated Feature, its chances seem very slim in comparison to artistic and storytelling triumphs such as Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” and Sony’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” 

2023 should have been a huge year for Disney, but it was entirely the opposite. Even though Disney has made many questionable decisions in recent years, like creating dozens of “wash-rinse-repeat” reboots of old classics and oversaturating sub-par superhero films, viewers are still eager to hear about the studio’s latest projects. The audience only wishes to see Disney return to its classic roots of animation excellence and nuanced storytelling, prioritizing quality over quantity. After all, I hope to see the company that charmed my and many people’s childhoods create thousands of more fond memories for newer generations of families.

Last updated: Feb. 8, 2024, 1:56 p.m.

Sophia Li. Hey, it's Sophia, SCO's blog editor and fact checker! I love eating hot pot and any other spicy foods. More »

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