Did Disney Find their Soul?

No one has been tougher on Disney than us here at Oh Brother. We were most upset with the handling and roll out of their newest annimated story brought to life Mulan 2020. That was when we found out current subscribers of Disney+ would have to pay an extra $30 to watch the “Premiere” of Mulan 2020 on Disney+ September 4, 2020. This extra $30 was to give current lucky subscribers the ability to watch Mulan 2020 a couple of months before it was available to the masses in December 2020.

What? We did not recall when signing up for Disney+ there would be levels of membership? Was this the start of Premiere, Silver, and Bronze Disney+? All we heard about was all the content we would be getting including all of Disney’s lineup, the Marvel Universe, Lucas Star Wars films, Disney/Pixar, Fox studios, and whoever else Disney has gobbled up recently. We would get all of their content along with exclusives like Disney/Lucas Mandalorian and other shows starring members of Marvels MCU. As of this writing only the Mandalorian (season 2 already concluded) has made it to the streaming service, although we are about to get our first MCU show Wandavision. At the time of the streaming service roll out several Star Wars films and Marvel films were among the missing and the exclusive programing was pretty slim.

Perhaps the reason for the slim line up had more to do with Disney rushing the streaming service to get a quick influx of cash before it was truly ready to “Premiere”. Some of the Star Wars and Marvel films were still under exclusive licensing agreements with blu ray companies or even theaters, which is often the case. Sure they had plenty of plans for shows, but with the pandemic still raging many of the shows either were still in pre-production or had just been decided upon. Even though we were promised a show based on an original beloved Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi called Kenobi featuring Ewan McGregor, reprising his role of a younger version of Obi-Wan in the prequels, would be returning for the “soon” to come exclusive Disney+ show. Even Ewan was on hand for the announcement of the show! Wow, we can’t wait to watch this soon, only later to find out this deal had just been reached. Just last month we found out about the return of everyone’s favorite villain Darth Vader also being reprised by a member of the prequels Hayden Christensen. The one thing we do not know is when this will ever make it to the light of day.

We are not trying to be unreasonable with Disney. We know filming during the time of a pandemic is not just tricky, but in some cases flat out illegal. In some states like California social distancing protocols make it impossible for some studios to film. But why not wait till you are at least in pre-production or until after the filming is under way to announce instead of making it seem like it was just around the corner? They did this to get us excited and to sign up for Disney+ and it worked because Disney hit their subscription goal early on at around 80 million. Even Disney’s original theme park in Anaheim, Disneyland, has yet to open since March 2020 when the world changed. And for the people complaining about their rights being trampled, slow your roll because politicians are just trying to save lives not take away your rights. As we mentioned in an earlier blog if we had stayed in shut down mode early on and followed the guidelines we’d likely be past a good chunk of this ugliness and not putting all of our hopes in a vaccination which is still many months away for the general public. We may have actually saved some theaters or better still some might actually be open in places other than Iran.

We would have been fine with the truth from Disney about their streaming plans if they told us their programming would roll out slow and eventually you would get some of these great features. But even Disney’s brand new CEO Bob Chapek admitted to share holders that their premium pricing on Mulan 2020 was to try and get some of the money they lost from the theatrical release. And it was not just problems because of the pandemic, Mulan 2020 had been in the planning from 2010, but the project stalled for almost a decade.

First there was an online petition “Tell Disney You Don’t Want a Whitewashed Mulan” which received over 100,000 signatures. So Disney took their time to get the casting correct, but fumbled yet again when it came to some significant historical aspects of Mulan that we won’t get into here. Then after 10 years and finally getting it made the movie got delayed due to the pandemic about 4 times. The Box office around the world where some theaters were still open would get a Mulan release, most significantly China because China has become the second biggest box office take for movie studios behind the United States. The film was supposed to take place in famous Chinese locations, but the take was far less than Disney anticipated with a global gross of only 70 million on a budget of 200 million.

With the Mulan 2020 debacle, many still liked the movie, but from a business stand point this was not what Disney wanted. Even with Disney+ lack of content, the missing income from Disneyland and other Disney parks around the world they were still pretty flush with cash. Their stock is actually on the rise. Perhaps it has to do with all the employee’s in the parks who were let go, some after long careers. However, after just a short term cut in executive pay, that has now been fully restored along with large bonuses so someone is still making money.

Disney+ next big release was announced to be coming on Christmas Day 2020. The long delayed Disney/Pixar film Soul 2020 was to be released for the holiday. At first a lot of us had questions about whether this was their next “PREMIERE” offering at $30? But no, perhaps Disney learned from the outcry like from yours truly, this would be included with our regular Disney+ subscription rate of whatever you pay per month. We knew about Soul 2020 for a while as they had offered previews at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as far back as January 2020. This was Disney/Pixar’s follow up to Upward 2020 released just two weeks prior to the shut down across the country leading to another disappointing box office take from a studio used to seeing movies perform between $500,000 to a high of $2 billion.

Much to the delight of Oh Brother, Soul 2020 was exactly the kind of exclusive content we hoped to see when Disney+ premiered. It’s a movie that is funny, touching, visually stunning, you name it and it checks all the boxes. You can listen to our full review of Soul 2020 on our latest Oh Brother podcast at our official website by clicking here. So does this mean Disney has found their soul? Well, yes and no. This movie is the kind of hit we have been waiting for on the streaming service. It is exactly what we hoped Disney+ would be all about. But sadly we don’t think Disney would have released this via Disney+ but for the pandemic. Hopefully the praise and success of this film will be a hint to Disney of what we expect from their streaming service. It might even be the kind of thing that gets Netflix nervous. In fact, in normal times we would have likely watched this on Disney+ and enjoyed it so much our second viewing would be on the big screen leading to more profits. We also hope Disney starts to treat their long time employee’s who we come face to face with at the Disney Parks as generously as they treat their executives and stockholders. Maybe then Disney will truly get their soul back. This movie is the first step, we hope!

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