Disney Gets Darker

Forget what you know about Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) . Princesses will give way to pirates, ghosts, and digital terrorists at the box office next year.

Disney's newest action-adventure projects, previewed at Comic-Con in San Diego last week, include:

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in the next chapter of this tentpole franchise. The film hits theaters on May 20, 2011.
  • TRON: Legacy, the sequel to 1982's TRON, has Jeff Bridges reprising his role as computer programmer Kevin Flynn. Only this time, his son, Sam, is trapped in a decidedly more violent digital world. The film debuts Dec. 17.
  • The Haunted Mansion, a reimagining of the ride by horror film writer, director, and producer Guillermo Del Toro, whose credits include comic book adaptations Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army and the forthcoming remake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. No date has been set, but the film is expected for 2012.

At Comic-Con, Del Toro said during a panel discussion of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark that he'll make The Haunted Mansion as a "love letter" to the ride he first encountered at 4 years old during a trip to Disneyland.

Love letter or not, it's a good bet Del Toro's version will be darker and scarier than the 2003 comedy of the same name, which starred Eddie Murphy and bombed at the box office.

Even the Pirates franchise will get darker. During a different panel discussion in which he appeared in a preview, Depp promised the audience "zombies, cutthroats, and mermaids" in the new film. Call it the Twilight Effect: Everyone, even Disney, wants in on our nightmares.

This isn't to suggest that Disney is becoming Lions Gate (NYSE: LGF  ) , which produces the Saw franchise; or Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , which will screen the post-apocalyptic film Priest next year; or News Corp.'s (Nasdaq: NWS  ) Fox Studios, which introduced the Alien franchise. Disney still produces much lighter fare.

Nevertheless, the Disney behind TRON: Legacy looks to me nothing like the one that gave us Cinderella and Snow White. But don't take my word for it. Click the link below to see what Disney has planned.

Both our Motley Fool Inside Value and Motley Fool Stock Advisor have singled out Disney as investment-worthy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy is trying to be light on its feet today.

Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2010, at 12:59 PM, esxokm wrote:

    Great article, Tim.

    I hope all of this leads to appreciation for the stock, but at this point, after owning shares of the Mouse for a very, very long time (over a decade), I am skeptical.

    I know you made a killing on Marvel when it was acquired by Iger, and I presume you own Disney shares because of that transaction. What do you see for Disney's future that makes you an owner? Also, since you do participate in the LEAPs market, would you ever be an owner of Disney LEAPs? If not, why not?

    This disgruntled shareholder doesn't see a lot of stock appreciation. For some odd reason, the market doesn not want to value DIS properly. That's the market's perogative, of course; the question becomes, should I remain an owner? My answer is that I probably shouldn't -- and I should note I am waiting for some good premiums in the call-option market to begin the process of unwinding my investment (unless something changes in the story to discourage me from doing so) -- because management isn't so shareholder-friendly with dividend payments. We should be receiving a higher dividend, and a quarterly one at that. The company has the cash flow, but it seems to want to merely buy things. So far, hasn't helped...

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2010, at 1:50 PM, rairhart wrote:

    I think you mean Jeff Bridges, not Jeff Daniels in Tron.

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2010, at 2:15 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:


    >>I think you mean Jeff Bridges, not Jeff Daniels in Tron.

    Crap. Yes, that's what I meant. Thanks for the correction. I'll be sure to pass it to the editors.


  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2010, at 3:59 PM, TMFTheDoctor wrote:

    I for one think it's a good idea. Just my opinion as a consumer, and I can't back it up with any figures or anything, but I think it will let them reach a wider audience. For most of my life I thought Disney was for girls and guys who wash their hands every time they touch a door. I'm a 20-something male and frankly their new slate of movies sounds awesome. They proved themselves with the other Pirates movies and the National Treasure movies, which weren't really very dark but were still male-targeted high action movies. I just saw Sorcerer's Apprentice which was also very good. I like that they're branching away from princess movies and talking animal movies and sort of showing us that the "magical" and even "family friendly" genre can be more than just sugary sweet. Partnering with Bruckheimer on a lot of these films has definitely been a good idea as well. In addition, I'm not worried about brand erosion because if Up, Bolt, and Toy Story 3 are any indication, they're still very good at warming hearts and appealing to their core children/families audience.

    On a side note, I'm not sure I'd call it the Twilight Effect. Vampires that sparkle in the sun instead of bursting into flame and screaming as they die the violent, painful death that waits for all undead demonspawn isn't really the stuff of nightmares. =P

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2010, at 4:06 PM, bluesguy84 wrote:

    Just saw the "Black Pearl" while on Oahu both in 'port' and out to sea for filming of the next movie. The staff at the resort I was staying at say they saw the cast around the area during the past month for filming.

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2010, at 7:39 PM, plange01 wrote:

    not many people going to disney land in a depression if it were not for a few lucky hit movies disney would be in real trouble already .how long before that luck runs out? a strong sell on disney stock...

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2010, at 9:12 PM, Tygered wrote:

    I think it's about time Disney grew up and stopped giving us... well.... Disney mush for want of a better word. I'm looking forward to all the new movies coming out. At least I won't get diabetes from all the syrupy goo that has been the Disney traditional fare.

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2010, at 9:35 PM, xuincherguixe wrote:

    I don't see that changing any time soon. No not even with Marvel.

    As I see it they'll be acting as independent operations mostly like things are right now. The real test is going to be if the Deadpool movie will make it to the theaters. (I won't get into the details, but he's very undisney).

    I can see that they'll try to adjust, but Disney will always be Disney. You'll never have a downer ending or complex characters in a Disney film. And it's going to be heavy handed. And it won't challenge anyone.

    It's just a little more extreme than most Hollywood movies. You're average action movie isn't really any better. Just some more designated targets die.

    Can't fault them too much for this though. Daring doesn't get people in the theatre.

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