If you retreat and regroup around your brand as a bunker, are you a cinematic failure? Disney
The retrenchment isn't a surprise. Variety reported that Disney was about to slash its non-animated features from 18 a year to just eight annual releases last week. Fleshing out the details, the family entertainment giant is now committing to putting out 10 movies (live-action and animated) under the Disney label every year, with another two or three under the Touchstone name.
The only real surprise is that Disney sugarcoated last night's release by entitling it "The Walt Disney Studios Moves to Increase its Disney Branded Output Strategy." The headline doesn't seem like a sign of retrenchment. You normally don't see the word "increase" in a release that later follows with the public announcement that 650 jobs will be cut.
An executive shuffle is also taking place. Oren Aviv is being promoted to president of Production. On the way out is Nina Jacobson, who has served Disney well over the years but is blasted in M. Night Shyamalan's new book as the reason for his departure from Disney. The director had provided Disney with some of its biggest live-action hits, like The Sixth Sense and Signs. But a creative dispute with Jacobson found him taking Lady in the Water to rival Time Warner
So why is Disney returning to its name brand? A little Touchstone history is in order here. Disney got some flak in 1979 when its sci-fi thriller The Black Hole got slapped with a PG rating. In order to deflect the association of the Disney brand with G-rated family fare, the company introduced Touchstone five years later with the release of Splash.
Times have changed, of course. Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest set a new opening day weekend record by producing $132 million in ticket sales this summer as a Disney-branded release with a PG-13 rating. It's proof that audiences can accept more grown-up fare in a Disney wrapper. It's also proof that you can do more with less, as long as your aim is true.
That will be the challenge, given the limited slate. A Disney dud at the multiplex may leave it exposed for a month or two, until the next film tries to woo back audiences. Aviv is a timely appointment, credited with the success of National Treasure, but there are only so many pirates and so many treasures that one can count on in Hollywood these days.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is still a kid at heart, smitten with the right kind of animation. He owns shares in Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.