Disney's (NYSE: DIS) had a busy year of erratic box office returns, mixed theme park performances, and another strong showing at ESPN.

What will 2012 bring?

Let's take a look at a few of the things Disney will have to get right if it wants to revisit the multi-year highs it hit earlier in 2011.

1. Disney needs to bounce back in theatrical animation
Mars Needs Moms was a charge-breeding disaster. Cars 2 fared reasonably well at the box office, but it became the first Pixar flick that film critics generally panned.

These two developments will find the industry watching Disney's ticket sales closely to make sure that 2011's letdowns in animation were flukes.

Brave hits theaters in June, and the new original Pixar property will have the entire summer to prove that it's "brave" enough to follow up the critically dissed Cars 2. On the non-Pixar front, Wreck-It Ralph hits a multiplex near you come November. 

Disney can't afford to be asleep at the animator's wheel. DreamWorks Animation (NYSE: DWA) is hungry after mixed results with a pair of sequels in 2011. Viacom's (NYSE: VIA) Paramount is launching an animation unit, targeting 2014 for its first release.

2. New theme park expansions will have to pan out
Disney World in Florida has had some competition spring up lately. Legoland Florida just opened less than an hour away. Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA) Islands of Adventure -- just a few exits away on I-4 -- has been posting huge gains in turnstile clicks since its Harry Potter attraction opened last year.

After years of phoning it in, Disney is making major additions to parks on both coasts. Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim will get the Pixar-themed Cars Land area. In Florida, the first phase of its ambitious Fantasyland expansion opens. Disney better hope that kids want to spend time with princesses instead of sipping butterbeer at Hogwarts or playing with Lego bricks next summer.

3. Apple's new TV better not be too disruptive
Disney and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) are close. Steve Jobs became Disney's biggest single shareholder after the Pixar acquisition, and Disney has always been a willing player in Apple's digital media endeavors.

However, a rumored component of Apple's 2012 entry into making actual TVs will be a Web-based service where customers can choose which cable stations they want. Disney has carved a cozy living with ESPN included in most cable packages, even if subscribers don't care for sports. It has also been able to wedge a bundle of lightly watched kid channels with its namesake Disney Channel. If consumers can actually cherry-pick the channels they want, cable networks won't be happy.

Consumers will love it, of course.

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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.