These days, it seems that The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) is best known for its powerhouse stable of popular entertainment properties like Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. However, the classic animated characters that were created by Mr. Walt Disney himself remain an important part of the company's storied history.
It was recently announced by Disney that many of these signature characters are set to come back to life in 2015. The move could usher in a whole new level of growth for the media giant.
In with the old
Disney is opening up its famed vault of popular animated characters for the live-action "Descendants" project, which is set to begin production in spring of 2015 and subsequently air on Disney Channel. The adventure/comedy movie will be set in a quintessential Disney fantasy kingdom, albeit in the present-day.
The main story will focus on the children of such classic Disney villains as Cruella De Vil and Maleficent as they attend high school alongside the children of popular Disney protagonists like Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. President of Disney Channels Worldwide Gary Marsh explained, "The result is a modern and unexpected reinterpretation of classic heritage characters utilizing contemporary, relatable settings and themes."
Disney is throwing some creative muscle behind its newest endeavor, including Kenny Ortega as director, who is most responsible for Disney's tremendous success with High School Musical. Also from High School Musical are casting directors Natalie Hart and Jason La Padura, who have already begun assembling the cast for Descendants.
While the announcement may not seem like that big of a deal at first, considering it is only one movie, the potential opportunity for Disney to expand on the idea in the future is considerable. It very well could end up being just the first movie in a long line of classic reinterpretations.
One thing is certain; Disney has an abundance of characters and storylines hidden away in its vault. The door just needs to be opened and in order for that to happen, Descendants needs only to succeed.
Who else could capitalize?
Disney is in an enviable position among its media contemporaries. Despite acquiring terrific entertainment properties like Marvel and Lucasfilm in recent years, the company still has a plethora of older characters that it can exploit in the future.
The only other company with a similar content lineup that comes to mind is Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL), which owns the popular Cartoon Network and its many brands of animated characters.
The closest comparison to Disney's classic animated characters would be Cartoon Network's Looney Tunes division, which includes famous characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Tasmanian Devil, among many others. Right now, the characters primarily appear on the network's weekend time slots via The Looney Tunes Show.
While the Looney Tunes division of Cartoon Network is best known for its short episode format, the brand has appeared in several feature films, including Space Jam starring Michael Jordan in 1996. There is no reason to suggest that a new take on the beloved cartoon characters could not be met with success.
With Disney trying to incorporate its classic characters in new ways, Time Warner could also stand to benefit from a proper revitalization of its animated characters. After all, it wouldn't be the first time that Time Warner chose to follow in Disney's footsteps. The former's DC Entertainment brand is on track to become a serious competitor to the latter's Marvel unit.
The move by Disney to rejuvenate some of its classic characters is a smart one. Right now, only one Descendants movie is being produced so the stakes are relatively low, especially considering that nearly every other entertainment property owned by Disney seems to be firing on all cylinders.
Success for the Descendants project could start a new wave of modern interpretations of classic Disney fairy tales. Considering the sheer volume of interesting characters in the Disney library, the opportunities for future movies or television shows are extensive. A movie that started with a relatively small announcement by Disney could end up being a huge deal for shareholders in the long-term.