Are Disney Movies on the Rise Again?

Disney has a reputation of being the safe, family-friendly option. But honestly, I’m not sure they want it anymore.

Well, I’m sure they want to keep part of it, but lately their film projects have seemed rather ambitious to me, at least by “summer blockbuster” standards.

I wrote earlier that the Disney acquisition of Star Wars raised some red flags for me. Specifically, can they build a franchise? That remains to be seen, but it seems The House of Mouse may be quietly shifting their focus back to making distinctive, quality films for kids of all ages, instead of boring or obnoxious fare aimed at tweens.

The idea to ask this question, could Disney be trying to expand their horizons, came to me when I saw the newer, longer trailer for The Lone Ranger. Of course, it’s impossible to tell anything concrete from a preview like that, but it’s not necessarily what I expected. It looks to have a dark edge, some witty moments, and that good ole’ Gore Verbinski kookiness.

You know, Gore Verbinski doesn’t fit the stereotypical Disney image. His other movies, like The Weather Man and The Ring, have a sinister edge that seems at odds with the company’s scrubbed-clean public image. Looks to me like that might be sneaking its way into this new tentpole flick.

Now, it’s not like the studio has started churning out movies like Zodiac or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy either. We’re still talking about Disney, land of imagination and whimsy. Johnny Depp still wears weird hats and makeup.

Oh, sorry, wrong movie.

On the other hand, I struggle to remember another recent blockbuster that featured an actor like Depp, huge raven perched on his head, holding an actual conversation with an actual horse. Strange things are afoot, even if they aren’t edgy or threatening.

Heck, even Pirates of the Caribbean, Verbinski’s first Disney feature, showed remarkable signs of life for a cash-in movie based on a roller coaster. His work on the franchise utilized talent like Depp, Geoffrey Rush, and (later) Bill Nighy, plundered obscure pirate myths as much as (if not more than) famous pirate films, and threw eye-popping setpieces around with abandon.

Not pictured: Typical blockbuster fare.

We’re talking much more potent stuff than Pete’s Dragon, is basically my point.

Just ignore that fourth Pirates movie, by the way, because it sucks. I don’t think Rob Marshall was the guy to bring it off, anyway.

Let’s instead talk about Tron: Legacy. Now, the movie misfired pretty substantially on a story and character level. Newcomer Garrett Hedlund acquitted himself nicely of an underwritten part, but the same cannot be said of his co-stars Olivia Wilde and Jeff Bridges.

The movie does have that special Sheen about it, though. (I’m so sorry…)

Where it EXCELLED, though, is in the tone and pacing of its star sequences. Light Bikes. Zeus’s club. GAMES. First-time director Joseph Kosinski came from the world of nifty commercials, where he displayed a trademark tempo and shooting style. Disney clearly saw the promise this style held for a high-concept franchise like Tron. They brought him in, gave him the tools, and let him build whatever he wanted.

Now, maybe they should have found a director who actually knew how to craft a good narrative, but that’s beside the point I’m making today.

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  1. I wanted Disney to helm a Mass Effect movie and incorporate the universe into all their parks, but ever since the total acquisition of Star Wars, I feel that’s a long shot now.
    I think the smartest move would be Netflix. As long as they are on consoles where the fan base is, that would warrant a competitive budget to create an epic spectacle.

  2. ??? Disney doesn’t need to build a Star Wars franchise as one already exists.

    I’m not sure of your premise. When has a Disney film not found some audience? Granted, it’s hard to guarantee every $200M+ budgeted film is a blockbuster, but the MouseHouse does just fine with most releases.

    Clearly, a Disney film fits a formula for its built-in audience; efforts like John Carter really only underscore that Disney doesn’t always step outside of its own box very well. I’ve still never really understood all of the hate for TRON: Legacy, either; most folks who hate it do nothing but praise the ingenuity of the original, which leads me to always ask, “Have you even SEEN the first one? Other than the graphics, it really ain’t all that grand in the story department, either.” Personally, I thought TRON: Legacy was respectable, at least so much so as John Carter, which I enjoyed pretty well also though I’ll admit it had seriously marketing problems and needed a more accomplished edit.

  3. I loved Tron: Legacy, granted I only saw the original a month before it came out because I found it in my computer (Its not piracy if you find it right?) I’m also a big fan of Pirates of the Caribbean, its not quite as good as the pirate RPG that I have in my head but it’s still a damn good story with great actors (except for bloom) although I found it lame and sexist that after three movies of character development Elizabeth was sent to live on land and raise a child. I don’t like Disney but they can on occasion make good movies, I will however never forgive them for ruining Robin Hood for me.

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