Is Bob Iger Playing It Safe by Keeping Disney in the Fairy-Tale Space?

Neuroscientists report that the brains of some lucky people can produce higher levels of a feel-good molecule called anandamide. The upshot: a blissed-out state for those who inherit this delicious genetic mutation.

I think Bob Iger is one of the lucky few. Look at life in Igerville: “Cinderella” is a smash, “Big Hero 6” has grossed more than $630 million globally, and a sequel to “Frozen” will soon go into production, as will a stream of “Star Wars” sequels.

Candidly, good news from Disney is becoming a yawn. I miss the company’s glory years when Jeffrey Katzenberg was suing Michael Eisner, and shareholders were suing the Disney board for approving a $140 million severance package for Michael Ovitz, who’d been fired as CEO after less than two years on the job. It took author and journalist James B. Stewart 572 pages to pull together all the combat for his 2005 book “Disney War.”

These days Disney War has become Disney Love. Wall Street venerates Iger for shelling out $15.4 billion to acquire Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel — deals initially criticized as “too rich.” Disney’s new world order consists of superheroes and fairy tales.

Why invest in live-action gambles like “John Carter” or “The Lone Ranger” when a mere $100 million can resuscitate a foolproof property like “Cinderella” — one that has been regularly recycled since George Melies’ version in 1899? How can you lose with “Frozen 2,” when its first iteration grossed $1.27 billion worldwide?

To be sure, a studio cannot sustain itself solely on remakes and sequels. Even old Walt himself expressed disdain for the latter. And Disney production chief Sean Bailey stresses that he’ll continue to foster two or three movies that he (unfortunately) calls “brand deposits” — lower-budget pictures that will hopefully embellish the Disney name, and may create a new cycle of sequels.

Perhaps the “Star Wars” sequels represent “brand deposits” as well. “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” arrives in December. The next, “Episode VIII — Rogue One,” is considered the franchise’s first true spinoff, and will be released May 26, 2017. Disney executives, not surprisingly, are far more eager to talk about the “Star Wars” product (and Pixar’s two originals — June’s “Inside Out” and November’s “The Good Dinosaur”) than the two remaining megabudget shoots that are also on the assembly line — a new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie and “Tomorrowland,” a brand known only to theme park regulars.

These latter two films represent enormous investments of as much as $400 million, so it’s easy to see why Disney feels far more comfortable in Fantasyland than in Tomorrowland. “Fairy-tale space is our arena,” Bailey told the Wall Street Journal recently. And “Cinderella” represents as safe an occupant of that space as one can imagine.

While Iger likes to gamble big on acquisitions and play it safe on product, his company is so vast that he cannot totally avoid the world of risk. His multibillion-dollar gamble on a theme park in Shanghai continues to stretch out in terms of schedule and cost.

And then there’s the issue of the Disney image. How big is too big? How pervasive can the company’s product become before the inevitable resentment sets in? And how expensive can that product become, and still be affordable to consumers? With Disneyland prices jumping yet again this month, parents will need a surge of anandamide to survive the damage. And Iger has first dibs on that stuff.

Popular on Variety

More Voices

  • "The Stockholm Syndrome" - Pictured: Rajesh

    Emmys: Is It Time to Give Multicams Their Own Category? (Column)

    The question of whether multi-camera sitcoms are a dying breed isn’t a new one. The few remaining purveyors of the format, including “The Big Bang Theory” executive producer Chuck Lorre, have been asked that question for years. But even as Lorre ventures into the single-camera world with such shows as the Golden Globe-winning “The Kominsky [...]

  • Veep HBO

    Celebrating Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Emmy's Comedy Queen (Column)

    Let’s take a moment to give Julia Louis-Dreyfus some much-deserved praise. As HBO’s “Veep” ends its run — and aims to add a coda to its already amazing haul over the years at the Emmys — the actress is poised to make history one more time this September. All signs point to another win in [...]

  • Emma Watson MTV Movie Awards

    It's Time for the Emmys to Eliminate Gender-Specific Acting Categories (Column)

    As TV and storytelling continue to evolve, does it still make sense to silo male and female performers into separate Emmy categories? Splitting up “outstanding actor” and “outstanding actress” awards as if they’re different skill sets seems like an outdated practice — yet combining them, and eliminating half of the key acting Emmys in the [...]

  • The Good Place NBC

    Broadcasters Committed to Emmy Telecast Despite Cable, Streaming Dominance (Column)

    Here’s what you won’t see much of at the Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox: Fox.  It’s Fox’s turn to telecast the ceremony, yet it’s a somewhat bittersweet affair for the network, which only landed 18 nominations this year. That means few Fox stars will even be in attendance at the Microsoft Theater, let alone onstage, [...]

  • Eugene Levy Schitts Creek

    Emmy Nods to Veteran Actors Prove Importance of Longevity (Column)

    Despite some well-documented snubs, Television Academy members did a great job with this year’s Emmy nominations when it came to recognizing new series, such as FX’s “Pose” and Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” as well as rising talent including Anthony Carrigan (HBO’s “Barry”), Joey King (Hulu’s “The Act”) and Billy Porter (“Pose”). That spotlight on fresh series [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content