IIt’s a shame that German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse died in 1979, because he would have loved Disney +. Not because he might have been an obsessive Muppet secret, excited to have his entire work available in one place; nor because he had caught the Star Wars Holiday Special in the year before he died and yearned to see it again. No, Marcuse would have loved Disney + because it proved his theories to be correct.
For Marcuse, consumerism offered “a good way of life, much better than before.” Through Disney + we have been offered, and have embraced, a specific form of the movie good life: the modern blockbuster. However, like Marcuse’s consumerism, it “militates against qualitative change.” The modern blockbuster has found a solid, seemingly winning formula, so it plays safe and replicates endlessly. Consequently, the popular film landscape is emptied of original content. This is the Disney + movie model: it dominates the current box office and joins the voracious library at the request of identikit’s mega-hit corporation. The films that Disney makes follow this template, and increasingly those of its competitors.
The blockbusters this summer illustrate this very well. Think of Cruella. It received rave reviews, but as a major addition to the year’s film deals it was unnecessary, a franchise start that no one asked for. Cruella de Vil had survived for 60 years without an origin story, did she really need one now? And one with a $ 100 million budget? What about the superhero prequel Black Widow with a budget of $ 200 million? Society may not have needed these movies, but Disney + did. The obsessive logic of this streaming service demands that all the gaps in the fictional universes of its franchises be filled, and that each story be dragged forward, backward and, as Disney cultivates new “multiverses,” sideways. The business strategy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which Disney bought in 2009) now dictates the content and direction of all other Disney titles, including Star Wars (which Disney bought in 2012). Doesn’t the movie have a franchise? Make up one. The viewer’s attention must be maintained at all costs. Click unsubscribe at your own risk.
The bottom line is this: Disney needs to maintain a simultaneous interest in both its new releases and its growing catalog of previously released movies on demand. You need to keep audiences watching Disney movies in theaters while increasing Disney + subscriptions. Franchises adapt to these needs, for mutual benefit. Audiences enjoy big franchises on Disney + and then rush to see their latest installments in theaters. Likewise, audiences see the franchise’s sequels on the big screen and then rush to catch up with the rest of that movie’s universe via Disney +.
Franchises existed before Disney +, but the streaming service is defined by them, and after the pandemic, it is now almost indestructible. After its launch in November 2019, Disney + registered more than 50 million subscribers in five months. It managed 103.9 million in June 2021. Netflix took more than a decade to achieve only double. Disney + development is now Disney’s core business imperativeSo naturally franchise development, the lifeblood of the streaming service, filling vast repositories of content, dominates its filmmaking.
Not all Disney movies are part of established franchises. But those who don’t yet adhere to the company’s box-office formulas and make the necessary references to established films. Take the recent Jungle cruise, adapted from a trip to Disneyland, and sharing more with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise than just this. Like those movies, all five, Jungle Cruise is full of ship fights and CGI monsters. It even managed to crowd the cheesy imperialists. Like Cruella, Jungle Cruise may not have been a bad movie, but it certainly wasn’t an original movie.
Some blockbusters remain out of Disney’s clutches: Sony still owns Spider-Man, for example. But they cannot escape the influence or logic of Disney and also build franchises from details in overlapping franchises. Hence the new and pseudo-subversive The Suicide Squad. It may have had more blood and f-bombs than the House of Mouse would allow, but it was still a superhero extravaganza with a very Marvel emphasis on pranks. And it still depended on viewers being eager to follow the new adventures of the heroes set in previous films – in this case, 2016’s Suicide Squad, effectively remade just five years later. Following Disney’s lead, The Suicide Squad was born unoriginal.
The truth is, decades from now, the Disney-era blockbuster will be as quaint and uninteresting as the melodrama of the 1930s or the western of the 1950s. A few high-quality exceptions will be celebrated, and the rest will freeze. in a dated mass of capes, jokes and cameos. The blockbuster of the Disney era will become a shameful relic, from when businesses controlled culture and decided to tear it down.
In the meantime, does anyone have a Disney + login that I can use?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism