Disney CEO Expresses the Need to Prioritize Entertainment Over Messages
Not all is well at Disney these days. Not long ago, the “House of the Mouse” was a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut in the entertainment industry. Its classic canon was beloved, Pixar Studios was the crown jewel in animated storytelling, Marvel was cranking out smash hit after smash hit, and the purchase of the Star Wars intellectual property seemed like an embarrassment of riches.
But in recent days, the discussion surrounding Disney has taken a drastic turn for the worse. There has been a growing disconnect between the studio and its audiences. Family films like Lightyear, Strange World, and Wish all underperformed, ranging from financial disappointments to complete box-office bombs. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has begun to unravel, with a string of critically and financially panned films, and theatrical Star Wars movies have been on an indefinite hiatus since 2019 due to unfavorable audience responses. As a result, executives at Disney have had to do some hard reflection.
There are many possible reasons for Disney’s string of bad fortune. An oversaturation of content, changing viewer habits due to streaming, and some ill-advised creative decisions have all played a role. But perhaps one of the most significant reasons, particularly in relation to its animated films, has been an emphasis on pushing messages instead of providing entertainment. Family audiences, who once made up the core of Disney’s fanbase, have become increasingly disillusioned with the company due to objectionable content in its recent films. It appears that Disney has finally taken notice.
Disney CEO Bob Iger recently admitted, “Creators lost sight of what their number one objective needed to be …. We have to entertain first. It’s not about messages.” He expanded on this admission, saying, “We have entertained with values and with having a positive impact on the world in many different ways …. I like being able to entertain if you can infuse it with positive messages and have a good impact on the world. Fantastic. But that should not be the objective. When I came back, what I have really tried to do is to return to our roots.”
As Iger notes, not all messaging must be avoided. While parents may decry the aggressive messages in today’s films, children’s stories have always been message heavy. The solution is not necessarily an either/or between “entertainment” and “messages.” The deeper issue is that Disney lost sight of its target audiences and mismatched adult messages to children’s stories. Rather than helping young viewers navigate childhood, animated films have instead explored themes such as sexual identity and other adult-centric experiences.
Families have been voicing their concerns for years to no avail. But if there is a language Hollywood executives understand loud and clear, it’s money. As Disney continues to stumble, change is needed and returning to its roots as a source of wholesome and trusted entertainment is a good place to start. Only time will tell whether the company will follow through on these aspirations, but its public recognition of the problem is an encouraging sign.