Did Disney Cause Corona?
Yes, that’s a clickbait title, and the answer to the question is obviously no, right?
The quarantine necessary to contain the exponentially contagious COVID-19 squeezed economies and crushed many businesses. But some faired better than others. Amazon started 202 the world’s second largest retailer. It benefited from having effectively a monopoly on convenient retail for months at a time. Zoom apparently existed since 2011. It became a household name that’s tripled and retripled in size over 2020. Restaurants suffered more than most businesses this year, except pizza places thrived.
Being a company that covers so much ground, 2020 helped and hurt Disney simultaneously. On the Disney down side, Disney theme parks personify what we weren’t supposed to be doing. As do movie theatres. Disney’s studio revenue dropped as well. On the Disney plus side, Disney+! It went from a satisfying but buggy streaming service at launch, to Netflix’s fastest growing competition.
Why would Disney cause a global pandemic that impacted them negatively as much as it did positively? Obviously they wouldn’t. Obviously.
When Disney’s billion dollar spending spree started in 2006 with the purchase of Pixar, many assumed Pixar would be absorbed into Disney Studios. Instead, Pixar retained its name, reputation, seemingly even its creative control. Likewise when Disney purchased Marvel in 2009. Lucasfilm in 2012 was a different story, with a clear shift in direction that saw the cancellation of the anticipated Star Wars 1313 video game, and the curious but controversial Star Wars Detours in favour of new movies and series.
By the end of 2019, all three of these billion dollar acquisitions came to a crossroads. Despite 2019’s Toy Story 4 being Pixar’s second highest grossing film (after 2018’s Incredibles 2), they couldn’t seem to get any traction for their upcoming release, Onward. The new Star Wars trilogy ended with such an overcorrection of the contentious Last Jedi that it was contentious in the other direction.
Marvel may seem like the exception. However, 2019 saw the conclusion of the Thanos storyline, and the original Phase 4 slate was more surprising than exciting. Could 2020 have been the year audiences sat a few MCU movies out and caught up on streaming before the next event?
So They Caused Corona
To be clear, Disney didn’t cause COVID-19, probably. But they may have benefited from it.
WandaVision is the most talked about streaming show at the moment. In addition to the quality of the show and the bold choices it’s made, the show can also thank a combination of the production of competing entertainment slowing down, and the almost 600 days since the release of the last MCU installment, Far From Home. Because this show is weird, and these characters aren’t popular, but we need some MCU.
Similarly, Star Wars benefited from the time off, but more to nurse its image. The Mandalorian made what Star Wars fans agree on clear for the first time ever, and it came out right before both the release of Rise of Skywalker and the start of the pandemic. That gave Disney both a clear path and the time to adjust Star Wars’ direction.
As for Pixar, unlike most of the other movies on Disney’s 2020 schedule, Onward released, but the window of opportunity to watch it was so small, and so few people took advantage of it, that it’s release on Disney+ became a selling point. Likewise, Soul’s recent release became a holiday event for the at home audience.
Also related to Pixar, their reputation went from an original movies studio to a sequels/prequels studio, made worse by the box office return of their recent original movies. The recent Pixar Popcorn series of shorts might be the solution. Pixar revisited their popular franchises without needing to commit a whole movie to them, or even bring back the whole cast. Most of the Pixar Popcorn dialog consists of grunts from outtakes. If this works, the world doesn’t have to wait for Pixar to be ready to release another Finding Nemo or Incredibles movie to spend time in those worlds.
Maybe 2020 would have been fine for Disney. Or maybe they got lucky, and just happened to release the most anticipated movie of modern times the year before theatres shut down. Maybe they just happened to build a domed virtual reality studio the year before travel bans made location shoots difficult. Or maybe they just happened to get a break when negative perception of one of their franchises became overwhelming, and another kept being accused of causing genre fatigue.