The Walt Disney Co. is at an inflection point. It has proved a mammoth success with family entertainment, not to mention its ABC programming, but ever since it dumped Miramax in 2010 it has proved averse to edgy and R-rated fare. The challenge it faces is that entertainment-industry oracles think it isn’t big enough. Look at Netflix’s market cap: $129 billion. That’s more than half of Disney’s $241 billion, and Netflix pretty much just does streaming — no theme parks, no ESPN, no 75 years of beloved characters and stories, etc. Disney is taking on Netflix directly by both launching the Disney+ streaming service in November (that’s for families) and also by buying the rest of Hulu, so Hulu can be Disney’s brand for programming not aimed at families. Pursuant to this, Disney bought 20th Century Fox to beef up its production slate.
With Fox Disney acquired a bunch of . . . odd stuff. Everything Fox had waiting to go since Disney bought it has flopped (Dark Phoenix, Stuber, and now The Art of Racing in the Rain). Fox’s arthouse unit, Fox Searchlight, whose proud history includes Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine and Slumdog Millionaire, has a bunch of stuff that looks pretty peculiar coming from the House of Mouse. Next up is a Hitler satire, Jojo Rabbit.
Jojo is directed by the New Zealander Taika Waititi, who worked on Flight of the Conchords and became a big-time movie director with Thor: Ragnarok. It debuts next month at the Toronto Film Festival, and Disney is already expressing jitters about it. Apparently it’s a “cutting-edge satire” about a boy with an idiotic imaginary friend named Adolf Hitler. So, this isn’t Toy Story 5. But then again, if Disney is going to be the all-things-to-all-people offering that Netflix has built, it can’t just do kiddie stuff. Nevertheless, a Disney exec grew “audibly uncomfortable” during a screening, reports Variety. Disney CEO Bob Iger was so angry with his new Fox unit that a quarterly earnings call was compared to a “public hanging” by a producer quoted in Variety. Fox-at-Disney still has the Brad Pitt space epic Ad Astra coming, plus the Avatar sequels, but I worry that Chateau Mouse will shy away from doing interesting movies if Jojo Rabbit flops. And Jojo Rabbit sounds like exactly the kind of movie that will flop unless it is given expert marketing attention. Does Disney have the will to back this film?