When it comes to Disney, I’m an eternal optimist. Maybe it’s because of the hallowed place the films and music held in my childhood, but I usually ignore Disney’s missteps and celebrate its triumphs. Because, I find that every so often, I get rewarded for it. When I saw Disney’s latest, Frozen, I was expecting visually dazzling but conceptually lazy princess-fodder, I really was. And I sort of do want to be a princess still, so I was okay with that. But what Disney produced, completely out of left-field, was this exquisite construction of animation and storytelling; a completely divine visual that was unexpected in about fourteen different ways. I walked out of that cinema high as a kite, and determined to figure out how the hell Disney pulled off this hot piece of sass:
Disney’s reach and breadth isn’t something I need to go into here, mainly because I want to leave my house today, so I can go lift heavy things in the gym and pretend I like it. I’ll summarise like this – everything you have ever loved, in the course of your life, is probably less than six degrees of separation away from The Lion King.
In the last 20 years, Disney have not just been playing with the big boys, but showing them how it’s done – this started with acquiring Pixar, and subsequently making it their bitch to great effect, giving rise to modern-day classics such as Finding Nemo and Wall-E. But with its more mature content, Disney has faltered somewhat in terms of quality – Oz The Great and Powerful should have been better, jury’s still out on Saving Mr Banks – not that I even give a half a shit, because Frozen is the dog’s chilly bollocks. That said – how many of you knew when the premiere took place? Or saw it advertised? Maybe I don’t frequent the same media spaces as kids do (that’s probably a good thing), but for something so good to come out with so little fanfare was fucking weird.
But then, on further investigation, Disney are careful with what they choose to shout about, because when they do, they’re fucking noisy (anyone else remember the endless Pirates of the Caribbean 4 promotion – I didn’t see the movie out of spite, which was quite the sacrifice considering I fancied the entire cast). Take their Facebook page – there’s a really cool lightness of touch about it. It’s well curated and up-to-date, and as such, the level of interactivity from the audience repays that intern’s efforts triplefold. There’s no hard sell in their social media strategy – it’s more about capitalising on what they have already done. Maybe it’s because the company is now 90 years old, but I feel like this is at the heart of how Disney stay on top, and will continue to do so in 2014. Frozen didn’t need to waste money on pop-up ice-skating rinks and giving out free plastic snowflakes – if you have kids and disposable income, you were going anyway, because you can always count on Disney to shut your tinies’ gobs for five minutes.
This “chill out and let everyone else do the work” approach proves itself even better with older audiences – Disney’s back catalogue is manipulated into high-traffic content several times a week, by distinctly 21st century news sites such as Mashable and Buzzfeed. Recent examples includes Buzzfeed’s Disney Princesses as Pop Culture Heroines , or these 11 Business Tactics from Disney Villains. Artistically, Disney’s the gift that keeps on giving – new Disney fan-art, like these pin-ups, pop up all the time on digital art hub DeviantArt. This is lazily canny of Disney – by capitalizing on the marketing and creative already developed around each film, that initial work creates this dedicated brand loyalty which prompts influential individuals to keep Disney’s classic characters at the forefront of popular culture, with little innovation or input needed from The Mouse House themselves.
However, that isn’t to say Disney are content to piggyback their new material onto what they’ve already accomplished with their old. Disney Interactive’s Co-President, John Pleasants, aims to support Disney’s movies and characters, just like his predecessors, but with two additions – to develop new intellectual property for Disney, and to craft a digital network with as much heft as their TV network.
One way they’re going about it is this thing called Disney Infinity – I had to ask my 7-year-old niece what this was, and even though she explained, I still don’t understand, which means it must be incredible, right? Suffice it to say that children, the world’s biggest hustlers, love it, and with more than a million copies sold worldwide, I can’t argue with that. What I can get way more on board with is how Disney have left no stone unturned with this one – gaming is usually a world of its own, or at best, tied to one movie/book as a secondary promotional material. Disney doesn’t believe in that one-way marketing relationship. There are physical toys of all the characters (spanning all of Disney’s history, from Snow White to Frozen) and the usual branded merch you see in the Disney Store, as well as in-game purchases and game developments you can buy on discs. You can expand the Disney Infinity world both in your imagination and in your own two hands. I’m totally overstimulated by the idea, and I am distinctly not six years old.
One area where Disney aren’t keeping up is technology. That is, however, because they are leading the pack. I don’t want to say much about this, because it involves algorithms and other words that make me upset, but even if you don’t think you want to look at some snow, LOOK AT SOME FUCKING SNOW.
I wanted to write this piece because I wanted to understand how Disney do what they do – see if maybe it’s their confidence, sprung from experience which allow them to not just innovate technologically, but culturally. Frozen is, for me, Disney’s first feminist feature film, and it’s going to make a shedload of money and tons of little girls and boys are going to see it, and for once, take away a message that isn’t going to land them in therapist’s office 20 years from now. Not only that, but they get to see some really cool groundbreaking shit with their own two eyes while they’re at it.
Fuck it, I’m 22, I’m an adult who can see a Disney movie twice in one week if I want, right?