Nuggets of Wisdom

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Disney Sunday: Can Disney Pull Off A Cinematic Universe?

About two weeks ago, I watched Moana. It was awesome. Perhaps not as awesome as Frozen, but clearly awesome enough to surpass Frozen’s Thanksgiving weekend record.

Perhaps what intrigued me the most about Disney’s newest film was something I learned before watching it. Prior to leaving for the cinema, I heard that the movie would include an end credits scene.

Like everyone else, when I think of an end credit scene, I think of those at the end of Marvel movies--you know, the ones that hint at future movies? This had me wondering about what Moana’s end credit scene would reveal.

Would it be a sequel? Was Disney so confident about Moana’s success that they planned out the sequel before the first movie was even released? Or could it be something even bigger? Were we going to receive a glimpse of a potential Disney cinematic universe?

No spoilers, but the actual end credit scene revealed none of that. Even then, it really had me wondering: could Disney actually pull off its own cinematic universe?

With the massive popularity of the Marvel movies, the "cinematic universe" has proven to be quite the successful movie-making formula, and one that many other studios wish to emulate. Marvel’s rival, DC Comics, already has its own cinematic universe currently underway, albeit with far less success. Star Wars is set to release its own line of side films, starting with Rogue One, to supplement its main movies. Even Nintendo and Hanna Barbara are rumored to create their own cinematic universes.

With Disney already making massive profits from the MCU, and with it set to continue making profits from the upcoming Star Wars movies, it would only make sense for the Mouse House to create a cinematic universe for its own movies. But would Disney be interested in such an endeavor, and would it inevitably pay off?

Disney is no stranger with having its intellectual properties cross over with one another. Disney characters have teamed up to fight the forces of evil in Kingdom Hearts, hung out and watch cartoons together at the House of Mouse, and have been seen living together in the cartoonish world of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

In fact, prior to releasing Tangled, Disney had planned to release as its 50th animated theatrical feature a huge cinematic crossover called "The Search For Mickey Mouse". The now scrapped movie, true to its title, would have had our favorite talking mouse kidnapped, leaving Minnie to seek the help of Basil from Great Mouse Detective to track him down, and in doing so, encountering a multitude of Disney characters.

Not only does Disney have the power and even an incentive to create a crossover of its many animated properties, but they’ve clearly created a high demand from fans. Disney fans have long speculated of Disney films occurring within a “shared universe”, leading to many creative fan conspiracies. Many fans have already speculated that Disney’s live-action remakes are setting up a cinematic universe of their own. Whether or not their speculations are correct remain to be proven, but there’s no doubt fans would be more than willing to support a Disney cinematic universe.

So how would Disney go about creating a cinematic universe? Obviously, crossing over its entire library of animated films would be too big and bold of a move even for them to undertake, so it would probably suit them best to start out small.

The best place to start would most likely be its more recent films: Tangled, Frozen, Moana, and Brave. (And yes, I know that Brave is technically Pixar, but not only is Pixar owned by Disney, but Merida is an official Disney princess. So her movie could easily be incorporated into such a prospective crossover.)

All of these films are computer animated, all of them are set within a similar fantasy setting, and they all appear to take place, not only within the same world, but also the same historic time period. (In fact, we see Rapunzel and Flynn from Tangled make cameo appearances in Frozen, so we know both movies occupy the same “cinematic” universe.)

Perhaps most importantly, all of these films are the most recent Disney movies. With these movies already freshly-ingrained into the cultural zeitgeist, audiences would be more receptive of a potential crossover featuring them.

The best starting point for this cinematic universe would most likely be with Disney’s next big film (quite literally!), Gigantic. We already know that the movie is based off of Jack and the Beanstalk, and that it’s set in Spain during the Age of Exploration. What better way to set off exploring a whole new cinematic universe than a movie based on exploration itself?

Imagine it if you will: it’s 2018. You’re in the theater and you’ve just finished watching Gigantic. (It’s an awesome movie, of course!) Once the credits are finished rolling, you finally see the end credit scene.

You watch as Jack stumbles across a chest—possibly gifted to him from his giant friend. He opens it to reveal a map of the world, along with several pages detailing ancient artifacts: a golden flower (Tangled), a crown (Frozen), a bear statue (Brave), a giant fish hook (Moana), and a singing harp (which I’m assuming will be in Gigantic).

He learns that these magical items had been created by the gods and scattered across the globe to keep them out of mortal hands. Being the adventure seeker that he is, and inspired by his recent adventure in the movie, during which he recovered one of those magic items, he decides to embark on yet another adventure to recover the others.

This would help set up the very next film, which would serve as the ultimate crossover of the previous five films. Not only would this MaGuffin Quest be the perfect framing device to encapsulate all five movies, but also serve as the motivation for the ultimate big bad of the film. After all, such rare and magical items would be coveted by only the evilest of evil villains — preferably someone with an affinity for collecting “shiny” things that sparkle, sparkle, sparkle. (Huh! I wonder why such a villain sounds familiar?)

How awesome would it be to have all of the characters from the previous movies teaming up Avenger-style to fight such a big bad (or even bigger bad) in a climatic battle? We’d have Elsa throwing ice blasts! Merida launching arrows! Maui wielding his mighty hook! Rapunzel would whip her hair back and forth, whip her hair back and forth, whip her hair back and forth. And then we’d have the characters from Gigantic — er, do whatever they do in their movie! (It hasn’t come out yet, so only time will tell.)

It all sounds like the perfect team-up, and it all sounds almost too good to be true. So is it?

There’s no question that Disney can combine its animated movies into a giant crossover if they wanted to. Nobody’s stopping them! The real question is whether or not they’d be successful at it. That question is a little bit harder to answer.

On the one hand, the MCU has proven highly successful with its movies continuing to go strong. On the other hands, imitators like DC Comics have failed to experience the same success with their own cinematic universes.

The main difference, of course, has been planning. Marvel meticulously planned out its cinematic universe long before it even released its first film, allowing it to pull off the overall execution flawlessly with each new phase.

DC Comics, on the other hand, in an attempt to catch up to Marvel, clearly rushed every one of its movies out, each one rushing out characters and plot points at an even more rushed pace. The end result, if the reviews and box office numbers are an indicator, proves that such haste makes waste.

If Disney were to pull off such a cinematic universe of its own, it would probably experience the same pitfalls, and possibly the same failings. Unlike Marvel, whose movies were all planned to follow the same continuity within a grand narrative, none of Disney’s previous movies were exactly planned. All of them, for the most part, have been separate movies within their own separate universes; combining them would prove to be a last-ditch effort on their part. It would take a team of truly talented staff members to pull it off flawlessly, and even then, the end result would be a gamble.

Of Course, Disney has made plenty of gambles on its part. Some have proven successful (Snow White). Others not so much (The Black Cauldron). One thing is for certain: if Disney were to pull off its own cinematic universe and crossover, it would be quite the gamble, and quite a many fan would be willing to bet on it.

If anything, the end credit scene revealing such an epic prospect would be more interesting that the end credit scene in Moana—even if it was slightly entertaining to say the least.