Disney turns 100 at a difficult moment for the company
Walt Disney has been dead for almost 57 years. However, in the coming weeks he will begin to greet museum visitors on two continents.
As part of its 100th anniversary marketing palooza, The Walt Disney Company used archival video and artificial intelligence tools to create a lifelike hologram of its founder – a full-size digital avatar that speaks in Walt’s voice and as part of Disney’s interactive exhibits appears artwork, props and costumes that will tour the world through at least 2028.
“I get goosebumps every time I see it,” said Becky Cline, director of the Disney Archives.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to buy tickets — and Disney needs them more than ever in recent memory to leave with similar emotions: Ah, yes, the magical entertainment brand that blends nostalgia with how-did-they-do -this technical magic. Let’s see a Disney movie, buy some Disney linens, and book a vacation to a Disney theme park.
The public has been saying just that for decades. But in a twist that would have seemed far-fetched just a few years ago, Disney’s centenary comes at a time when the company’s impressive reputation in culture is beginning to crack.
When Ms. Cline started considering the Disney100 museum shows five years ago, Disney was hitting new heights at the box office and basking in its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox assets. Now Disney is cutting costs by $5.5 billion and cutting 7,000 jobs as it struggles with streaming losses, traditional TV’s eroding profitability and debt from the pandemic and Fox acquisition.
Disney remains a box office superpower — Avatar: The Way of Water has grossed $2.2 billion worldwide — but its last two animated films, Strange World and Lightyear, have fallen sharply. In November, Disney fired its chief executive and brought in Robert A. Iger from retirement to take back the reins.
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Disney has become a political piñata even among conservative pundits, in part for adding openly gay, lesbian, and queer characters to its animated films. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has attacked the company as “Wake Disney,” on Friday gained control of the board that oversees the development of Walt Disney World, a move stripping Disney of the autonomy it has enjoyed for 56 years .
Bottom line: For Disney, a little brand polish (or a lot) can’t come soon enough.
“It’s a unique opportunity for Disney to remind people of the breadth and depth of what it does while strengthening the emotional connection to its characters and products,” said John Wentworth, associate professor of entertainment marketing at Emerson College. “All of this seems particularly important right now.”
Disney celebrated its 100th birthday in September at the D23 Expo, a fan conference in Anaheim, California. Bob Chapek, the company’s CEO at the time, paid tribute to Walt and Roy Disney, the brothers who founded the company in 1923, stating that “10 decades of creativity, innovation and determination” resulted in “the most enduring and loved name in entertainment.” . Centennial items — platinum-dipped Minnie ears, limited-edition pins, products featuring Disney movies from the 1930s and 40s — went on sale.
The campaign kicked into high gear last month when Disneyland donned purple and platinum flags and opened a new ride focused on Mickey and Minnie. On Sunday, Disney had a 90-second spot during the Super Bowl; The commercial highlighted the company’s history of “storytelling and innovation” and featured heart-rending footage of children dressed up as Disney princesses playing with “Star Wars” lightsabers. It also featured Walt Disney’s voice and thanked artists, workers and fans. (A wave of Disney adoration immediately swept through Twitter, though some people pointed out the awkward timing, an ad that came almost in lockstep with layoffs. A Disney spokesman said the company used advertising credit from Fox to cover the cost of placing the to cover commercials.)
There are two Disney100 museum exhibits. A version opens Saturday at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and runs through August 27. She then goes on tour to Chicago, Kansas City and other cities in North America. A second Disney100 exhibition with an identical overall design will open in Munich on April 18 and move to London in the autumn before going “to another place in the world,” Ms Cline said.
Tickets to the Franklin Institute range from $25 to $45 depending on time of day, age, and whether visitors want to see the entire museum or just the Disney portion.
Each of the 15,000-square-foot exhibits will feature 250 exhibits, with an emphasis on classic Disney. The North American tour includes a portion of the prop picture book that opens Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), a model for Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World and the Feed the Birds snow globe from Mary Poppins (1964) . , which Ms Cline called “very, very dear to my heart.”
Marvel movies, the Star Wars franchise and Pixar hits are also included, along with nods to Disney divisions like National Geographic and ABC. “We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the entire exhibition, not just their era,” said Ms. Cline, noting that the show is organized by theme (the importance of music to Disney’s content, sources of inspiration) rather than chronologically .
Disney has a huge archive. It contains around 25 million photographs and requires 40 employees to manage. There are seven storerooms for props, costumes, scripts, theme park artifacts, and corporate merchandise, including Mickey Mouse One, the Gulfstream plane that Walt Disney used to covertly scout locations for the construction of Walt Disney World in 1963.
To design the exhibits, Disney has partnered with Semmel Exhibitions, known for Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures, which is touring the world with three units. Disney100: The Exhibition features four dozen video screens playing more than 300 clips from Disney movies and television shows.
Visitors enter through a dark tunnel and arrive in what Ms. Cline called the “prologue room.” Here, a digital Walt Disney materializes to deliver a greeting and a taste of his creative philosophies.
“Honestly, there are people in this world who don’t realize that Walt was a real person,” Ms. Cline said. “We want to make sure everyone knows that our company was founded by real people – creative storytellers. Because that’s so important to everything we do at Disney.”