Disney’s Lack of Creativity Drags Everyone Down; What Can You Do to Counteract the Effect?

Photo by Travis Gergen on Unsplash

Disney used to be known for its creativity. Its film content was groundbreaking, if derivative, in the case of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” technically superior with “Pinocchio,” and imaginatively reaching for “Fantasia.” With each of these films, Walt Disney was trying something new and different. He was experimenting, coming up with new technologies like the multi-plane camera and Fantasound, and in the process creating a whole new genre of film — the animated feature.

Features weren’t the only way that Walt Disney and his company in the 1930s were changing the industry. Walt specifically created the Silly Symphonies as way to experiment. (Looney Tunes (1930) and Merrie Melodies (1931) with their similar names debuted after the Silly Symphonies.) From 1929’s “the Skeleton Dance” to 1934’s debit of Donald Duck in “the Wise Little Hen” to “the Ugly Duckling,” the Silly Symphonies allowed Walt’s animators to tinker with the medium. They debuted the multi-plane camera in “The Old Mill.” They gave the working class an anthem with “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” during the depression. They debuted the first full color Technicolor cartoon with “Flowers and Trees.”

Walt Disney also created the world’s first theme park. Amusement parks before Disneyland were known to be dirty and relied on amusements. Disneyland broke the mold with its multi-generational appeal, emphasis on cleanliness and customer service, and most importantly, its reliance on storytelling. Disneyland’s single entrance made sure that people knew where to go when they got into the area because there was only one place they could go. The hub and spoke allowed people to orient themselves. As long as they could see the spires of the castle, they could always find their way back to the entrance. Disneyland was Walt’s biggest gamble. On July 17, 1955, the park was panned by the critics and media, and by September 1955, it had received its one millionth guest. Walt’s gamble is one that has paid off handsomely for millions of happy guests and the bottom line of his namesake company.

After Walt Disney

When Walt died it was a blow to the world and to his company. After Walt’s plans ran their course, the executive team became mired in questions of “What Would Walt Do?” They turned out schlock and movies that were mostly snooze-fests of adequate entertainment.

When Michael Eisner and Frank Wells took over the company, it enjoyed a renaissance. The movies got better because they were smaller. Eisner’s plan to “hit singles” and use the Touchstone label worked wonders for the company’s movie revenue. It churned out modestly successful, cheap films that the public seemed to enjoy. The parks had a resurgence, too.

Sadly, all eras have an end, and Disney’s darkest days are still ahead of it. While Bob Iger has done an amazing job with handling acquisitions, he has killed the creative impulses of the company. With remakes and sequels in the theaters and rethemed rides in the parks, the Walt Disney Company is crushing creativity under the ponderous weight of profit without risk — with no risk, there is no creativity.

The Theme Parks

Photo by Brandi Ibrao on Unsplash

At Disney California Adventure, guests are assailed with new attractions that are mere retreads of old attractions. Slap on a new coat of paint and Mickey’s Fun Wheel becomes Pixar Pal-a-round. Put the animals from Midway Mania on the carousel and it’s a new ride. Bring Flik’s Flyers to Pixar Pier and you get an Inside Out themed attraction. Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout is just a theme destroying retread of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Mickey’s Philharmagic came from Walt Disney World. Bringing back Soarin’ over California for a limited engagement at Disney CALIFORNIA Adventure is just sad. Unfortunately, Disneyland isn’t immune with the reappearance of the Main Street Electrical Parade, which may hold the record for the most retired parade in theme park history, and what are they doing with Tomorrowland? Nothing that even looks remotely like tomorrow.

The Movies

2019’s film slate has the perfect examples of the lack of creativity that has become a part of the company’s current environment. “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” and “Dumbo” are all remakes with very little deviation from the original in the case of the first two films. The “Maleficent” and “Frozen” sequels are also on the docket. From the Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars studios, we have “Toy Story 4,” “Captain Marvel” — a prequel, “Avengers: Endgame,” and “Star Wars: Episode IX.” These films are blockbusters. They are making billions of dollars and gave Disney its best year at the box by the time July had rolled by. They just aren’t creative because they aren’t new.

With Disney’s acquisition of Fox, the company will control between 40 and 60 percent of the box office. It is already talking about which of Fox’s intellectual properties it will continue to develop or remake, including “Planet of the Apes,” “Home Alone,” and “Night at the Museum.” With this much capital invested in one movie studio that has profits in the billions, it will be harder for any new, small movies to get made. Risky movies will become fewer and further in between, and when one fails because of a too large budget or too high expectations, Disney will retreat further into conservative movie making practices, especially when it knows it can make money with sequels and remakes without having to invest in as much advertising or development.

This bodes poorly for creativity. In the movie industry, everyone follows the successful plan. Marvel’s shared universe led to Universal’s Monster Universe and DC’s Extended Universe. With the success of Disney’s remakes, other studios will be looking long and hard at their intellectual properties to mine for remake gold. Disney will continue to remake films for as long as it’s profitable or they run out of films to remake. With America’s bastion of entertainment creativity on the sidelines, what can we do to help foster more creativity, so that we don’t diminish our collective power to make something new and wonderful?

Get More Creative

If you want to go big and easy, you don’t have to look any further than Netflix. Currently, Netflix offers the best access to truly creative entertainment and documentaries. Whether it’s homegrown fare like “The Unicorn Store” and “Dead to Me” or its something more foreign from movie studios in Korea, Japan, and China, Netflix is bringing the widest stories available in one legal streaming space, and it’s investing in new shows and stories all the time. Netflix has the opportunity to experiment and the impetus to find the next “Stranger Things” before Disney launches its own streaming bundle that will include Hulu and ESPN. Netflix isn’t all unicorns and puppies, but they are trying to make original entertainment while providing a diversity that will help improve your own creativity if you choose to watch those films and shows.

If you want to go for more individual support, Patreon is the best option. You become a patron of the artists, writers and video makers that you choose. There are some big names on Patreon, but if you want to get more for your dollar, you should look for creators, who are doing things you like and have fewer than 100 supporters. The smaller creators often need the help more because they have fewer fans. They may also be more creative than the creators that have larger fan bases. It’s hard to market new characters and stories. It’s much easier to market something that people know, which is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do here — encourage creativity.

If you want something more personal, head to your local comic convention — the smaller, the better — and take a walk down artist alley. Find the artists who are making their own things like books, prints, and stuffed animals, and buy something from their table. If they have an email list, sign up for it. Share what you found to your friends and social media audience. You’ll get to talk to the artist, find out what makes him or her want to do the art he or she is doing, and you’ll know exactly where your money is going. Local art fairs are also a great place to find and support new talent.

If you’re just looking for something to read, go to your local bookstore and ask them where their local author section is. If they do not have one, ask them to create one. There are authors everywhere who need your support. By including their work in the conversation at your bookstore, you’re beginning to give the authors a boost up. If the bookstore has a local author section, pick a book at random. If it’s outside of your normal reading genre, you’ll be boosting your own creativity while encouraging someone else to keep making new things.

Of course, there are other ways to support new and emerging artists. Your purchase is important, but equally important is the outreach you do to your online community. Sharing is caring, and if you tag the artist in a supportive post, you’ll boost their self-confidence and their productivity. You can harness the power of the Internet by joining email lists and Facebook pages, subscribing on YouTube, and sharing what the artist releases. Be sure your ad blocker is turned off when you visit an artist’s web pages or YouTube channel because every view counts.

If you have an entertainment budget, the best thing you can do is spend twice as much on independent and new artists, authors and entertainment as you do on established intellectual properties. Even with the remakes and sequels, Disney and its other studios are creating some top-notch entertainment. It doesn’t have to be creative to be satisfying, but it also shouldn’t replace creative efforts.

Creativity and those who practice it are important to our humanity and our advancement as a species. Because it takes time, space and resources, it is often the first thing to go in a person’s life and in an industry, especially when budgets get tight or people get greedy and focus on a short-term plan. You can help creators in their fight to bring something better to the world. All it takes is a little effort and a little research.

Earned a Master’s in Creativity and Innovation from Malta U., author of “Disneyland Is Creativity” and other books, other works available at www.penguinate.com.

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