The movie Strange World has just come out and I only knew it because I write a lot of movie release dates in my planner. There’s been practically no marketing I’ve seen here in Japan, just an unceremonious release. And as far as I’ve seen of North American marketing, it’s just as bad over there.
Is this some sort of Good Dinosaur level audience-unappealing stinker? I don’t know. Well, it has a 66 on Metacritic as of this writing. That’s exactly the same score Good Dinosaur got, so make of that what you will. But even if it’s bad, even if it’s good, that doesn’t change anything. Disney is putting this film out to pasture on purpose. They spent $200 million on a project that doesn’t fit their corporate synergies, so they’re just going to let it go out there and die.
The movie looks pretty cool, and it’s extremely up my alley on paper. A 50s sci-fi throwback about a family of explorers on, uh, a strange world. Awesome aesthetics and pulp fiction adventure. It looks entirely unlike anything we’ve ever seen from Disney Animation before, and that’s awesome. But it’s not the kind of movie that can turn into a Spotify-conquerer like Encanto. It doesn’t increase IP awareness like Ralph Breaks the Internet. It’s not super high-concept like Zootopia.
The fact Disney greenlit a mega-budget blockbuster pulp fiction throwback movie is honestly commendable. Regardless of if it works or not (I don’t know!), that much is true. But Strange World feels a lot like the late Eisner era of Disney, where ambition and creativity get ground to dust by corporate infighting and overall incompetence. Entire movies sent out to die by a studio clueless of how to sell it.
Bob Chapek just got fired as CEO of Disney. I can’t imagine Strange World‘s impending disaster was the main factor. His horrendous performance in the “Don’t Say Gay” crisis probably did the most damage. And then forcing straight-to-Disney+ releases for perfectly theater-ready films probably sealed the deal. Luca, Turning Red, Disenchanted, Pinocchio, and many more movies skipped theaters. It angered theater companies left with barren release calendars. It angered creators whose movies went underseen and underappreciated. Normally creatively independent Marvel and Star Wars even saw obvious top-level corporate meddling as well. We’d probably have that Rogue Squadron movie next year if not for Chapek, I theorize.
So Strange World wasn’t what killed Chapek’s run, but it sure is emblemetic of the problems that have quickly bubbled to the surface of this megacorproation.
Is there anyone left at Disney who remembers Atlantis and Treasure Planet? Heck, do they even remember John Carter and Lone Ranger, at this point?
Strange World resembles those movies a lot, and yet they’re seemingly playing into all the traps they already fell into so many times before. Marketing a movie based on cool niche aesthetics, without making anyone actually curious about the story or characters. Then when it doesn’t register well, they just give up and leave it to die.
I mean, look at how little Disney cares. Look at what movies they’re releasing around it!
Lightyear, another sci-fi adventure animated movie, just came out last summer! To audiences unfamiliar with Strange World’s throwback aesthetics, this is like 90% the same movie. But without the IP tie-in. Lightyear still has plenty of merchandise on store shelves; they didn’t even give time for it to clear out so they could run Strange World merch… Wait, there probably won’t be any. Plus, Lightyear didn’t even do very well itself.
Even worse, Avatar: Way of Water releases in just FOUR WEEKS.
Isn’t it madness? For a studio to release a big tentpole blockbuster and market it entirely on the visual wonder and adventure, less than a month before the AVATAR SEQUEL? It’s not like they didn’t see this coming; they are literally the exact same studio! Even if they weren’t, Avatar 2’s had this release date for like four years. Everyone knew this was coming, probably before Strange World even started production.
Then again, this is the same studio that released the heavily water-themed Black Panther 2 just a month and a half before Avatar 2 anyway. So… It clearly shows they’re not thinking too much about overlap, just constant content bombardment.
To make matters even worse, in February, Ant-Man Quantumania releases. Guess what? It’s a movie about a family exploring a strange and visually interesting sci-fi world!!!!
Y’all have to stop and think for a second about how this is going to go. Four major franchise films from established, beloved IPs, and one risky original squeezed in there for seemingly no benefit. I can’t think of any possible reason to keep this movie on the calendar. It should have been delayed to 2023, and Disenchanted put in its place, and the marketing team should have been fired and replaced by competent people.
Strange World is going to bomb, and Disney will just pretend it never existed in the first place. It’ll grow a cult fandom over time, and decades later it’ll be held up as secretly the best early 20s Disney movie or something. They had a chance to stop it, but it’s way too late now.
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