Disney pins hopes on Scotland the Brave

As its boss departs, the troubled film studio is yearning for a flame-haired highland warrior princess to ride to the rescue

Los Angeles

Walt Disney will be hoping a ginger-haired Scottish warrior princess will turn into its knight in shining armour this summer. This is not the latest piece of cinematic trickery, however; following the high-profile departure of its chairman on Friday, the studio, increasingly, needs a saviour. And Princess Merida could be it.

Rich Ross, who is chairman of the company's film studio, announced that, after a little over two, somewhat tumultuous, years in the high-profile job, he has decided to step down, with immediate effect. "People need to be in the right jobs, in roles they are passionate about, doing work that leverages the full range of their abilities," he said in an email to staff. "I no longer believe the chairman role is the right professional fit for me."

His departure – "under pressure", according to US media – comes after Ross presided over a string of controversial executive hiring and firings, and, then, the release of a string of extremely expensive films which have largely fizzled out at the box office. Chief among them was John Carter, an ill-conceived and horrifically marketed adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs SF novel A Princess of Mars. It cost $250m to make, more to market, and was dead on arrival at the box office last month. The firm expects to lose $200m on the film, making it, on paper, the biggest flop in Hollywood history.

All of which means there are high hopes for the fortunes of the Pixar release Brave, the story of Merida, a skilled archer and the daughter of King Fergus who brings chaos on her kingdom when she defies an age-old custom. Starring Scots Kelly Macdonald (who voices Merida), Billy Connolly and Robbie Coltrane, the animation will have its European premiere at the closing night of this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival on 30 June, ahead of its UK release in August. Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, has said the arrival of Hollywood in the Scottish capital brings "tourism and business opportunities" and that Brave will be "the most high-profile film ever set in, and themed around, Scotland, featuring Scottish stars".

Studio bosses come and go, of course. But for all the expense and mess that has hastened his departure, the end of the Rick Ross era now raises some more fundamental questions both about the future of the beloved entertainment company that Walt Disney built, and of the instantly recognisable brand of films it produces.

It only seems like yesterday that Ross's predecessor, Dick Cook, a Hollywood impresario of the old school, handed in his resignation, saying that a string of disagreements with the conglomerate's overall boss, Bob Iger, had left him feeling like a "square peg in a round hole". In the two years since, Disney has tried, and largely failed, to develop a blockbuster franchise to replace its ageing cash cow Pirates of the Caribbean.

In addition to John Carter, it has produced such commercial disappointments as Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and Mars Needs Moms, none of which has merited a sequel. The company's traditional stock-in-trade, hand-drawn cartoons, have in recent years felt quaintly outmoded. And the viability of its familiar, heart-warming, family-friendly live-action films has been disproportionately affected by the ongoing decline of the DVD market.

Disney is left with something of an identity crisis. Indeed, a portion of its hopes of a summer blockbuster has in recent years been invested in Pixar, the pioneering CGI studio founded as a sort of "anti-Disney", which it eventually purchased in 2006.

Expensive to make, and creatively ambitious, Brave and its makers give Highland culture the sort of lucrative Hollywood treatment it last enjoyed with Braveheart. An awful lot of eggs are now invested in Brave's tartan basket. But in an era where a film can sink or swim on the back of clever marketing and canny executive decisions, the studio will need its executive ranks to be firing on all cylinders.

That is by no means guaranteed. Shortly after Ross was hired, he sacked a dozen high-ranking Disney executives, saying the organisation needed to be "more agile, creative, and responsive". The move created what many observers described as a poisonous atmosphere at the company. "Before he released a single movie, people had knives out for him," says a trade reporter who covers Disney. "He came from TV, so didn't have enough friends in the film business, and never bothered to schmooze the media. Every time a Disney film underperformed, you'd read articles with quotes from unnamed executives blaming Ross personally."

The movies which did succeed during his tenure were duly put down to the creative endeavour of others. Tim Burton got all the credit for Alice in Wonderland, which made a billion dollars, while John Lasseter, the Pixar founder and head of Disney Animation took plaudits for Tangled, and Toy Story 3.

On the home front, Ross's most high-profile hire, a New York ad executive called MT Carney, who had little experience of the movie business but was hired to head up marketing, left suddenly earlier this year. She was the subject of constant backbiting, and was credited with signing off on a disastrous tagline for The Sorcerer's Apprentice: "It's the coolest job ever."

Whoever succeeds Ross must do a better job of juggling some of the industry's biggest and most fragile personalities. In addition to Lasseter, Disney's stable includes Jerry Bruckheimer and Steven Spielberg – whose Dreamworks releases it distributes and markets. "You have these huge egos on the Disney lot," says Nicole LaPorte, the author of an acclaimed history of Dreamworks. "Between Spielberg, and Lasseter, and all these other people you have to make happy, it's a particularly delicate job. You have to serve an awful lot of masters."

The irony of Ross's departure is that it may pre-date some of his greatest successes. According to advance tracking, the Avengers film, which hits US cinemas this weekend, is on course to enjoy one of this year's biggest opening weekends. And his talent-picking ability won't become truly apparent until next year, when a Wizard of Oz prequel – one of the first "tentpole" titles Ross gave the green light to, eventually reaches the big screen.

Hollywood being Hollywood, there will no doubt be plenty of other people willing to take the credit, should either movie succeed in turning Disney's precarious fortunes around.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness