The Walt Disney Company famously invites children to ask questions of executives at its annual shareholders’ meeting, and it doesn’t take a grown-up to see that this is set to be a bumper year for the House of Mouse. At its AGM last week in San Francisco, Disney announced plans for a sequel to 2013’s animated mega-hit Frozen, which made more than $1.3bn (£0.9bn) worldwide.
The company also revealed the title of the eighth Star Wars film. Rogue One, a spin-off from the central Star Wars franchise, will be released in December 2016, while Star Wars: Episode VIII will come hot on its heels in May 2017.
Last week, it was also announced that Tim Burton would direct a live-action version of Dumbo and this weekend saw the opening of a live-action Cinderella, with a live-action version of The Jungle Book with Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and Christopher Walken as King Louie, to follow next year.
After the latest project announcements on Thursday, Disney shares rose by more than 4 per cent. Collectively, its movies earned $4bn at the box office in each of the past two years, while Frozen made an extra $1bn in merchandise sales. With a record $7.5bn profit in 2014, the studio has gone from the doldrums, when CEO Bob Iger came in a decade ago, to the envy of Hollywood.
The studio’s woes in the Noughties were epitomised by the Disney Animation division, on which Walt Disney had built his empire. By 2005, it was overshadowed by Pixar. Then Mr Iger bought Pixar and placed its co-founders, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, in charge of both houses. Pixar continued to thrive under Lasseter and Catmull, while Disney Animation produced a run of hits that led to Frozen, the highest-grossing animated movie in history. Fans can look forward to future Pixar projects including a Finding Nemo sequel, and the recently announced Toy Story 4, which is due in 2017.
Disney’s rival studios could be forgiven for simply picking up their ball and going home. The highest-grossing movie of 2015 will surely be either The Avengers sequel Age of Ultron, due in May, or Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens at Christmas.
Marvel, the subsidiary Disney acquired for $4bn in 2009, has transformed franchises into a “cinematic universe” of prequels, sequels and spin-offs. And that blockbuster model is now being copied by almost every other studio, from Universal, which is turning to old monster movie properties such as Dracula, to Sony, which last week announced plans to do the same with its Ghostbusters franchise. Meanwhile, another branch of Disney: Lucasfilm, acquired from Star Wars creator George Lucas for $4bn in 2013.
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