Bob Iger is an ideologue, but he’s a smart one. He’s riding the woke train straight into the mountain, but he knows he has to have at least some business sense to keep it running as long as he can. The Machiavellian way he used Bob Chapek as the fall guy for the disastrous results of his socio-political crusade was pretty brilliant, if evil. (Thankfully, Chapek was paid handsomely for being humiliated like he was.) Now that Iger is back in charge, he’s got some leeway to pursue his identity politics goals a little longer, but he does understand that he has to display some real business acumen somewhere. A pair of his comments from yesterday’s Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference illustrates both sides of this coin.
First, Iger talked about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe following the failure of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and his remarks are those of a single-minded activist who sees whatever confirms his bias.
“Sequels typically worked well for us… Do you need a third and a fourth for instance? Or is it time to turn to other characters?… There’s nothing in any way inherently off in terms of the Marvel brand… I think we just have to look at what characters and stories we’re mining, and you look at the trajectory of Marvel over the next five years, you’ll see a lot of newness. We’re going to turn back to the Avengers franchise, but with a whole different set of Avengers.”
Yeah, that was totally the problem; people wanted new characters. It’s obvious if you look at the hits and misses: the most successful Marvel productions throughout Phase 4 starred new characters like Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch, Loki, and Doctor Strange; the old guard, like the Eternals, Shang-Chi, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and the new Black Panther were ignored because people were tired of the same old same old.
Of course, Iger knows this is a crock. He isn’t stupid enough to believe what any outsider can plainly see. But he doesn’t care; he’s got an agenda, and he’ll ram it down everyone’s throat whether they like it or not. I believe wokeness in Hollywood, especially at Disney, has become a staring contest, with Iger and his like-minded cohorts convinced that the public will blink first. If wokeness doesn’t go away soon, he thinks people will just throw their hands up and accept it, returning to his hectoring social lessons like good consumers who’ve learned their lesson. It’s a question of whether he can achieve that before the walls come tumbling down from a string of expensive flops, and since he’s talking Avengers movies, the price tags of these Marvel films don’t sound like they’ll be cut too sharply despite previous talk to the contrary. (I think some of those Disney+ shows are going to stay gone, though.)
But the money has to come from somewhere in the meantime, and with that in mind, Iger sounds more realistic about the theme parks, including the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel:
“I always believed that Disney was a brand that needs to be accessible. And I think that in our zeal to grow profits, we may have been a little bit too aggressive about some of our pricing. And I think there is a way to continue to grow our business but be smarter about how we price so that we maintain that brand value of accessibility.”
Hold the phone; are you telling me that gearing a theme park and hotel experience towards families and then pricing it so high that families can’t afford to go was a bad business decision? That Star Wars hotel is between $5000 and $20,000 for two nights, for God’s sake! And as for the parks, I went to Disney World with my family in 1994, when tickets were around $35, which is $69 adjusted for inflation (and I still remember my dad grumbling about the cost). Today, they’re between $109 and $189, depending on the park, and that’s not even getting into things like concessions, the prices of which probably make movie theaters look like dollar stores, and souvenirs. Still doable, but your average family is going to feel the pain.
And that’s why Iger is talking about making the parks better while still railroading the Marvel movies. The parks can be a regular source of income for Disney if they can get people to go, and that can subsidize Iger’s woke fantasies as they bomb in theaters (to an extent, anyway). Disney World was raking in cash when I went thirty years ago, and that was when Disney was making movies people actually liked. I think Iger gets this, and unfortunately, this means it’ll be a long time before we see another halfway-decent Marvel movie.