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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Life + Arts

Disney films profit in times of recession

Pixar’s “Brave” debuted No. 1 at the box office its opening weekend, setting another round of records for the Disney subsidiary.

The achievement comes on the coattails of “The Avengers’” incredible box office performance that set the film as the third highest-grossing of all time (and counting).

The Walt Disney Company was founded in 1923, a few years before Black Tuesday threw world economies into turmoil. Around the Depression era, Disney produced some of its hallmark films (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia”) that helped build the company’s repertoire in the world of fantasy storytelling, and it has recently seen a resurgence of high-grossing films.

The archetypes of the hero and underdog have always played a huge role in American cinema. Disney specifically has taken its qualities a step further into imaginary worlds and has mastered formulaic works of escapism for almost a century now.

Economic downturns have given way to some of Disney’s staggering success in the movie business. The top-grossing Disney films of all time, with a few exceptions, were made either around the time of the Great Depression or within the last few years after the housing bubble. Entertainment companies would love to be as stable as Disney has been in the doldrums of our fiscal crises.

This antithetical prosperity begs the question: what do you sell to the masses during gloomy economic outlooks? You sell them dreams.

Disney and its subsidiaries have set the bar very high for family entertainment, and recent box-office blockbusters have only confirmed that notion. The fairytale-themed stories and fantasy worlds have repeatedly revealed the need for a catharsis in today’s society.

One-third of the top-15 grossing films of all time have been distributed by Walt Disney Pictures and all of them within the last five years. If the film isn’t based off of one of its theme-park rides or a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, chances are it’s a story of hope whereby an abject protagonist rises to fulfill his potential.

In modern society, where the importance of many things is based on monetary value, it’s nice to see that stories of hope are still a hot-selling item.

Reality doesn’t sell in times of trouble, and recent trends have shown that Disney appears as if it’s recession-proof. The company’s movies in particular shed light on our society’s desire to have our concerns wrapped up in a pretty bow.

Cynics might view this as Disney utilizing a philosophy of denial for profits, but in reality Disney hasn’t ramped up the number of films it puts out per year.

Plenty of full-grown adults came back to theaters for “Toy Story 3” 15 years after the original was released. Disney isn’t benefiting on a new phenomenon — it is just a trusted purveyor of comfort.

If “The Avengers’” foreign influence (Thor, the Nordic superhero), ingenuity (Iron Man), patriotism (Captain America) and muscle (Hulk) combating evil forces as one doesn’t sound like a sales pitch to a downtrodden generation, I don’t know what does.

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