If there’s one thing to be said for the Disney Studios Showcase at D23 this year, it’s that it gave those of us on the weekend news shift a nice quiet start to Sunday.
First, to give some perspective, here’s a quick recap of the headlines from last year’s D23 showcase. The 2022 presentation included the announcement of two new Pixar movies and Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” the first footage from “Elemental,” the first footage from the live-action “Little Mermaid” remake, Rachel Zegler presenting the first teaser for “Snow White,” Jude Law presenting a first look at Disney’s “Peter Pan & Wendy,” and the entire original cast of “Enchanted” showing up to introduce the trailer for “Disenchanted.” On the Marvel Studios front, the showcase included a first look at “The Marvels,” footage from “Loki” season 2, a preview of “Werewolf By Night,” and a teaser for “Secret Invasion,” among other treats.
At D23’s 2023 Disney Studios Showcase, the only real news was the announcement that “Haunted Mansion” is coming to Disney+ on October 4. Attendees saw the first 10 minutes of “Wish,” as well as the “Once Upon a Studio” short that will play before it in theaters, featuring a mash-up of Disney characters from across the years. The short premiered at Annecy Film Festival earlier this year, so this wasn’t an exclusive first look, but at least filled some of the presentation’s 90-minute window. The rest was padded by showcasing the new “I Am Groot” shorts (already on Disney+), ongoing “Star Wars” series “Ahsoka” (premiered last month), footage from “Loki” season 2 (out in a few weeks), and footage from “The Marvels” (out in November).
There was no new movie or TV show announcements, no footage from 2024’s slate, and nothing from 20th Century Studios at all.
The elephant in the room
In case you’re not caught up on Hollywood goings-on, the reason Disney’s D23 2023 showcase was so sparse is that the studio isn’t really making anything right now. Hollywood writers have been on strike since the start of May, and actors have been on strike since mid-July. Production on upcoming Marvel Studios titles like “Thunderbolts” and “Blade” has been halted indefinitely, along with almost every other project Disney has in the works. When the company presented a list of its upcoming releases during its latest earnings call, “Deadpool 3” had been quietly removed from its May 2024 release date. We recently learned that several upcoming Marvel shows, including “Echo,” “Agatha: House of Harkness,” and “X-Men ’97,” have been delayed to 2024.
The SAG-AFTRA strike includes promotional work, so even if Disney did have fresh footage to show, the studio couldn’t bring out any stars to present it. Anthony Gonzalez, who voiced the young protagonist in 2017’s “Coco,” opened the panel with live performances of “Un Poco Loco” and “Remember Me.” Chopper the droid was brought out for the “Ahsoka” panel (because droids don’t have any rights and can’t go on strike). There was a dance number featuring ghosts for the “Haunted Mansion” segment — which, more than anything, is an unfortunate reminder of how Disney didn’t have any stars to walk the red carpet at the movie’s premiere, and had to enlist random Disneyland performers dressed up as characters like Cruella de Vil and Maleficent.
When will the lights go back on at Disney?
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents Disney alongside hundreds of other Hollywood studios in guild negotiations, hasn’t contacted SAG-AFTRA since the actors strike began two months ago. In August, three months into the writers strike, the AMPTP resumed negotiations with the Writers Guild of America, but those have stalled now as well. This week, the WGA invited studios to negotiate a deal outside of the AMPTP, and SAG-AFTRA chief Duncan Crabtree-Ireland has also said, “If one of the companies approach us and say they want to make a separate deal, we’ll talk to them.”
But it’s currently unclear whether or not Disney is actually keen to get things moving again. CEO Bob Iger has been aggressively pursuing cost-cutting measures since his return to the throne in late 2022. These include a round of layoffs that cut 7000 jobs and a purge of Disney+ content that removed the $100 million+ fantasy series “Willow” after just six months, and original sci-fi movie “Crater” just seven weeks after its premiere. Speaking on Disney’s Q2 earnings call in May, Iger boasted that “we are on track to meet or exceed our target of $5.5 billion” saved from cost-cutting initiatives. During the Q3 earnings call in August, interim CFO Kevin Lansberry said Disney had reduced its spending on content production by $3 billion in 2023, “in part due to the writers and actors strikes.”
If the goal was to excite investors by bragging about how much stuff Disney isn’t making right now, it doesn’t appear to have worked. Disney’s stock price hit a nine-year low in August, and has lost almost a fifth of its value since the strikes began. With D23’s Disney Studios Showcase emphasizing just how little there is on the horizon, it will be interesting to see if this weekend’s event moves the needle (and in which direction) when the market opens again on Monday.