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Disney Loses Animation Crown to Minions’-backed Illumination

'Super Mario Bros. Movie' caps stunning shift away from woke Mouse House

The Disney brand is synonymous with animation.

From “Steamboat Willie” to “Frozen,” the Mouse House ruled the animated arts for decades. The Disney aesthetic helped make that possible. Disney animators excelled at beautiful motion, gorgeous scenery and sidekicks who nestled their way into our hearts.

  • Thumper
  • Olaf
  • Jiminy Cricket
  • Flounder
  • Lumiere

Times change, and so does the culture.

Now, Disney animation is in flux, beholden to one side in the Culture Wars. Movies like “Lightyear” and “Strange World,” two of last year’s most stunning flops, forced cultural messaging into their stories.

Get Woke, Lose $100M

It mirrors the company’s overall push into political waters, shattering a reputation built by founder Walt Disney. 

  • Entertain the masses
  • Deliver clean, uplifting stories
  • Tell tales suitable for the very young and old 

Now, Disney+ shows promote trans issues betwixt the cuddly characters and executives brag about injecting gender-based material into their stories.

And audiences aren’t buying it. They’re flocking to the Mouse House’s main competitor instead.


Illumination Entertainment is less than two decades old, but it stands atop the animation world. Founded by Chris Meledandri in 2007, the company is responsible for several popular franchises (“Minions,” “Sing,” “The Secret Life of Pets”) and its newest property, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.”

That film earned an astonishing $204 million in its opening, extended weekend. That’s not all. Its global haul – $375 million – shattered a record previously set by Disney’s “Frozen 2.”

Suffice to say we haven’t seen the last of Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach.

DreamWorks Animation also enjoyed a Disney-like hit last year. The studio’s “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” opened poorly, with just $12 million. Some worried the lingering pandemic might keep it from reaching its full fiscal potential. Others figured the “Puss in Boots” franchise, spun from the “Shrek” saga, didn’t have the cultural heft of other properties.

Word of mouth soon kicked in, and “The Last Wish” topped out at an impressive $185 million, plus a global tally of $480 million.

Puss In Boots: The Last Wish - Official Trailer 2

What do the aforementioned Illumination films, plus “Puss in Boots,” have in common?

They’re not woke, for starters. The various titles focus on childlike glee, wacky characters and lovable heroes. The company hasn’t followed in Disney’s cultural footsteps.

Disney previously stumbled in the 1970s, a time when the company’s animated fare failed to delight the masses. That so-called “dark era” extended into the Reagan era, with tales like “The Black Cauldron” and “The Great Mouse Detective” under-performing at the box office.

The “dark” label applied to both the brand’s decline and Disney’s eagerness to tell stories with a more grim, realistic sensibility.

The 1989 smash “The Little Mermaid” reversed the company’s fortunes.

The Little Mermaid (1989) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Disney has plenty of ways to regain its standing atop the animation world. The company just announced belated sequels to two of its biggest properties – “Toy Story” and “Frozen.” Plus, its Pixar division can still uncork some of the loveliest films in all of animation.

It also helps to have decades of beloved IPs to draw upon, including this year’s live-action “Little Mermaid” feature and a new “Moana” in the works.

None of that may matter if Disney puts more energy, and focus, on sending messages with their films.

Editor’s Note/Correction: Illumination’s Chris Meledandri is helping DreamWorks animation expand the “Shrek” franchise moving forward, and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” was co-produced by Meledandri.


  1. We make a point to not watch any woke movies but spend lots of money going to see non-woke films at the theaters. Minions and Super Mario Bros we have seen a few times now. We also vacation at Universal now and not Disney bin sad because we loved Disney. But woke Disney is a disgrace and horrible. Not worth a dime and we won’t be back.

    1. @Kate

      The irony is that, leading up to its release, there were “anti-woke” YouTubers predicting Super Mario Bros. would flop.

      Why? Because Princess Peach was a capable and smart leader. So, films are now woke if all female characters don’t fit into the “damsel in distress” stereotype. Yeah, that’s not chauvinist. /sarc

      Of course, as reported by Bob Chipman, these YouTubers are now backpedaling in the wake of SMB’s massive success:

  2. Disney set out to destroy Walt Disney’s vision and everything that made them great, to their own demise. I love what illumination is doing.

      1. I missed that story. Very sad! I’ve always thought that Dreamworks was superior artistically.

        That being said, it looks like Dreamworks was still the production company on Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Universal is the distributor but it appears as thought Illumination has not actually produced a movie from this franchise yet unless I’m missing something.

      2. Shrek is only Dreamworks’ most famous property

        .Dreamworks also made:
        The Prince of Egypt
        The Road to El Dorado
        Megamind (underrated)
        Kung Fu Panda 1-3
        How to Train Your Dragon 1-3

        Illumination’s magnum opus is Despicable Me. Illumination has no soul

      3. @Nunya Bidnessss

        You’re correct that Dreamworks has produced quality animation covering a wide range of stories. However, since the success of Shrek and its sequels, Dreamworks began moving away from originality to sequels and spinoffs. See Puss and Boots.

        That was West’s point in his video. Studios really began to double down on sequels after seeing how much money Illumination made off Minions.

        A notable exception is Disney, which balances sequels and remakes with NEW ideas. An example is Elemental, which debuts this summer:

        That will be followed by The Wish due this fall:

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