Disney is oh, so cautious with its blockbuster franchises. And for very good reason.
The mega studio gobbled up George Lucas’s “Star Wars” saga for a cool $4 billion back in 2012. Since then, they’ve brilliantly managed the marketing of the revived franchise. The box office numbers speak for themselves. So does the sight of countless children marching off to school wearing Chewbacca backpacks and Rey T-shirts.
Disney’s finesse also is apparent on the Marvel Studios side of the ledger. Hit after hit after hit, with major league actors and directors rushing to bring colorfully clad heroes to life. The colossus that is “Black Panther” shows the MCU machine isn’t slowing down.
Along the way, Disney studiously avoids content that could alienate audiences. The studio’s mega movies are bipartisan fun, and hallelujah for that.
That path hasn’t been perfectly smooth, though.
The writers of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” embraced the “safety pin” meme of the anti-Trump “resistance” shortly after the real estate mogul’s shocking win. The Tweets were quickly memory holed all the same.
Did Team Disney suggest they cease and desist?
Super Serious Fare
The “Iron Man” franchise explored the dangers of selling weapons of war, but few would dub the subject matter divisive. Most applauded the fusion of real-world issues with the superhero genre.
Even “Captain America: Civil War” delivered potent political storytelling without choosing sides … or alienating a gaggle of movie goers. The studio’s scribes walked the line without getting close to a soapobox.
That was then.
More recently, the Disney movie machine is looking more and more like every other Hollywood outlet. Progressive to a fault.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” introduced a new wokeness to the saga. Powerful female characters dressed down their male subordinates so hard it made the liberal Vanity Fair cheer. The film featured an Occupy Wall Street approved subplot involving the evil rich parading around a casino planet.
The “Star Wars” casting is now so aggressively diverse it’s a shock to see a cis gender white male in a major new role, to use the Social Justice Warrior’s favorite term.
“Black Panther” represents another step toward more progressive storytelling. T’Challa’s sister (Leticia Wright) calls white people “colonizers.” The story features a Black Lives Matter-style villain, although his massive shoulder chip is given gracious context.
The film ends (mild spoiler alert) with the Black Panther spreading his nation’s wealth to inner city America.
Studio Notes (or Lack Thereof)
All of the above clearly got the Disney stamp of approval. Little goes by in its kingdom without such a stamp, most likely. The stakes are too high to just hand off a property and hope it succeeds.
And then there’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”
The long-awaited adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved book got all the bells and whistles Disney could muster.
- Starry cast – Reese Witherspoon, Chris Prine and reluctant presidential candidate Oprah Winfrey.
- Big budget – $103 million, reportedly.
- Oodles of publicity
Let’s look past the modest box office haul — $33 million over its first weekend of release. What was missing from the big screen adaptation?
For starters, twin brothers who featured prominently in the L’Engle book series got the cut. Some film adaptations have to trim, trim trim to squeeze every page onto the screen. Aunt Beast and the entire planet of Ixchel also got the heave ho.
A necessarily clip, perhaps. Guess what else got zapped? The story’s critical faith element.
Faith No More
“Madeleine L’Engle’s Christianity was vital to A Wrinkle in Time,” according to the Vox.com, headline. The reliably liberal outlet continues:
But A Wrinkle in Time’s use of religious themes made it both controversial and one of the most thought-provoking children’s stories in modern fiction.
It appears that change wasn’t an accident.
A recent interview with Jennifer Lee, the film’s screenwriter, suggests that the religious angle of A Wrinkle in Time will be largely excised. “I think there are a lot of elements of what [L’Engle] wrote that we have progressed on as a society,” Lee told an interviewer who asked about the faith element of the book, “and we can move on to the other elements.”
A book beloved for more than 50 years is stripped of a key element because someone feared it might be controversial? If so, why is the book so entrenched in our culture?
TheFederalist.com explores just what role faith had in L’Engle’s book. Even the story’s finale is steeped in Biblical phrasing.
At the climax of the book, when the main character, Meg, is discouraged and needs hope, it is the Bible that is quoted to her: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Did Disney demand the screenwriters excise God out of the story? Or was it the scribes themselves? Either way, it’s another sign of a studio willing to appease one set of patrons and ignore, if not outright insult, another.