How Age and Gender Determine Disney Franchises

After my latest trip to the Disney Store, I wondered aloud why you could find Big Hero 6 merchandise at Hot Topic, but not there. It seemed odd, since BH6 is getting a TV series and every fan of the movie I’ve met wants a sequel.

I talked about it with my Mom, and she suggested that might be because Big Hero 6 is geared more for older kids and teenagers. And you know what, I think she’s right, and it extends to a lot of other non-Princess animated Disney films.

Films like Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia all handle complex themes. Wreck-It Ralph is how labels don’t define you, Big Hero 6 is about grieving, and Zootopia is about prejudice. While Zootopia’s handling on its topic has been debated, they’re all generally great at handling more mature topics and having layered stories. And notice how the protagonists of these movies tend to be older (WIR is about a thirty year old man, BH6 features college students as main characters, and all the characters in Zootopia are adults) as well. I think while they’re initially marketed to children and can be seen and enjoyed by people of all ages, older people will be able to really appreciate them. I probably would’ve liked Wreck-It Ralph if it came out when I was a little girl because of Vanellope, but I realize that the reason why Big Hero 6 is my fave movie is because it came out precisely when I needed it: when I was a depressed university dropout.

Consequently, a lot of the new Disney Princess movies (yes that includes Frozen and Moana) are for little girls, with simpler stories and an emphasis on Girl Power TM. I wouldn’t mind so much except that these movies kind of dumb down their stories and characters (there’s a lot of telling rather than showing, such as when Moana sings about how much she loves her people without actually showing her feel real compassion and care for them) and have a lot of themes that would’ve been handled better in a non-Princess movie are kind of glossed over. Your grandmother dies without warning? You’ve been abandoned as a baby and it scarred you for life? You’ve spent years in isolation being led to believe that you’re dangerous? Eh, a couple songs and you’re all good!

But you can see why there’s so much merch for movies like Frozen, Moana, and other Disney Princess films and hardly any for films like BH6 and WIR (except at Hot Topic): the former is much more easy to market to children, with a specific demographic that will eat that princess shit up. Not every older fan will want to buy dolls and action figures for their fave non princess movie. (Though if I could get a collectible doll or figure of my fave movies that aren’t Funko Pops, I would be very happy.)

All this also explains why Disney purchased Marvel and Lucasfilm. Disney has had great success with their animated properties, but with very few exceptions, their live action films have not. Even today, Disney’s original live action films struggle to make a profit. With Marvel and Star Wars, they are now able to make movies that people will definitely watch and have another huge demographic: little boys AND older fans that are easier to market to. Similarly, they can market their live action remakes of animated classics to kids and adults with nostalgia.

As you can tell, this is a very brilliant merchandising plan, albeit one that isn’t entirely fair to successful non-tentpole movies that have their following. Will this last forever or hold up? We’ll have to see, though I am a little concerned for Star Wars (as summarized by another person HERE). But the best I can do is support the movies I love the best way I can to show that it IS easy to market films that aren’t Princesses, Star Wars, or Marvel.

Why isn’t Big Hero 6 a Franchise?

Big Hero 6

I ask this question almost every day. Whenever I go out, I see a startlingly lack of merchandise for anything related to this movie. The movie is still available, but books, toys, collectibles, or other products are scarce. What I find most alarming is the lack of Funko Pop! vinyl collectibles. You’re lucky if you can find a few Baymaxes, but if you want the other members, you’re out of luck (and this is saying a lot, since you can find a Funko Pop! for almost everything).

Granted, this might have to do with the fact that I live in Canada (we don’t get as much good stuff as the States does). But still, I can find so many products for Frozen (are people even buying it?), and something doesn’t sit right with me. What’s especially striking is that while apparently you can buy Big Hero 6 stuff at the Disney store online, you can’t actually find anything in store except Baymax plushies (and even then, that’s not a guarantee).

What really strikes me is that Big Hero 6 is a movie that is practically BEGGING for a franchise. It’s a movie about a diverse group of superheroes that fight crime and help people with the power of science. And it ends with a sequel hook of Fred and his secret superhero father. And it’s widely loved and popular. So why don’t I see more of it?

You could have:

  • Lots of toys
  • Books and shorts on science and technology with the BH6 team
  • Books and shorts on health and safety with Baymax and the team
  • Collectibles with ALL the members (not just Baymax)
  • Storybooks on all their different adventures
  • Costumes
  • Decorations
  • Figurines
  • Clothes
  • And so much more (think of all the stuff Frozen gets and see if BH6 can get some of it too)

Now, to be fair, I KNOW a TV series is going to come out in 2017, which is very good news. I hope when that show proves successful, BH6 will get the love it deserves (and if it doesn’t, something is seriously wrong). Until then, I’m going to be a little frustrated that I can’t find anything for my fave movie while Disney exploits franchises that it’s running into the ground with no relief and gives their other products the shaft.

Disney Has an Oversaturation Problem

As you probably know by now, Alice Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to the highly successful yet much-maligned Alice in Wonderland remake, bombed big time at the box office.

And to be honest? I’m very happy about it. I think (I hope) it’s going to be the wake up call that Disney needs.

I’m likely not alone saying this, but it’s become pretty apparent that Disney is relying more on billion dollar franchises than it is on more original (but still successful) works. There have been plenty of essays on how the splurge of Disney live-action remakes are hurting the company, but I don’t think it’s the only problem. Remember when hearing the term ‘Marvel Movie’ caused excitement instead of dread?

When Disney bought Marvel and acquired the film rights to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the ilk (they don’t have the film rights to the X-Men or Fantastic Four yet), they created the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At first, it was exciting! We got to see The Avengers, where all our fave heroes come together to kick ass! But now, there’s a lot of comments on how the MCU is going to collapse onto itself. I wrote about why this is before, but I think there’s another reason: they keep churning out two or more MCU movies every year, with no sign of relief. Because of this, most of the films end up being less about telling good compelling stories that make sense and more about nonstop action and explosion. Is there any reason why the Avengers, who were formerly friends, have to fight each other over one person? No, other than to boost ticket sales. In other words, the MCU and other franchises have an issue of quantity over QUALITY.

The thing is, while people may flock to theaters now, Alice Through the Looking Glass‘s bombing proves that people WILL wise up. What happens when Disney/Marvel makes an MCU that bombs (which I’m betting dollars to donuts will be Doctor Strange with the whitewashing controversy)?

I’m a little concerned that a similar fate is going to befall Star Wars. Do we really need a new Star Wars film EVERY year? Especially films that have no Luke Skywalker, no Princess Leia, and no Han Solo? I’m sure diehard fans will rush to see all these films, I’m not sure if casual fans are going to want to see a SW films that isn’t an official episode, especially when the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story makes it look more like a horror/thriller than a science fiction action film.

On top of all that, there’s a huge problem with Disney and merchandise. You can find waves upon waves upon waves of toys and other products for Marvel, Star Wars, and Frozen (which Disney is trying to make into a franchise despite only being one film with no background). Good luck trying to find any stuff for films or series that aren’t any of those three (unless they’re lucky enough to be associated with a Princess or Fairy, and even then, don’t bet on it)! This basically leaves fans FORCED to buy only a select amount of merch in order to make these films successful. It’s not that it’s bad that these franchises have merch, it’s that consumers are given no other choice. Imagine how much more successful films and series like Big Hero 6 or Gravity Falls or Wander Over Yonder or all the other Pixar and live action films could be if they were given a bigger chance in the marketplace (since they all have their devoted fanbases and plenty of new fans with the rise of Netflix), but they’re not given it.

Basically, Disney should give a lot of attention to ALL their successful products (not just the ones that manage to gross billions). Only paying attention to a select few is not only unfair, but also, as Alice Through the Looking Glass proves, dangerous. If Disney wants to remain successful, it’s going to have to take advantage of all their bases instead of depending on tentpoles, especially ones that aren’t needed or wanted.

The Major Reason the Anime and Manga Industries Are In Trouble

So if you’re an aficionado of Japanese media, you probably know that the anime industry is in danger of dying. The manga industry is not faring so well either. You can look up ‘anime industry dying’ or ‘why good anime is hard to make’ or ‘manga industry dying’ to get more info, but basically, while anime and manga for niche markets (mainly the otaku fandom) is doing fine, anime and manga for a broader audience is not.

To be honest, I think there are a lot of reasons for this. A lot of manga and anime series are extremely long (thus people can lose interest after awhile or be deterred entirely), can be very weird, and tend to be oversexualized (this is a serious problem that is affecting anime and manga badly, but that’s for another day). A clash of cultural values and customs don’t help at all.

But I think there’s another very huge issue as to why the anime and manga industries aren’t doing very well, at least overseas. The issue is that anime and manga and their merchandise are FUCKING EXPENSIVE.

Seriously, manga is pretty pricey, and given how LONG manga can go on for, people could end up forking hundreds of dollars to get the complete series (and sometimes people might not even get access to the complete series if the whole thing isn’t translated or if the English distributors go bankrupt). And anime? Oh, it’s worse. It can cost upwards of $30 to get a single disc DVD, and it can cost almost $100 to get a Blu Ray, not for the whole series, but for less than HALF of a series. I’m not joking. I wanted to get Attack on Titan on Blu Ray because I love the show so much and I want to show my support, but they broke up the first season into two separate Blu Ray boxsets and each one is ridiculously overpriced. I saw a Kill La Kill Blu Ray set of like the first five episodes with a few bonus features that cost like $90. $90! And don’t get me started on Sailor Moon!

It’s even worse if you want merch for it. A lot of merch is imported right from Japan, and as a result, can cost zillions of dollars. There’s some merch that’s actually really cool (like these articulated Sailor Moon figurines that have different faces and hand shapes and accessories) but if you want to get the complete collection, get ready to fork up to a thousand dollars! I feel like it would be better to just go to Japan and get stuff there!

And the thing is, a lot of fans of anime, manga, and the merch attached to it are high schoolers and college students. In other words, people who aren’t exactly rolling in money or have parents who are willing to buy their kids all the stuff they want all the time.

Since Western comics (save for standalone graphic novels or complete collections) are ridiculously hard for me to get into with all the constant retcons, changing writers and artists, and unfriendliness to newer readers who don’t know the context of what’s going on, I want to turn to manga as an alternative (especially since a lot of manga is really creative, and they can be a little easier to follow than their anime adaptations), but it’s hard when buying volumes cost me so much money. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.

I don’t understand. Merch right from Japan that’s expensive, I understand, with the shipping costs and all that. (Though this means they should let American companies make licensed merch for them so that people can support the industry without spending too much money. They shouldn’t have to sell all their products right from Japan to be shipped overseas.) But, I’m sorry,  I am not spending nearly $100 for a box set of like five episodes and wait forever for the rest of the series to be released.

The point is, if the anime and manga industries want to survive, they need to make their products AFFORDABLE, ACCESSIBLE, and widely AVAILABLE. At this rate, I’m not remotely surprised that the future of anime and manga might be solely online, whether Japan likes it or not. But if they want physical copies to survive, they need to make sure more people can actually buy it. I’m sure they can gain a lot more revenue to make more and better anime if lots of people go through stores, see an anime that looks interesting, and see that they can actually buy it without spending too much.

EDIT/UPDATE:

Wow, this post has been getting a lot of views! I may have been a little glib when I first wrote it. I’ve gotten a few comments and as it turns out, the issue is a bit more complex than that. The main problem is that creators are often treated horribly, having to work long and hard hours, and anime/manga are not as commercialized around the world like Marvel or DC. Lowering prices would make it harder to make a profit. You can check the comments for more details, but basically, anime and manga is seen as a novelty. I still think anime and manga need to be more affordable, accessible, and widely available, but there will also need to be some serious reforms in how anime and manga are commercialized, marketed, and made.

A New Franchise For Disney?

So I was on Tumblr (as I always am) and I came across this picture:

disneymoviesanywhere:
“You too can save the day with these heroic Disney movies, now available at a special price.
”

For a split second, I thought it was fan made, but then I saw that it was part of an official post from the official Tumblr page of disneymovieseverywhere, with the following caption: “You too can save the day with these heroic Disney movies, now available at a special price.

If you click the link in the quote, you can see it lead to a webpage that is indeed dedicated to “Disney Heroes”. So far, the movies listed in this new category are Mulan (and it’s sequel for some reason), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (and it’s sequel, again, for some reason), The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph, and Hercules. All of these movies have their followings (well, except for the sequels), and a lot of them are considered underrated (in other words, not universally hated).

When I saw this, I was pleasantly surprised (especially over the fact that Mulan is actually shown in her blue dress and as a hero, not a princess), but also very confused. For a company that’s mostly about Disney Princesses, Frozen, Star Wars, and Marvel right now, it’s really interesting to see them make a special page and offer dedicated to movies they barely acknowledge anymore. Why is that now, all of a sudden, we’re seeing a Disney Heroes collection? Is it going to feature a wider arrange of films (mainly Tarzan and Aladdin, movies which practically beg to be called “Disney Hero” films)? And, most of all, is this going to become a potential marketing franchise, like the Disney Princesses?

To be honest, I hope it does. Mainly because, I think children deserve a broader range of Disney-related products to play with and read. It would also give older fans a chance to buy products related to their new and old faves/not be swamped with the same merch from the same movies all the time.

I think they did have a previous Disney Heroes lineup a long time ago, focused on male hero leads, but died out due to the overwhelming popularity of the Disney Princess lineup. I could have sworn I saw a toy with a blue Disney Heroes label and mentions of it online but I can’t find any official info (if you have any, please let me know). So I wonder if this means they’re reviving it.I hope it becomes more successful at any rate.

I’m totally curious to see what they’re going to do with it. I think the best thing to do is to buy the movies offered to show Disney that people love them and would like to see more of them, and maybe Disney will do something from there. I really hope this leads to something, especially for Mulan (I don’t want her to be pigeonholed into just wearing glittery dresses and looking pretty and demure), Big Hero 6 (which is practically begging for a franchise; I just hope with its upcoming TV series we’ll see something more out of it) and Wreck-It Ralph (which has been almost completely forgotten, which is a shame given how good it is). I just hope it doesn’t mean that these are movies that Disney doesn’t care about and is lumping them together to sell them cheap for a limited time.