The Disney Model: Changing the Film Industry Forever

Paper b Allison Junod. Viewed on DVD.

The Disney Company is one of the biggest companies in the world. Disney is loved by all types of people no matter where they are from. I know when I was growing up Disney movies were a huge part of my life and many other children’s lives. To this day they are still a huge part of the film industry and pop culture. Mickey Mouse is one of the most recognized icons in history. How did one company become such a big part of the world, as we know it today, as well as so many childhood memories? This is because of the Disney Model. The Disney Model has forever revolutionized the film industry by designing films that were targeted toward a younger audience and groups of all ages by telling epic stories of adventure and fantasy. It influenced top grossing movies including one of the most famous movie series of all time, Star Wars. The Disney Model is also apparent in modern day cinema such as Pixar films.

The Disney Model can be described as a business model in which the pursuit of an international family audience with a range of child friendly products and services that are tightly intergraded with each other and thus help’s other’s sales (Willams and Hammond 277). Disney first began making animated films in the 1920’s. By the 1930’s, Disney began to market the production of animated films. Disney than began to expand it’s horizon by making documentary films. On July 17th, 1955 Disneyland opens in Anaheim, California with 90 million people watching on ABC. It was evident that Disney was becoming a big force in not only the film industry, but the theme park industry as well. People were able to enjoy a Disney film, and then be able to go live the experience at Disneyland. By 1972, Disney theme parks reportedly raked in 221 million dolllars of the 329 million dollars that Disney profited (Willams and Hammond 265). However, the Disney theme parks were just the beginning of the Disney Model.

What Disney did was more than just a good business move. The Disney Model is about making family friendly movies, but to make such an impact on not only the film industry but also our world takes talent. Disney took movies to another level by mixing creative story telling, beautiful visuals, and the childhood wonder children have and adults want. People could argue that today “Disney’s reputation with families had dropped because the stuff they were making wasn’t as high quality as it used to be. It was more about quantity, not quality” (Schlender and Tkaczyk, Pixar’s Magic Man). But as this quote is also stating, Disney started from making quality movies about adventure and fantasy. They paved the way to make movies about mystical places and imagination, in a way that anyone could connect to. This was a big reason Disney was so successful when they started making movies.

Disney changed the film industry in other ways as well, specifically with advertising. Disney made its company a brand, meaning it became more than just a production company that made movies. One prime example is the Disney theme parks. These theme parks brought in millions of dollars as well as making people feel more connected with Disney. Another way Disney changed film advertising is by selling products with their label on them. Millions of items like toys, clothes, games and more have Disney characters on them. They made items that children could enjoy and that adults would buy their children, all while advertising their movies. This ties in to the Disney Model because before, movies and film production companies weren’t necessarily brands. Now, selling movies on physical items could make them more of a brand. This type of advertising could only begin with the making of more family friendly movies, because it is easier to advertise these types of things to children or adults buying their children items. By making these types of brand products for all ages, you are either sparking people’s curiosity of the film or supporting their fascination.

By the 1960’s, Disney was starting to make its mark in the film industry. Hollywood studios were looking at Disney and trying to figure out what was so special about it. The answer is that Disney was targeting a younger audience, something that was not in style at the time. Many movies were being made for the teen years and above, and more focused on adult themes rather than themes that interest all ages. Disney films that were not animated, such as Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1964), were extremely successful with profit and critical praise alike. A big reason for Disney’s success at this time was not only because of their marketing, but also because of their timing. This was the generation of Baby Boomers, so there was a rise in the amount of children and families in America. In a 1957 survey, married adults with children under 15 bought 22 per cent of all tickets, whereas the almost equally large group of adults with no children under 15 only bought 12 per cent (Jowett 1976: 477, Willams and Hammond 268). This high amount of earnings from children and families began to decrease when the children got older, and increased again when the Baby Boomers began having children. The decrease, nevertheless, made room for Hollywood studios to come back and create adult hits again such as The Godfather (1972), The Exorcist (1973), and One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Soon Hollywood Studios began to experiment with the Disney Model, targeting younger audiences while still making films people of all ages will love.

The Disney Model inspired many movies, but there is one series of movies in particular that changed film history. These films are called Star Wars. It’s a story about a boy names Luke Skywalker and his adventures in a fantasy galaxy. The Star Wars movies have made a major impact in film history financially and creatively. It cost 11 million dollars to make, and when released raked in 194 million dollars. Creatively, it was a big effect in film culture. As Keith Booker states in his book Alternate Americas: Science Fiction Film and American Culture:

Star Wars, with its groundbreaking special effects and staggering commercial
success, may be the most influential science fiction film in history.
Its characters became icons of American popular culture, its language became
part of the American vernacular, and its simple, but powerful, story
became one of the best known in American history. It inspired a string of
sequels that together now constitute the most commercially successful
franchise in film history (Booker, 109).

The Star Wars movies were popular for many reasons. The movie used catchy taglines such as, “‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .”. The technology used was exceptional for when the first one was released in 1977, the futuristic look and special effects were something no one had seen before. It gathered people of all ages, and created a sub culture that you still see today. Even though the story is placed in a different world, many people related to the young Luke Skywalker. Fans enjoyed seeing this story unfold movie after movie, and being able to feel involved with the character’s life. The Star Wars films were not only loved by fans but by critics as well. The first movie of the series, Star Wars: A New Hope, won six academy awards and was nominated for Best Picture. All of this things made the Star Wars series special and successful, but Booker says it best when he describes why these movies became so popular when he says, “…much of the film’s success can be attributed to its unpretentious celebration of the kind of simple, straightforward oppositions that had given the pulp fictions of the 1930s their innocent appeal. This simplicity and innocence helped the film appeal to children, but Star Wars also had a great appeal for adult audiences in the United States in the late 1970s” (Booker, 115).

The Star Wars films stand by themselves as great films, but they might not been able to bring this type of movie into the film industry if it wasn’t for the Disney Model. One reason is because Disney was the one to start making a brand out of their movies. Star Wars was able to do the same thing with the lead of Disney. They made toys, games, and more with the characters of the movie. There is even a ride based off of Star Wars named Star Tours at Disneyland. The films were able to create the genre called family adventure, something that could not be done before if the Disney Model never became popular.

Star Wars is, like Disney movies, a fairy tale. It isn’t the kind with princesses, fairies, and wizards, but it is a mystical story involving captivating characters with deep feelings and development. It related to children because of the fairy tale aspect of the film, but also related to teens and adults with the young protagonist Luke Skywalker. He is not the big strong handsome man that people usually saw in films, he is just a young boy trying to find his way and in the end becoming a hero. This is not a new concept, but the way it was presented was very appealing to the audience. It is said that George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars series, even cited Disney as a model for the films (Willams and Hammond 271). This is the same reason why Disney became so big originally; the stories capture audiences in a way not many movies had done in the past. The Star Wars films “were widely received by reviewers, and presumably by audiences, as Disneyesque” (Willams and Hammond 271). The storyline is based in an unreal world, but it is not perceived as different in the films. This makes it easier to be absorbed into the world that is being presented. There is adventure that is exciting for all ages. Disney and the Disney influenced Star Wars series could be considered the two biggest influences on family adventure, or epic movies that includes a variety of ages, rather than just adults being able to relate to them. They are prime examples of how creating a family friendly adventurous film can be very successful financially, critically, and more.

In the present, Disney has become bigger than ever. They have their own channel, pop stars, and other things expanding from when the Disney Model was created. The Disney Model still applies to Disney as well as many companies today. One of my favorite things that Disney has invested in is Pixar. I feel Pixar is what Disney was originally about. Disney hasn’t completely lost their sense of making fantasy family movies, but it seems they are more focused on selling TV shows and making mega stars out of children. Pixar is an animation studio that was bought by Disney in 2006. Their movies have won collectively 26 academy awards. Every film is critically acclaimed and loved by all age and all type of people. Their first featured film, Toy Story (1995), earned 361 million dollars worldwide.

Pixar movies use the Disney Model in a few ways. We can use the example of Toy Story. Toy Story is a film about a group of a boy’s toys that come to life when left alone. It is a fantastic movie with a protagonist hero, and has a heart-warming story about friendship. This movie reaches the attention of both children and adults alike even though it is a fantasy tale. The characters are liked by every age, and have become well known worldwide. There are many Toy Story based items such as toys, clothes, bedspreads, and more. This movie was so beloved the two sequels made more money than the first, a rare occurrence in the film industry. Toy Story is a good example of the use of the Disney Model in the present.

Another Pixar film that uses the Disney Model is Wall-e (2008). Wall-e is about an abandoned robot left on earth that follows another robot to outer space. It is a great example because it is a family film with a deep meaning. It has a central story for children and adults, but the story is also a commentary about our world. It is the prefect blend of childhood innocence and adult themes. All of this is done using little dialogue, making the film open not only to different ages but different languages as well. This is part of what the Disney Model was about; making movies that reached the heart and minds of all types of people. It is not limited to just adults, yet adults can still watch it and feel the sense that they are watch something more than a children’s movie. Wall-e and all the other Pixar movies, are some of my favorite films to date. They never fail to make you feel the adventure and love that only an ageless story told in a fantastical way can make you feel.

The Disney Model is very evident in film history. It brought a whole new element to movies, making epic and inspiring films for people of all ages. The Disney Model also inspired movies to become a brand, and to make products based on the movie. We can see the influence in game changing films such as Star Wars. Although Disney is forever reinventing itself, they will always have movies that hold what the enchanting and adventurous stories such as the films from Pixar. The Disney Model will always be an influence in films for as long as movies are around.

Citation Page:

Williams, Linda Ruth, and Michael Hammond.Contemporary American Cinema. New York: Open University Press, 2006. Print.

“Toy Story” IMBD. n.p., n.d. Web. 17 April. 2012.

Schlender, Brent and Tkaczyk, Christopher ” PIXAR’S MAGIC MAN.” Fortune. Business Source Premier., 29 May. 2006. Web. 16 April 2012.

Booker, Alternate Americas: Science Fiction Film and American Culture:. Westport: Praeger, 2006. Electronic.


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