The Conversation: What Direction Should Disney Go In After Rich Ross' Departure?

The Conversation: What Direction Should Disney Go In After Rich Ross' Departure?

Apr 23, 2012

First Gary Ross officially leaves the Hunger Games sequel. Then Rich Ross resigns from his position as chairman of Walt Disney Studios. People with the last name Ross -- Diana, Marion, Atticus, Katherine etc. -- better watch out for the law of threes striking this week. But let's return to Rich, who was, depending on who you ask or read, either forced out as a scapegoat for John Carter's failure or genuinely quit because he believed it wasn't "the right professional fit."

It doesn't matter which. It's a new day and we need to be thinking about the future of the Mouse House. No successor has been anounced yet, so many writers are speculating on who could fill the position, who should fill the position and what direction Disney might or ought to go in either way. Will it be Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige? Pixar and Walt Disney Animation boss John Lasseter?  Oscar the chimpanzee, whose new movie had the best Disneynature opening weekend yet? ("Good boy, Oscar!")

Journalists with greater knowledge and interest in the executive side of movies are where we shall turn to with analysis of the contenders and which way the studio is to head, business-wise. Meanwhile, some fans speak out on more creative direction for Disney's future. 

 

Who are people saying about the future of Disney? Here's The Conversation heard around the Internet:

A rumor swept the Disney lot that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige would be replacing Ross on the eve of the May 4th release of that Disney-owned studio’s hotly anticipated and surefire blockbuster The Avengers. (“He’s a creative. I don’t know that Kevin wants a desk job,” an insider tells me today.) But already under the studio’s umbrella are other possible Ross replacements: Snider, Lasseter, Participant Media’s Ricky Strauss recently named Walt Disney Studios’ worldwide marketing chief, and yes even Bruckheimer who cut his teeth as a Paramount exec. Names of outsiders like Mary Parent are in the mix as well. - Nikki Finke, Deadline Hollywood

An insider confirms to me that Ross’s successor will be a movie veteran, with experience in story. Certainly Sean Bailey, who heads live action, and John Lasseter, who leads animation and Pixar, have those in spades. (I’m thinking: Why’d you guys get rid of Nina Jacobson? And now she’s produced “The Hunger Games”? Put that gal on speed-dial.) - Sharon Waxman, The Wrap

If Sean Bailey gets Rich Ross' job it'll be one of the most exciting cases of failing upwards in YEARS. - Devin Faraci, @devincf

The names that are going to come up once again are John Lasseter and Kevin Feige, with the latter perhaps looking like a strong choice given how well his blueprint for The Avengers has paid off. Feige is probably better off staying with his Marvel gig, and I suspect that we’ll see the choice of another guy in the Ross mold — someone who is more a dedicated business leader than Lasseter. - Russ Fischer, /Film

From a movie fan's perspective it would seem as though the Oscar-winning Lasseter with his Pixar resume and Disney animation successes would be the perfect choice to revamp the movie division. Of course, Lasseter's ego was causing problems for Ross during his entire tenure.  Lasseter's Pixar BFF, Andrew Stanton, received significant latitude from Ross regarding the skyrocketing budget for "John Carter," a situation where it was clear Ross, Bailey and possibly even Iger didn't want to rock the boat with Pixar.  Lasseter also has tried to interfere with live action productions such as "The Muppets" by volunteering script notes and suggested changes.  Those suggestions obviously weren't necessary considering it became one of the best reviewed films of the year.  It's clear Lasseter would like the control of running the live action division, but is that the right message to send to the creative community after 2 1/2 years of Ross' mismanagement?  Would Lasseter be able to run the division as a studio chief and not a micro-manager? It's a huge question mark and may give many quality filmmakers pause when setting up a project at the Mouse House. - Gregory Ellwood, HitFix

[Disney studio president Alan] Bergman, a former CFO, has limited experience with creative decisions and is not perceived as the strongest candidate in some quarters. But elevating an existing executive would spare the studio the upheaval of a new leader just two and a half years after Ross took over. - Kim Masters and Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter

Is it time to put an old hand at the tiller, someone with decades of experience and finely tuned creative instincts? Or will Iger double down on another newcomer? If you study the history of Hollywood, the track record for outsiders isn’t especially good, especially ones like Ross who had a touch of arrogance about their own gifts. [...] If I were Bob Iger, I’d be very wary of making another bad choice. If his next pick doesn’t pan out, the person getting the blame will be Iger himself. - Patrick Goldstein, Los Angeles Times

There will be a new head looking at films like The Lone Ranger and Oz The Great and Powerful or even The Odd Life of Timothy Green, and they may not want them to succeed. No one wants to lose money – but no one wants the last guy to look good. When your shelf life is this quick in business, your ideas may not come to light until after you’ve left so if any of those films work the success will go to how it was marketed, or someone other than Ross. - Damon Houx, Screen Crave

1. They hand it over to Kevin Feige, from Marvel, and double down on being a pop studio. You will find a lot of people think this is possible and few who think it’s a good idea. 2. They find an out-of-work, established name to take over. (Hard to imagine Aviv going back… but it would make perverse sense.) The problem with this is, who? Who has a name and a vision beyond the same old, same old? And even if you want the comfort of the same old, who can deliver it with a high percentage of certainty? 3. They hire The Next Great Studio Chief and really gamble, with the safety net of Marvel and Pixar, as well as DreamWorks. What would a really smart person with $600 million a year do? It could be wonderful or an utter disaster. And who would market it? (Maybe the guy who currently has the job, Ricky Strauss, can be that answer.) But the idea of the person in charge of a movie studio being little more than a caretaker on the movie side and a brand strategist as the primary goal… not going to fly. - David Poland, The Hot Blog

 

Okay, fine, I'll run Disney. Stop asking. I'll be in Monday. Get my office ready. My first action as the head of Disney: everyone must surrender their shoes and belts for every screening. However, you can bring in all the recording equpiment you want. Also... from now on, all movies must be NC-17. Especially the Pixar movies. As the new head of Disney, my first film is a $500 million prequel trilogy for "Watcher In The Woods." Also, Disney is going to drop 3D entirely, but invest heavily in Smell-O-Vision. As the new head of Disney, I plan to install an actual black hole in Disneyland. You can only ride it once, obviously. Also, I will spend $30 million to post-convert "The Black Hole" to Smell-O-Vision. My next greenlight is Michael Mann's $150 million reboot of "The Apple Dumplin' Gang." I'm very excited to announced that we've just closed a deal for Gaspar Noe's "Pete's Dragon 2." Oh, and in the single most subversive act of my regime, I'll actually release "Song Of The South" on Blu-ray. I'm also going to spend $400 million on "Night Crossing Legacy" with an all-CGI Beau Bridges. - Drew McWeeny, @DrewAtHitFix

 

Conversation Twitter Poll: What would you do as the new head of Disney?

Emphasize hand-drawn animation and start with fresh, new live-action movies, not extensions/reboots for franchises. - Josh Spiegel, @mousterpiece

Go back to making experimental animated shorts that pushed the art forward, like The Old Mill. - Daniel Walber, @DSWalber

 

Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.

 

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