I generally avoid linking to other animation think pieces, but this makes my teeth itch:
I think ... Disney ha[s] come up with one of Mencken's easy, neat, plausible, and wrong answers. While aiming to make movies for a wide audience is an admirable goal, I don't think it's strictly necessary for box office success ....
Look. There's only one factor that (almost) guarantees box office success.
You have to make a compelling movie, one that people get off their duffs to go see. Disney hasn't been "wrong" in making or avoiding "Princess" type features. It hasn't been wrong making musicals, or making adventure films, or CGI extravaganzas.
It's only been wrong insofar as it hasn't, over the past few years, made animated features that yank people into theaters. Here's what I mean: Does anybody think that The Princess and the Frog is more riveting and compelling than Aladdin? The former has fine sequences, fine animation, bouncy music, but does it come together like the Arabian tale from the early nineties?
When people get asked what they think of TP&TF, they smile and say "Oh, it's nice." Back in the day, when people got asked what they thought of Aladdin, the answer was: "It's great! You gotta go see it!"
Now I've heard a few malcontents mention that it was the characters populating TP&TF that put a dent in its grosses. But consider Aladdin for a moment. It had brown-skinned people. It had a setting that worried Disney at the time. (We were in the midst of Gulf War Uno and the name of Aladdin's hometown -- Baghdad -- was hurriedly changed.) It was the third Disney animated musical in four years.
But when the picture came out, nobody cared, because the music, plot and spirited trajectory of the piece grabbed audiences by their shirt fronts and got them talking it up to their friends and neighbors, and getting them to go see it.
So let's fast-forward eighteen years. The last three Disney features -- Bolt, Meet the Robinsons, and The Princess and the Frog -- have generally been considered under-performers. Most people admit to being mildly charmed by the movies, but nobody rushed through dinner and bee-lined to the local AMC to watch them.
My take is, if Rapunzel/Tangled turns out to be a wowser, audiences will flock to view it. And then they'll tell other people it's really, really worth seeing, and the Mouse will have a major hit on its hands. The feature could be called Long Blonde Hair or Flynn's Night Out or anything else, and the grosses will be up there.
But the movie has to motivate people to go to the multiplex. It has to be buzz-worthy, a quality that's often elusive but usually recognizable when it's in place. (Toy Story and Snow White had it, likewise The Lion King.) If the next feature out of the box doesn't have that "gotta see it" ingredient, Diz Co. will likely have another disappointment staring it in the face. (And please don't think I believe creating a movie to which everyone flocks is easy. I don't. But creating a riveting feature is the goal. Making product designed to sell "the brand" or a lot of rubber toys won't cut it.)
So, is Walt Disney Animation Studios making a mistake by shooting for the widest demographic? Don't think so. Its main errors, I think, are making advertisements for merchandise and over-thinking the specific audience for which it is building this or that entertainment. The only thing that ultimately matters is making compelling films.
When that goal is reached, the soggy box office will disappear. And "synergy" will blossom.