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Disney’s “Woke” Film Ideology Cost the Studios Nearly $300 Million at the Box Office

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The Walt Disney Company took a bath last year as it pushed a “woke” agenda in its films that resulted in a loss of more than $300 million for the entertainment giant.

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Credit: Reader’s Digest

Over the years, Disney has come to be known as a powerhouse–nay, the powerhouse standard–when it comes to the creation, development, and production of popular films–both animated and live-action–that soar at the box office. Seven Disney-owned films are among the top 10 highest-grossing films in history, including Avatar, Avengers Endgame, Avatar: The Way of Water, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Infinity War, The Lion King (live-action remake), and Avengers. 

Among the top 25 highest-grossing films of all time, that number increases to 16 and includes Frozen, Frozen II, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Panther, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast (live-action remake), Incredibles 2, Iron Man 3, and Captain America: Civil War.

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“Incredibles 2″/Credit: PIXAR Animation Studios

But in 2022, Disney released two of the worst-performing films in its history, and it’s not because the films had terrible storylines or an absence of celebrity voice actors. Rather, the poor performance has been tied to the ideology within those storylines, according to The Daily Express, which states that “both were CG-animated family films criticized upon release for being too ‘woke,'” resulting in the loss of “hundreds of millions.”

PIXAR’s Lightyear

PIXAR Animation Studios’ Lightyear hit the box office in June 2022, and if PIXAR attempted to predict its success based on the success and warm reception enjoyed by the four Toy Story films, they were in for quite a shock. The film was controversial from its inception since veteran actor Tim Allen was not involved in the film. Allen has lent his voice to Toy Story‘s Buzz Lightyear since 1995, and fans couldn’t understand why Allen was being excluded from the project.

RELATED: Spiritually Empty, Half-Baked, Heartbreaking Crap: “Lightyear” Reviews Are In, and No One’s Holding Back

What Pixar's 'Lightyear' Earned at the Box Office Over the Weekend

Credit: PIXAR Animation Studios

Some fans attributed the exclusion to Allen’s recent political stances, but Disney and PIXAR were clear that Lightyear was never about Buzz Lightyear, the action figure, but about Buzz Lightyear, the real-life astronaut who served as the inspiration for the toy. It made total sense for PIXAR to tap a new voice actor for the role, and the studio did exactly that.

But the film also came under fire in the weeks leading up to its box office release, as word spread that the film included scene featuring a kiss between two women who are lesbians. That fire turned into an explosion for some fans when a PIXAR representative said the studio would not be removing any part of the scene. But the decision may have cost PIXAR in the end.

Lightyear'; The First Trailer & Poster For Pixar's Buzz Lightyear Origin  Story Have Landed | Screen-Connections

Credit: PIXAR Animation Studios

Lightyear was ultimately a huge failure, earning $267 million at the box office against total production expenses of $373 million, awarding PIXAR a $106 million bath.

Disney’s Strange World

In November 2022, Disney released the CGI-created film Strange World. The animated film follows the Clades, a legendary family of explorers who “band together and navigate an uncharted, treacherous land beneath their world.” The film tells the story of Searcher Clade, a family man who finds himself out of his element on an unpredictable mission, and his “larger-than-life” father, Jaeger, Searcher’s 16-year-old son, Ethan, and Searcher’s partner, Meridian Clade, who’s an accomplished pilot. The family heads out to explore a strange new world, and their adventures are the focal point of the film’s storyline.

That’s the story for publication, anyway.

Strange World creators talk to Beyond the Mouse | NPR Illinois

Credit: Walt Disney Animation

Another focal point of the film has to do with a scene in which 16-year-old Ethan tells his grandfather, Jaeger, about his crush on another boy, and while same-sex crushes and relationships are not uncommon topics in films anymore, critics of the film point out that the discussion of sexuality within a film created for children “certainly didn’t help the film’s box office fortunes.”

Strange World is considered a box office flop, as it garnered only $165 million in revenue. The film cost $180 million to make, and with advertising costs and other associated expenses, Strange World, from start to finish, cost Disney more than $317 million to produce, meaning the film saw losses for the studio of more than $152 million.

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Credit: Disney Animation Studios

“Hollywood doesn’t fully grasp the ‘go woke, go broke’ mantra,” said movie critic and author Christian Toto. “In some cases, parents are avoiding content with sexual conversations. Parents are [savvier] today. They use social media and get feedback on films from their peers either online or in person.”

A report at Deadline states that the progressive politics in Disney’s Strange World would have made it impossible for the studio to release it directly to the Disney+ streaming platform, especially in light of the public feud between The Walt Disney Company and the legislature in the state of Florida that began following the passing of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill in March 2022.

“Had ‘Strange World’ gone straight to Disney+,” the report reads, “it would be a PR nightmare for the studio, particularly in the wake of [the] Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ quagmire.”

While some will vehemently defend Lightyear and Strange World as films that are “long overdue” and “necessary” in the name of fairness and representation, far more will argue that Disney and PIXAR derive 100% of their yearly revenue from various entertainment streams, and are out of line, over the line, and out of place in lobbying paying patrons at the box office. Moviegoers pay to be entertained, not indoctrinated.

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No parent is looking to Disney or PIXAR to educate their children about–or expose their children to–topics of gender identity, sexual orientation, and sex. It’s time for both studios to stand down and get back to what they have long been experts at creating: engaging, fun, meaningful storytelling presented in the forms of animated and live-action films that do not tout any topic, agenda, political message, or other ideology that is neither useful nor age-appropriate for children in the audience.

There’s a vast, glaring difference–a great divide, even–that cannot be ignored between films that present a message and films with an agenda. One is offered–often as an undercurrent or underlying theme–and shared for the viewer’s consideration. The other is an egregious attack on viewers whose beliefs do not align with a predetermined agenda and motive put forth by a studio.

Here’s hoping Disney gets back to choosing wisely.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!