The Mandalorian and the Disney problem
December 4, 2020
The Mandalorian, having begun its second season on October 30, has taken the internet and Star Wars fandom by storm, provoking discussion and debate among many community members and casual enjoyers alike, including myself. As a show, The Mandalorian is, in the barest sense of the word, good. It has pleasing visuals, good character design and engaging enough writing. But that’s all it is: good, fine, alright, but not great. There’s a general consensus among fans that the Mandalorian is an acceptable piece of Star Wars media but that it fails to break convention and push the boundaries of the Star Wars Universe as much as it should. In short, it has an insipid commitment to convention and safe writing.
This problem extends beyond Star Wars towards the other various Disney movies that have been released in the last two years. Some examples include the remakes of Aladdin, The Lion King and Mulan which, despite grossing well (excluding Mulan), tell the same story as their originals, with the personality that comes from animation drained from them. While this seems to be an insignificant problem given the current state of the world, I believe that Disney’s constant disregard for quality should not go unnoticed and that it has real-world implications that go beyond the medium of film and television. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly evident that the production of acceptable, but not great, movies is becoming commonplace in the industry and is harming the medium of film as an art form. So, what happened? And what does this have to do with anything else?
First, Disney’s disregard for quality is a side effect of success. With the international company now owning a myriad of entertainment properties such as National Geographic, Fox and, as stated previously, Star Wars, there’s little incentive for Disney to make anything original. If they have a beloved series that they could play on repeat in the theaters or on their new streaming service, Disney+, then why should they try to make risks in the process of making new products?
The only thing more dangerous for the art of film than a studio that is unwilling to experiment is an audience that is apologetic. It is no secret that these Disney movies are wildly successful, with Avengers Infinity War being the highest grossing movie of all time. But in my view, much of this success is unwarranted, and is only bolstered by the name recognition of Disney and its associated properties. If fans continue to go see Disney movies despite their lack of quality, Disney will never be held accountable for the lack of originality that has characterized much of their content in the last decade.
To make this critique relevant, I do think that COVID-19 has played a major role in affirming Disney’s complacency. With not much to do at home, people are desperate for entertainment, and when something like the Mandalorian comes on, the quality is not much of a concern when nothing else is being released and the movie theaters are closed. The closure of movie theaters nation-wide has also proved to work in Disney’s favor, as Disney is currently considering bypassing them altogether with their next few films and putting movies on Disney+ exclusively–films which standard movie theaters cannot afford to not show. Whatever your opinion on the Mandalorian or any other current Disney property, it is clear that our complacency with mediocre content will only strengthen the grip Disney has on the entertainment industry, reinforcing the idea that average movies are the most profitable. If you want to support the production of quality films and let Disney know that “okay” is not acceptable, you may want to skip that next Marvel movie.
Alex Papanikolaou is a member of the Class of 2023
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