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Latest Disney News: A previously declared flop finally lights a fire in the box office while Disney hatches a plan for ESPN

Meanwhile, some spooky changes are coming to Disney's parks.

Hello Disney friends, foes, and fans! It’s time for another Disney news roundup once again and I hope you’re holding onto your Micky Ear headbands because I actually have good news regarding the Mouse House today. Our readers are well aware it hasn’t been smooth sailing in the box office for Mickey and friends in recent months, and while that’s not unprecedented, it is disheartening when the movies are actually good. Pixar’s latest offering Elemental looked to be the latest victim in a long string of flops after a tragic opening weekend, but a surprising turnaround has changed all that. Could Haunted Mansion be next?

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If not, bombing in the box office isn’t necessarily a death sentence; we’ll cover how one nearly forgotten Disney film is having a second life on streaming (and despite all the ghostly puns, it’s sadly not the 2003 Haunted Mansion.) Speaking of streaming, Bob Iger and Co. are still trying to make ESPN Plus a thing, or at least some variation as the sports network’s revenue declines in an increasingly cable-averse world.

Lastly, we’ll go over some recent dining changes as well as some haunting new Halloween merch coming to both Disney World and Disneyland. Hope you still have your Mickey Ears, because you might be able to trade them in for some pumpkins very soon!

After a cold initial reception, Elemental catches fire to the tune of $400 million

Image via Disney/Pixar

When Elemental first hit theaters a little over a month ago, things were not looking good. The animated film with a sweet message befitting an audience of all ages looked like it was going to be the latest Pixar film to underperform in the box office. During its opening weekend, Elemtental made $29.6 million and nearly took the spot of Pixar’s lowest opening box office to date. While the first Toy Story holds that title thanks to a Thanksgiving weekend profit of $29.1 million (and definitely was not considered a flop in 1995), Elemental’s reported budget of $200 million made the new film’s earnings look even worse in comparison.

Thankfully, things have taken a turn for the better. Elemental made one of the biggest comebacks this year now that it’s surpassed $400 million in the global box office (the first original animated film to do so since before the pandemic). While much of that can be attributed to domestic audiences finally seeing the inherent value of the film’s wholesome father/daughter story, the majority of the film’s box office — $257.5 million according to the initial Hollywood Reporter article — comes from international sales. Elemental has done especially well in Korea, becoming the number two film of 2023 in the country and beating out franchise films like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and The Flash.

Disney’s critically-panned ensemble film, A Wrinkle in Time, is seeing new success on at least one streaming platform

Must a movie be good to be a good movie? Disney’s 2018 epic, A Wrinkle in Time, is an absolutely breathtaking visual experience complete with a star-studded cast — Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, and more star in the film — but its overly ambitious screenplay left something to be desired among critics and general audiences alike. The film made history with director Ava DuVernay becoming the first African-American woman to direct a film with a budget over $100 million; unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time ended its box office run by making $133 million and became one of the biggest box office bombs to date.

It’s easy to want to root for the film’s success given the cast, the history behind the film, and just by nature of it being a visually stunning picture, but A Wrinkle in Time hasn’t done so great thus far. Realistically, that probably isn’t going to change much anytime soon; but the film did just reach the top 10 chart on iTunes, going to show that even widely disliked films have fans. While it’s easy to pass judgement on a poorly-performing film, anything is possible in the streaming age. Justice for the new Haunted Mansion, when?

Bob Iger searches for minority partners as he tries to find a future for ESPN

Last month in an interview with CNBC, Iger spoke about Disney’s desire to “stay in the sports business” by being open to forming “strategic” partnerships when it comes to ESPN. Disney owns 80 percent of the sports cable channel (Hearst Communications owns the remaining 20 percent) in what’s been a historically lucrative deal for the company. According to a recent New York Times report (accessed via The Boston Globe), ESPN’s been such a moneymaker for Disney that its profits were instrumental in funding acquisitions of companies like Marvel and Lucasfilm as well as in allowing Disney to compete in the streaming market with the creation of Disney Plus.

While ESPN is still wildly profitable by most margins, Wall Street is, as The Times puts it, “fixated on growth.” ESPN and its spinoff channels generated $14 billion in revenue and $3 billion in profit in just the first half of the 2023 fiscal year; unfortunately, that means profit is down 29 percent from a year ago and Iger must do something about his ESPN “problem.”

ESPN was able to become such a financial powerhouse thanks to programming fees — where cable providers pay a monthly fee to offer ESPN channels to cable subscribers — but as cable subscribers switch to streaming services, this practice is becoming untenable. When viewed in this light, it’s easy to see why ESPN hasn’t made the shift to streaming yet; once the channel offers a convenient direct-to-consumer alternative, even more cable subscribers will stop paying for traditional TV.

Iger’s comments about seeking “strategic partners” during his interview made little sense even to Disney’s own employees, but according to two anonymous executives speaking with The New York Times, Iger’s looking to sell at least a portion of Disney’s stake in ESPN. This move would’ve been unthinkable just a few years ago, but it’s easy to see the reasoning behind this decision. If major sports organizations have a stake in ESPN’s success, they’ll be more willing to form deals beneficial to Disney and the sports network. According to the two executives, Disney is in talks with the NFL, the MBA, and the MLB, among others, to try to entice the organizations into buying a minority stake.

If talks fall through, Iger’s made it clear he’s not opposed to spinning off the network completely if need be. As of now, a full spin seems unlikely given Iger’s enthusiasm about staying in the sports space. “We’re bullish about sports in general as a media company,” he told CNBC about Disney’s commitment to stay in sports media as long as possible.

Disney introduces convenient new dining changes and spooky new merch

In Disney parks-related news, Disney has thankfully announced some new changes to its dining experiences that will hopefully make things run more smoothly. Via The Today Show and USA Today, Disney will soon allow Disneyland and Disney World guests to see all reservation slots available at whichever dining location they’ve selected on the Disney park website or mobile app. Previously, guests could only see a handful of available slots within a given timeframe. The new change will roll out in the next few weeks and will hopefully make it much easier to make dining plans at both parks. Additionally, in what I personally think is an even cooler feature, guests will be able to search by meal time and see what’s available within in that timeframe at every dining location within the park.

Guests will have even more flexibility when it comes to dining at the parks than ever before. If a guest makes reservations but changes their mind, they can now cancel only two hours before their reservation, rather than 24 hours in advance, with no penalty. If you’re an early planner, you can now plan your dining reservations up to 60 days in advance, per Disney World’s FAQ. There’s no set date for the changes to come in to effect, but Disney says they should all roll out within the next few weeks.

Additionally, as any good Disney visitor knows, the beginning of August means it’s basically fall, which means it’s basically Halloween! Halloween at Disneyland is truly magical (especially the Haunted Mansion — if you know, you know) and so is all the new spooky merch hitting the official Disney store. The new collection includes a giant Mickey Mouse Jack-O’-Lantern (that lights up, of course), Mickey Jack-O’Lantern Ears, some spooky Mickey-themed Crocs, and a ton of new shirts, dresses, and pins. You can view the entire collection on The Disney Food Blog if you want a sneak peek. If you go to either Disney World or Disneyland, you can already shop the new Halloween collection, but the spooky merch will hit the Shop Disney online store on Aug. 7. Be sure to stock up as soon as you can, because I have a sneaky premonition that those Mickey Jack-O’Lantern ears will sell out faster than you can say, “something wicked this way comes.”

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Staci White
Since the moment she listened to her first Britney Spears CD at the tender age of six, Staci has been a lover of all things pop culture. She graduated from UCLA with a Bachelors in Linguistics and somehow turned her love of music, movies, and media into a career as an entertainment writer. When she’s not writing for WGTC, she’s busy fulfilling her own pop star dreams as a singer/songwriter or hanging out at her local coffee shops.