Curated Visualisations: The Rise of Disney

For our group project on curating visualisations, my team and I decided to look at the various Disney animation movies (excluding Pixar movies), all the way back to ‘Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs’, and see what made different movies successful over others. To achieve this, we set out to look at three different areas of Disney films – the different characteristics, the profits that were made and their ratings, and the effect that stereotypical gender roles in Disney characters had on a movie’s performance at the box office. We used IMDb as the main database of all the Disney animation movies from 1937 to the present day. After spending a few grueling hours studying and sorting through each film, we created a spreadsheet on Google Sheets that contained the necessary information: movie names, year released, the estimated budget, gross income for the United States of America (we only included the income from the United States of America as some of the films did not all include worldwide gross income), and calculated the profit made. For the sections on characteristics, we added genres, whether or not a film is a musical, the targeted audience, the gender of the protagonist, and rating from IMDb.  We also colour-coded the spreadsheet to represent the different eras of the movies. Here is the link to the spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1W8oQCrIKaaBH_oemHewlIcqcR6R9BZBl84AsijRKjOY/edit?usp=sharing

Success Rates

In viewing of the difference between the budgets and the profits made over the course of nearly eighty years, we used the chart tools in Google Sheets to create a basic barchart of the budgets and profits.

In the beginning of Disney’s empire of childhood dreams, there was the Golden Age. This was the burst of popularity to animation films. The company gained much profit from ‘Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Pinocchio’ but suffered greatly when ‘Dumbo’ was released to the public. It is barely visible in the chart. Disney quickly regained profit during the animated films of the Silver Age, which brought along the beautiful movies ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Its profits halved during the Bronze Age with the likes of ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘The Fox & the Hound’.

However, with the rising budgets for new animation techniques, the Renaissance Era’s profits skyrocketed with ‘Beauty & the Beast’ and ‘Aladdin’. It is during this era that we see ‘The Lion King’ being the most profitable of Disney’s animated movies. This was the last film that Disney saw such income. As the Post-Renaissance came to light, the budgets were increased while the profits decreased. In the United States, Disney started to undergo serious losses as their profits went below zero. It struggled for several years until a new era began. This Revival Era carried Disney into a new age. As the company adapted their techniques to 3D animation, their profits soared and ‘Frozen brought in massive numbers in the USA alone, second to ‘The Lion King’.

Top 10 Most Profitable Movies

 

Taking out the top 10 most profitable movies and comparing them with their ratings, we can see which movie is the most successful. While ‘Frozen’ has a profit of nearly $250,000,000, it only has a rating of 77%. This evidently makes ‘The Lion King’, with 87% the most successful Disney animation movie based on its profit and rating.

There is a significant difference between the rating of ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Frozen’ even though they are both almost equally successful in terms of profit. Observing the 2016 film ‘Moana’, we can see that it is the least profitable movie but is rated higher than ‘Frozen’. Why is this the case? We need to ask ourselves if IMDb are basing their ratings on statistics or perhaps biased opinions.

Characteristics

Having looked at the top ten movies that have had the most profit from their original budget, we can try and articulate why these movies were so popular among the public. With  ‘The Lion King’ taking lead and ‘Frozen’ closely following, do these movies have anything in common that Disney could use to make future successful movies? Actually, studying at all these successful movies, we can observe what they all have in common.

These movies show a clear indication that having catchy, empowering music can have a dramatic impact on the success of the movie. The majority of these top-ten movies have compositions of music included and has proven that music is an ideal characteristic to have within a movie.

However, when we look at ‘Bambi’ and ‘101 Dalmatians’, they do not include their own music but still were successful. Maybe it’s because they are both “animal based” movies? But if we go back to the original dataset, the movie ‘Dumbo’ (which is an animal based movie without music) only made a $650,000 profit, which in comparison to these movies, is quite low compared to the other animal-based films.

From analysing the dataset, a pattern has formed. In nearly every era, there is at least one substantially successful movie with music and one without. In the Golden Age, it was ‘Snow White’ and ‘Bambi’. In the Silver Age, it was ‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘101 Dalmations’. ‘The Lion King’ swept the floor in the Disney Renaissance Era and ‘Lilo & Stitch’ in the Disney Post Renaissance Era. Finally in the Disney Revival Era, ‘Frozen’ with it’s most popular song ‘Let it Go’ and ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ without the need to include original music compositions to still be successful.

One important characteristic that every movie has a form of, is love. Love has without a doubt made Disney the root of all it’s success. Disney has evolved as time as went on, showing the world that love comes in all shapes and all forms. Going from the classic and traditional prince and princess love, to forbidden love, to friendship, and to family. Looking at this pattern, we can see that Disney is trying to change to meaning of what “love” is as time goes on and has shown it is appealing to the public at a very successful level. We can see in the below visualisation that the top 10 most profitable movies are dominated by the genres romance and family, perhaps this pattern will be the way Disney strives on for the future.

Effects of Gender Roles

Some of the most popular Disney classics starting with ‘Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs’ right up until the 1990’s with ‘Aladdin’ having its same plot revolving around gender stereotypes. In a lot of these movies there is a female lead, usually a princess who is portrayed as a damsel in distress. From being cursed, poisoned, and being held captive in a tower, it is only ever handsome strangers that free these princesses from their predicaments. These stereotypes tell young boys that they had to be strong, brave, and above all else handsome in order to be loved by a girl.

On the contrary girls were told that to be a like one of the Disney princesses you generally had to be naive, passive, and incomparably beautiful. As time moved forward people began to break away from these stereotypical ideologies about gender roles.

Then there was a change in the way male and female characters were portrayed in Disney movies. The first and most brazen movie to cater this change was ‘Pocahontas’. ‘Pocahontas’ who is the lead role takes on a slightly different version of a princess; she is the chief’s daughter of a Native American tribe. Throughout the movie we see Pocahontas as a stubborn and independent young woman. This was a drastic change from the princesses before her. At the end of the movie she is also shown saving the life of her true love. Before ‘Pocahontas’, princesses always had to be saved by a man. The period in which ‘Pocahontas’ was released was known as the Renaissance Era. During this period, Disney saw a huge growth in company profits and Disney began making movies that were targeted towards everyone in their fanbase, not just for girls.

In the Post-Renaissance Era, Disney lost millions on almost every movie they released. During this period it seemed that Disney was making movies targeted mainly towards a male audience.

Disney is now in their Revival Era, where there is a focus on creating more gender-neutral movies and they are once again earning profits at a supernormal rate. They also break down the old gender stereotypes as they create emotional male characters showing that it’s okay for boys to need help too, and create strong female characters that show how strong women truly are.

Conclusion

From studying the data represented to us from IMDb, we can see the rise of Disney from the year 1937 to the present day. In looking at the the movie rating compared to the overall profit from each movie, we can assume that ‘The Lion King’ is the most successful film.

With their ideologies changing with the current generation, Disney is reforming the meaning of love – going from the all too familiar prince and princess romance to the love that only lingers in family. Also with the changing of gender roles, Disney is showing awareness that men don’t need to be ‘handsome’ and ‘strong’ and women don’t need to be ‘beautiful’ and ‘passive’. With these stereotypes changing, children are becoming more accepting to different traits.

In more recent films, Disney has included more gender-neutral protagonists, such as ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ and ‘Zootopia’. They are breaking down the outdated stereotypes by introducing strong female leads and emotional male characters.

Not only were we able to analyse the data and create visualisations of Disney’s overall success, but we also saw patterns that Disney is making by the obvious trial and errors they have attempted over the years. We can see that they are learning from their mistakes and is now on the rise once again.

References:

http://www.disneyavenue.com/2015/08/the-7-eras-of-disney-filmmaking.html

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