Movie Studios of The Walt Disney Company Explained

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Disney brings joy and happiness to millions of people every year through their films, amusement parks, streaming services, games and everything else. But Disney is also huge in the Media landscape. If you look at all the assets the Walt Disney Company owns, Disney holds more than a third of the media market share.

With that large of the market share it is understandable that sometimes we’re not sure if what we’re watching is owned by Disney. I mean I don’t know how many times I’ve had friends of mine ask me if I knew when  Shrek or Trolls was going to be on Disney+. 

Is this conversation familiar?

“Trolls isn’t Disney?”

“Nope, They’re dreamworks, that’s NBCUniversal.”

“Didn’t Disney just buy NBC?”

“No You’re thinking of Fox”

“Oh? “

“So the Simpsons are Disney?“

“Yep!”

“But they are in Universal Studios?”

“Yeah I know! “

It’s understandable that there is some confusion on how all this works.

So I am here today to explain to you The Film Studios of the Walt Disney Company.

The Walt Disney Company can be broken up into 8 different film studios. When I say film studios I am referring to divisions within the company that make feature length films for movies theaters. Now I realize with streaming and  the advent of Disney+ and the acquisition of Hulu many of these studios will be creating content for the streaming services, but we’re not going to get into that today.

1. Walt Disney Pictures 

Walt Disney Pictures is the live action studio of the Walt Disney company that produces the more “Classic Disney” films. Though films that are released under Pixar and Walt Disney Animation will begin with the classic Walt Disney Pictures logo, for the sake of this video we’re splitting  live action and the animation since they function as separate studios.

The studio’s first fully live-action film Treasure Island was released  in 1950 and is considered to be the official conception for what would eventually evolve into the modern-day Walt Disney Pictures. Soon to be followed up by other live action Disney Classic such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Davy Crockett Films, Old Yeller, and Third Man on the Mountain. 

Walt Disney Pictures has always been a purveyor of classic family films, leaving films with more mature themes to its many subsidiaries such Miramax or Touchstone Pictures of which Disney has sold or is  essentially dormant respectively or the recently acquired 20th Century or Searchlight Studios. 

 Though Walt Disney Pictures has been releasing films in live action form consistently since the 1950’s as of late it is most well known for the Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise and  the recent trend of live action adaptations of Disney animated classics such as Cinderella, the Jungle Book or the Lion King.  

2. Walt Disney Animation

The studio founded by Walt and his brother Roy in 1928 and is birthplace of Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy, when people talk about Disney , Walt Disney Animation Studios is the studio most people think of when they are talking about. They gave us the first full length animated feature film in Snow White and pioneered the art of animation with innovations like the multiplane camera used in Pinocchio. The studio has had it’s ups and downs  but has stood the test of time to be one of if not the favorite animation studio of film fans. 

They gave us classics like Frozen, Cinderella, Robin Hood, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, Moana, The Princess Bride. There is a huge amount of history here which we will break down in a  future video. 

3. Pixar

Pixar Animation Studio began in 1976 when Alexander Schure,  president of New York Institute of Technology recruited computer scientists to begin an animation studio to produce a full length computer animated film. Included in those students was Ed Catmull who would soon become the president of Pixar. 

Six of these computer scientists would soon be hired by Star Wars writer and director George Lucas of LucasFilm.. At Lucas film a team of computer scientists and animators would begin to create a computer animation computer and company that would eventually be named Pixar. 

In 1986 Pixar would become an independent company when former and future Apple CEO Steve Jobs would buy Pixar from George Lucas with the goal of producing a full length animated feature film. 

After work in producing computer animation for commercials and several computer animated shorts including the classic Luxo Jr. Pixar would partner with the Walt Disney company,who would fund and distribute the film, to produce a full length computer animated film .In 1995 Pixar, with Disney, would release the first ever fully computer  animated film Toy Story. It would be followed up by a Bugs Life, Toy Story 2, eventually 19 others. 

In 2004, Frustrated with their deal, Pixar announced they would end their distribution deal with Disney and was actively seeking new partners.Knowing the future of Disney included Pixar,  New Disney Company CEO Bob Iger made it his Goal to mend the relationship between Disney and Pixar.  On January 24, 2006, under Iger’s leadership, Disney announced it would acquire Pixar for $7.4 billion in an all-stock transaction. Making Pixar a fully owned part of the Disney family that would function as its own animation studio in Emeryville California. 

The Pixar deal under the leadership of  Bob Iger marked a new era for the Disney Company where Disney would buy new assets and IP yet allowing the newly acquired assets to continue to do what they have done to make themselves so desirable and in many cases free them up to be even more successful. There is no better example of this than our Next Studio, Marvel!

4. Marvel Studios

Home of the Avengers, Wakanda and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios was founded  in 1993 to produce movies based around the characters of Marvel Comics. In 1998 Marvel Studios released Blade starring Wesley Snipes to some success, but Marvel Comics fell on hard financial times and began to licence their most popular characters such as Spiderman and the X-Men to studios like Sony and Fox respectively. 

It was the revenue from the success of these films that lead Marvel, now led by Kevin Feigie to take characters remaining in their canon that had NOT been licenced to other studios such as Iron Man and Thor and create in Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In May of 2008, Iron Man was released in theaters and the MCU was born. The film was distributed by Paramount Pictures which also had distribution rights to distribute Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Then on December 31, 2009, The Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion.

In 2015 Marvel and Disney struck a deal with Sony Studios to work together on Spiderman films which would also allow Spiderman, arguably Marvel’s most popular superhero, to make appearances in other MCU films and vice versa. 

The MCU is the most successful film franchise of all time. This interconnected narrative of the universe is a first in filmmaking. The MCU has grossed over $22.5 billion over the course of 23 films including the highest grossing film of all time Avengers Endgame.. The Studios shows no signs of stopping despite… criticisms…(Marty Scorsasee) especially with the acquisition of Fox which allows Marvel to incorporate the beloved X-Men, Fantastic 4 and Deadpool films franchises into the MCU.

No other studio in film history has built such a cohesive and successful franchise as the MCU, Not even our Next Studio, Lucasfilm.

5. Lucasfilm

Lucasfilm Ltd. was founded the one and only Geaorge Lucas in 1971 and is best known for Star Wars and Indiana Jones film franchises. A power house  and  industry leader in visual and audio effects, Lucasfilm also owns Industrial Light & Magic, known as ILM the industry leader in visual effects and Skywalker Sound a post production sound design studio. 

Before selling Lucasfilm Ltd to Disney for over $4 billion in 2012, George Lucas worked diligently to keep his company indepent from the Hollywood studio system, keeping company offices and studios in the Bay Area of California and working with whatever big studio would give him the best deal to fund and distribute his films throughout the years, such as 20th Century and Paramount Picture for Star Wars and Indiana Jones respectively. This independence allowed Lucasfilm to enjoy lucrative licencing deals for toys, and other products along with the rights to produce sequels.  

Lucas’s positive feeling toward Disney stem from fond memories of going to Disneyland as a child and a great working relationship with Disney when placing the Star Wars and Indiana Jones attractions into the Disney Parks. This would lead to him and Disney CEO Bob Iger to begin talks to sell Lucasfilm to Disney which would finalize in October of 2012. 

Since that time a Disney owned Lucasfilm under the leadership of Katheleen Keneddy has produced 5 New Star Wars films, along with new animated and Disney+ series in addition to the launch of Star Wars Galaxies Edge in the US Disney Parks. 

THE FOX ACQUISITION

Disney acquired our next three studios  through its acquisition of 21st Century Fox Company also known as Fox Entertainment Group. The acquisition of 21st Century Fox, which was completed on March 20, 2019, included 20th Century Studios (both film and television divisions) , Searchlight Studios, Blue Sky Animation Studios, FX,  and a controlling stake in National Geographic Partners and Hulu.    

6. 20th Century Studios

20th Century Studios, formerly known as 20th Century Fox, is one of the classic film studios in Hollywood, located in Century City Los Angeles, California. 20th Century Studios was founded in 1935 when Fox Film Corporation and Twentieth Century Pictures merged into one studio and was named after William Fox founder of Fox Film Corporation who  lost control of the company in 1930.

The studio’s current name of 20th Century Studios was adapted in January of 2020. Many have speculated the name change was an effort to distance Disney from the stigma of the Fox name in relation to Fox News and to reduce brand confusion as the remainder of the Fox company that was not purchased by Disney, which included the Network, News and Sports Television stations, was rebranded as Fox Corp. 

20th Century has been a powerhouse in the film industry producing both critical and commercial darlings. It has accumulated 9 Academy Awards for Best Picture including classics such as The Sound of Music and Patton.Other notable films include Speed, The Sandlot, Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day, Anastasia, and … Avatar… along with The Planet of the Apes, the Alien and Die Heart Film Franchises in addition to The Simpsons, who are now apart of the Disney Family. 

Notiby 20th Century Studios produced the X-Men and Fantastic 4 films which were licensed to 20th Century before the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios will now begin to incorporate the X-Men Characters into the next phase of the MCU.  Along with the X-Men Marvel Franchises 20th Century also co-produced or distributed the first 6 Star Wars Films with Lucasfilm. 

20th Century Studios brings large catalogue of classic and acclaimed films to the Walt Disney company which is seen as notable asset as the company moves forward into the streaming age  powered by the engines of Disney+ and Hulu.

7. Searchlight Studios

Searchlight was founded in 1994 specializing in the production and distribution of independent, horror, art-house, and foreign films. Searchlight Pictures has come to be known as the award season darling of the film industry, as they have won the Oscar for Best Picture 4 times since 2009 with the production of  acclaimed independent  films Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave, Birdman, and The Shape of Water.  Other notable  Searchlight Pictures films include Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, 127 Hours, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Brooklyn, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Favourite, and Jojo Rabbit.

While the disney company has had its share of critically acclaimed films, it’s specialty has always been the commercial family blockbuster while 20th Century Pictures has specialized in the Big Budget and action Blockbuster for mature audiences. 

Searchlight Pictures brings the auteur loving independent mature audiences who love the art of filmmaking. The kind of films that won’t play in every theater but often have deeply meaningful themes, social impact and win awards. We can hope that Disney continues to give Searchlight Pictures its due moving forward. 

8. Blue Sky Studios

Blue Sky Studios began in 1987 producing visual effects for commercials and feature films. In 2002 Blue Sky Studios produced its first full length feature film, Ice Age. They are best known for the Ice Age and Rio franchises along with Horton Hears a Who and The Peanuts Movie. 

In the lead up to the Disney acquisition of 20th Century Fox there was much speculation that Disney would shutter Blue Sky Studios or fold their assets into one of the other animation studios. But with the release of 2019 Spies in Disguise and 2 more full length animated films planned for 2021 and 2022 respectively, at the time of this video it looks as if Disney will keep producing  some of the fun and quirky animated films Blue Sky Studios has become known for, though I would venture to say we won’t be seeing the Ice Age characters in the Disney Parks anytime soon.

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