The Walt Disney Company has been the gold standard of children and family entertainment for the better part of the last century until now. Giving us Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and more magical Disney Princesses than we can count, this multi-billion dollar corporation has the daunting task of helping young children imagine magical experiences. But that doesn’t mean than everything they do is perfect. Disney goes to the extreme to give the appearance that everything is a masterful work of art and done at the flick of a magic wand. But as the expression goes, everyone loves to eat the hamburger, but no one wants to see how it’s made. Along the way, Disney has not only had some failures, but some epic failures!
But the expression “don’t mess with the mouse” is very true. Disney goes to great lengths to portray nothing but perfection and the highest quality. You can’t really blame them, because creating a magical experience isn’t quite so magical when mistakes are front and center. Don’t get me wrong, Disney does far more right than they’ve ever done wrong, but when they have a flop, it’s usually a big one. So here are 15 of Disney’s biggest flops that they would much rather you either never know about or quickly forget!
15. Euro Disney
What is now known as Disneyland Paris, began as Euro Disney. In 1992, the Walt Disney Company decided that it was time to open a park in France. After the success of Tokyo Disney in the early 1980s, how could a European park fail? The company failed to consider many factors and when they opened their doors, it was with much less excitement than anticipated. There was a lot of bad publicity in France with concern that it would promote the idea of unhealthy American consumerism. There were boycotts and protests and it didn’t help that they were opening around the time of a recession in France. Euro Disney was even on the brink of bankruptcy for a time. Today, the company has reconfigured and it is now known as Disneyland Paris and has become a much more profitable venture. But Euro Disney started out as a huge money pit!
14. Racism in Movies
The movies of the Walt Disney Company have had a bad habit through the years for their racial undertones. While the company today goes to great lengths to be politically correct and racially sensitive, this hasn’t always been the top priority. The company has not and will not admit to any of this, but the proof is in the pudding. The crows of Dumbo were clearly meant to depict the white perspective of African Americans of the time. The leader of the crows was even named Jim! In Fantasia, a smaller and meager dark skinned centaur named Sunflower was even required to serve the beautiful blonde, white centaurs. Even the song “What Makes the Red Man Red” from Peter Pan takes a racially insensitive poke at the Native American community.
13. The Country Bears
This movie from 2002 is one of Disney’s larger movie flops. It makes the point that just because a theme park attraction is popular, it will not necessarily translate into a good movie. Disney brought in Don Henley of The Eagles to do the music and even had Christopher Walken as a big name celebrity to lend his voice. With a 35 million dollar budget, this film had all the resources it needed for success. But a bad idea is still a bad idea no matter how much money you throw at it. Worldwide, the film barely topped the $18 million box office mark and today, it’s a forgotten mistake that Disney is glad to pretend never happened. The Country Bear Jamboree attraction (on which the movie was based) is still a very popular attraction though.
12. Mars Needs Moms
This 2011 Disney movie turned into a box office bomb, causing their accountant’s heads to explode! With a $150 million production budget, this movie was obviously supposed to have been something very special. Leave it to Disney to do everything big, because with a price tag like that, it should have been the next Gone With the Wind. But instead, the movie only grossed $39 million at the box office, thus laying a gigantic egg! There are some cool special effects as you would expect. Even Robert Zemeckis was brought in as a Producer, but none of that could save this generally awful film. If anyone could take the hit on such a disaster, it’s Disney, so of course, the show went on, but they’d surely rather we all forget this dark day in cinema.
11. Anti-Poaching Settlement
In the business world, poaching is a common reference for trying to steal away certain employees. In the case of the Walt Disney Company, their recent $100 million settlement in a class action lawsuit versus animators and visual effects workers is an example of some of the less magical things Disney deals every now and then. The class action lawsuit alleged that several Hollywood companies agreed to an anti-poaching pact in an effort to keep the pay of animators and visual effects employees lower. The idea is simply that if no one is trying to offer more money and better benefits, employees will be content to stay where they are out of necessity. When a company agrees to settle for $100 million, it speaks volumes. Everyone loves the steak, but no one wants to see how it’s made.
10. Lacking African American Directors
The lack of diversity in the Academy Awards was a hot button issue over the last year few years. It is an area that Hollywood has worked hard to improve upon since getting so much negative attention. The Walt Disney Company apparently is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to hiring African American Directors for their films. Disney has worked to improve in the area of diversity over the last few years by bringing on more female directors and giving African Americans more leading roles in films. But in the last decade, Disney employed zero African Americans to direct their large film projects. We can all hope that this is nothing more than an oversight and not done purposely. The 21st century is calling Disney and the ringtone is pretty loud!
9. The Alamo
Another big flop at the box office was the 2004 film The Alamo. This film documents the backstory surrounding the historic events at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas in 1836. With some big name actors like Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid, along with Director Ron Howard, the film and its $107 million budget was sure to be a box office smash. Unfortunately, this was the absolute opposite of what actually happened. The movie only brought a little under $26 million at the box office and has been considered unmemorable by critics. The film was produced by Touchstone Pictures, a division of the Walt Disney Company. There have been many great film projects come through Touchstone Pictures, but The Alamo was one disaster of a movie that they’d rather forget.
8. The 13th Warrior
How could a film with leading man Antonio Banderas, with historical significance and a budget of $160 million possibly go wrong? With the 1999 film The 13th Warrior, that’s how. This marks another big bomb by Touchstone Pictures in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The film only grossed a little under $62 million and to this day, is one of the biggest financial busts in movie history. The film has been regarded by critics as having a poor plot, proving that all the money in the world for sets, costumes, salaries and special effects cannot make up for a really bad storyline. While Touchstone has had a lot of touchdowns at the box office, this was a big flop that they’d rather just scroll past on a balance sheet.
7. Inappropriate Messages in Movies
This is a huge Disney urban legend that they would really like everyone to forget about! For years, people have alleged that some of their more popular modern movies such as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and even The Lion King, had inappropriate hidden drawings or messages. The company has denied it outright and has likely spent more hours on the subject than they care to admit. These rumors have pretty much been debunked by experts that can offer proof of the misunderstandings, but the legend still lives. Who knows, Disney might even be encouraging it, so people buy the movies just to look for the “hidden messages.” Either way, they spend an awful lot of money and time to protect their sterling reputation and this little blemish just won’t go away!
6. Return to Oz
In 1985, The Walt Disney Company decided that the iconic film The Wizard of Oz needed a sequel and no one else was better equipped to fill the need. Setting the film about six months after the events of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy goes back to Oz only to find that it is in ruin due to an evil king. Dorothy befriends new characters that honestly come across a little creepy at best. The movie only generated about $11 million and has been regarded as a box office flop. It has largely been forgotten and that’s probably fine with Disney. Sure, nobody’s perfect and some projects just don’t work out, but it’s clear that we won’t be seeing any Return to Oz attractions at any Disney properties. This is one that they are happy to allow everyone to forget.
5. The Secret of Lost Creek
This 1992 Disney Channel series starred a much younger Shannen Doherty in an adventure series about siblings that go to spend the summer with their grandparents. During this time, one finds clues to a buried treasure, while the other is trying to find Bigfoot. What on earth ever made a television executive think that this would work is completely unknown, but it didn’t take Disney long at all to figure out that this wasn’t going to work. The show lasted just over a month (5 episodes to be exact) before they pulled the plug. Good luck finding reruns on the Disney Channel now. Disney went on to have much more successful projects, as did some of the actors and actresses affiliated with the show. Hopefully, they learned some valuable lessons from the experience.
4. Eliminating 2D Animation
As if we wouldn’t notice! This is not really something that Disney has intentionally hid from anyone, but it’s certainly worth considering a Disney fail by many fans of Disney and generally lovers of animated movies. There’s something special about getting lost in a different world. Cartoons are not supposed to be like the rest of us, but somewhere in the early 21st century, the push became to make cartoons as much like the rest of us as possible. Now 3D, computer animation is cool and we sure don’t want to get rid of it, but isn’t there still a place for old school 2D techniques? Disney’s last hand-drawn 2D animated movie was Winnie the Pooh in 2011. There is a push from animators to bring back this style of animation into feature films. We think it’s a worthwhile effort!
3. Poor Conditions For Disney Characters
Working at Disney theme parks is not all fun and games for the cast members. Even though the characters may look like they’re having a blast, it’s usually the exact opposite for them. Disney is very demanding of their characters and while they do it because they are true believers, the characters themselves have to suffer some pretty grueling conditions! They stand in extreme temperatures and endure the heat for extended periods of time. Often, they will get heat exhaustion and suffer other physical problems as a result of their costumes. Even the extremely heavy wigs of the Disney princesses cause neck problems for some of their actors. Surely the pay is worth it right? Think again. The pay is generally a stitch above minimum wage and the hours are horrendous!
2. Chinese Sweatshops Making Disney Merchandise
Have you ever noticed how much Disney toys and general merchandise there is out there? Well, all this stuff is not being built by magical creatures at a workshop in the forest. It turns out that Disney’s Cars line of toys are made in a factory using child labor and forcing its employees to work overtime by as much as three times the allowable limit by law. Now, Disney has launched its own investigation of these practices and certainly doesn’t condone these types of practices. But still, this is not information the Walt Disney Company wants associated with its brand. Disney has always worked hard to promote family-friendly values with a high standard of morality. Let’s hope this did not go on too long after Disney began investigating the issue.
1. Disney Package Films
The 1940s was an odd decade for Disney. There was an animator’s strike in 1941, which led to a permanent change in the animation industry. Coupling this with World War II and some poor returns at the box office, and you get the six Disney package films. The package films were a series of shorts essentially put together into a feature film. This allowed for the use of existing animation and only relied on some “bridge animation” to make it flow better. Films like Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros and Fun and Fancy Free are a few of the Disney’s bridge films. These films have generally been seen as lesser work and not regarded as being of typical Disney quality. While they mark a very significant historical period, it is what some may consider the darker days of Disney.