December 10, 2019

How Disney Sells Us Nostalgia

“The streaming wars were already heated, but a new combatant is entering the arena: the Walt Disney Company. Mickey Mouse may be a friendly corporate icon. But the new Disney Plus streaming service could have a decidedly unfriendly impact.

Disney Plus, which rolls out this week in the United States, Canada and the Netherlands, may offer a number of new shows and films as hooks for subscribers. But even those offerings, which include a remake of the beloved animated classic “Lady and the Tramp” and a hotly anticipated Star Wars TV series, “The Mandalorian,” suggest why Disney Plus will stand out: The most powerful force in American culture right now is nostalgia, and no one can sell viewers more nostalgia than Disney.

The result may be a comforting, reliable bundle for consumers. But Disney’s very dominion over old classics may make it more difficult for artists to create new ones.

The Walt Disney Co. has defined itself over the past 15 years by its acquisitions of large swaths of America’s pop cultural history. After he became CEO in 2005, Robert Iger engineered the purchase of Pixar Animation Studios. In 2009, Disney bought Marvel Entertainment, followed by Lucasfilm in 2012. And Disney’s biggest takeover began in the fall of 2017, when the company announced plans to gobble up 21st Century Fox. This concentration of cultural capital has given Disney enormous influence. And whatever original content it has to offer, the real pitch for Disney Plus is that the service offers a streaming version of your childhood, whether your youth is defined by one of the companies Disney snapped up, or even 30 seasons of “The Simpsons.””

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