Disney director urges focus on characters and story over messages

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Veteran Disney director John Musker has recommended that the Walt Disney Company consider a “course correction” in its film production, urging the focus on characters and stories before emphasizing a film’s message.

Musker, who has directed notable Disney films like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Moana, emphasized that classic Disney films did not start with a message. Instead, their production began with brainstorming characters and the world they inhabit. He believes that characters and story are still at the core of these classic movies and encouraged Disney to adopt this approach for new films.

“You don’t have to exclude agendas, but you have to first create characters who you sympathize with and who are compelling,” Musker said in an interview with El Pais. “I think they need to do a course correction a bit in terms of putting the message secondary, behind entertainment and compelling story and engaging characters.”

Ron Clements, from left, Osnat Shurer, and John Musker arrive at the 2016 AFI Fest – “Moana” World Premiere at El Capitan Theatre on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Musker also criticized Disney and other companies for reselling older films to audiences “in a different form,” particularly calling out live-action remakes. He argued against translating animated animals to live action, stating that zoo animals “have more expression” than the computer-generated animals seen in remakes like 2023’s The Little Mermaid or 2019’s The Lion King.

Musker’s latest animated film, 2016’s Moana, is also receiving a live-action remake, scheduled for release on July 10, 2026. Despite this, Musker has distanced himself from the project, wishing it well but clarifying that he has “nothing to do with it.”

The Walt Disney Company, a longtime box office leader, had a disappointing year in 2023, with many of its films underperforming or outright flopping. This slump caused Disney to lose its 8-year streak as the top-grossing studio, a title that went to Universal Pictures last year.

Last week, Pixar Animation Studios, acquired by Disney in 2006, announced it would be laying off 175 employees, around 14% of its workforce. Less than a year earlier, Pixar had announced the layoff of 75 employees.

Asher Notheis
Asher Notheis
Breaking News Reporter. A Liberty University graduate who has spent most of his life in Virginia, Asher started writing articles for his college newspaper before writing stories for The College Fix.

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