A Whole New World? Disney’s Exploration into Innovative Storytelling in the Streaming Age

Ed Farley

Disney. It’s safe to say, millions grew up with its tales. From Baby Boomers to Millennials to Gen Z, audiences have witnessed the production company grow and cement its legacy as the multi-media juggernaut that we know today. Streaming is now the modern DVD basket we all had in our living rooms, a concept that must seem alien to new generations of youngsters born in the boom of the internet. Following his article “The Mouse With Many Hats”, Ed Farley further investigates the impact of Disney’s expansion from our living room cabinets into the modern streaming space.

Younger generations don’t know the painstaking wait to physically buy a film, and to bring it home- to revive the excitement of its consumption again after seeing in on the big screen. But now, in 2022, Disney has found the common thread that ties the different generations together: the need to tell stories, expand them, and to draw out what made them magical in the first place.

It’s hard to know what to watch and where to watch it

Disney+ holds a movie catalogue that allows people to watch the beloved films they grew up with again and it holds the possibility for upcoming generations to involve themselves with the films that their older siblings, parents, and even grandparents grew up watching. With content coming out of every nook and cranny of digital services, it’s hard to know what to watch and when to watch it.

But living in a culture where Disney’s name is synonymous with the word “movie” itself, Disney has found a way to use its past creations to resituate them to the 21st century- I don’t just mean throwing them on a streaming service, either. They’ve found an innovative way to connect to current consumers and new ones alike, through a concept known as transmedia storytelling.

This mode of storytelling takes an established storyline and extends it from its existing format and into another. Take Marvel’s Wanda Vision as an example. On this TV show, Wanda Maximoff deals with trauma, the audiences connect to her, and it ends with her turning into the Scarlett Witch. When do we see her again? You’ll have to go the theatres to watch the new Doctor Strange film. In this film, she is now the villain due to the events of Wanda Vision. TV meets Film, and they work together. Though not a new concept invented by the studio (It’s been used in shows such as Doctor Who, Star Trek, Downton Abbey), transmedia is an avenue Disney is beginning to explore.

It’s an interesting concept for a few reasons:

  • It keeps viewers coming back for more: you must immerse yourself with the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to understand the complex storytelling that spans different formats. It entices viewers to pay for the service and directs the audiences to what to watch next. When storytelling crosses formats, it becomes even more interesting as a viewer to see how a story unfolds. By using a cross platform approach Disney can tell gripping stories whilst exploiting us for our consumer habits. Gratified, we’ll come back for more.
  • Transmedia storytelling allows the narratives to have more possibilities. Let’s revisit Wanda Vision as an example: you will get a different experience watching Wanda Vision compared to the new Doctor Strange movie because you have around 7 hours to spend with Wanda in the show meaning we are spending more time connecting to the character. Because of that connection, you’ll be more excited when you see them on the big screen. Marvel shows can introduce new characters without overpowering the audiences with constant film releases. They also offer character development which keeps Marvel films more concise so audiences can focus on the action and drama.
  • Aside from that it quite simply provides more content with our favourite characters.

This isn’t just Marvel though. Nostalgia is the secret ingredient that keeps Disney content enticing leaving us eager to come back for another bite.

Disney has announced other streaming shows based off its Disney Animation and Pixar movies.  This includes a Disney+ series focussing on Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, a BAYMAX series from Pixar’s Big Hero Six and a Moana series from the 2015 film of the same name. Cross-platform storytelling revives older films to make them seem new again. You know what to expect from the platform as you know the films that have made Disney the brand it is today, therefore they don’t have to spend years building new narratives draw viewers in.  

Disney has mixed the traditional with the modern to create a hybrid experience

For any brand to innovate, they must know where they’ve been to know where they’re going. Acknowledging the past and bringing it to the future, Disney has mixed the traditional with the modern to create a hybrid experience. Expanding established storylines with streaming shows, the studio has found a new niche to delve into. Creating new shows from old properties encourages past audiences to not forget what they grew up with, whilst new audiences will be introduced to the Disney experience older generations grew up with.

This new technological age has enabled new storytelling angles techniques to evolve. We no longer have to just watch films in cinemas and TV shows on the television: we can watch them on any smart device we have in our homes. Disney is used to being a trend setter. However, in this age it must tackle another concept- to be a trend follower. Streaming is the future and although Disney could have turned its back on streaming, they have successfully converged with new forms of mainstream media means they can set new standards and I have no doubt they will continue to do this for generations to come. 

Ed Farley

Featured image used courtesy of qin linlin via Flickr . Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In article video courtesy of Marvel Entertainment via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video.

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