This week, Disney will debut their latest big-budget blockbuster expected to sweep the box office, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the anticipated sequel to the unexpected breakout phenomenon of Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel in 2014. When the first Guardians film was released in 2014, we were absolutely thrilled by its quality, hilarity and great storytelling and while it seemed like an odd fit, it was a welcome addition to the vast world of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Nearly three years after the release of the first film, the franchise has already made a splash at Marvel and Disney, with another sequel on the way, a crossover in Infinity War, and a Guardians-themed attraction taking over the former The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure (which, although we love Guardians, we still think is an awful idea). But as Disney continues to evolve with the franchises they lend their focus to, what does an unconventional film like Guardians mean for the future of the once-sacred Disney brand?
There’s no denying that the Disney brand has certainly changed over time and especially in the last decade as Disney has come to acquire big-budget brands like Marvel, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones to name a few. The future of Disney is riddled with sequels and remakes (save for Coco, Gigantic, and A Wrinkle in Time) like Frozen 2 and The Lion King pushing the brand further and further than what it once was renowned for. In truth, we’ve come so familiar with Disney’s handling of these films that it is almost difficult to remember how unconventional it is for Disney to be making a film like Guardians of the Galaxy at all.
Granted, and thankfully, Guardians doesn’t bathe itself in cheap and dirty Deadpool-esque humor, but it certainly pushes the limit of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe set before it by making the film a little more risqué and skirting within the limits of where the MCU is usually more comfortable. The action is a little more brutal, there’s some language, and a prominent middle-finger gesture that lingers for about ten seconds. The sequel takes it a bit further with sexual innuendo when Mantis reveals her knowledge of Peter Quill’s ‘sexual love’ for Gamora, and a later scene in which Drax asks a question about male genitalia. Yes, really. I couldn’t be making this up if I tried. However, this is kept brief and silly, making sure everything is well-grounded in the PG-13 rating.
Sure, if Guardians is the very worst that the company will ever endure, then we should be pretty confident that the Disney company will never venture outside of their family-friendly focus, and thankfully they have promised to never venture into the all-too-enticing R-rated world of superhero stories which Deadpool kicked off, but Guardians is such an interesting case for Disney, because it’s so far out of the conventional Disney film that it’s difficult to imagine that it would have ever existed thirty years ago, let alone a decade. To date, there are less than ten films under the PG-13 banner under the Disney brand, mainly consisting of the Pirates of the Caribbean films (for action and scary scenes) John Carter and The Lone Ranger (intense action and suggestive material) and Saving Mr. Banks (thematic elements and unsettling images, mainly a sequence where P.L. Travers’ mother attempts suicide by drowning herself). Most of these films have come out within the last five years as an example of how far Disney has come as a company and how their focus has expanded to include more types of films. Of course, all of the Marvel films to date have been PG-13, as have some of the Star Wars, and it would be wrong to expect Disney to meddle with that, but again this is the company that once pushed Who Framed Roger Rabbit to be released under the adult-geared Touchstone Pictures banner because it felt that the peril and innuendo didn’t fit with the Disney brand they were hoping to maintain. While Guardians could easily be classified as under the ‘Marvel brand’, and not ‘the Disney brand’ (which still churns out spectacular Disney material like Wreck-It Ralph and Moana), the lines between Disney and their purchased subsidiaries is one that continues to blur, as the properties Disney owns are slowly growing their brand presence into the studio, almost to the point that Guardians could be classified as a film by Disney, despite their name doesn’t appear anywhere until the final end credits.
Elsewhere in the company, the Disney brand continues to be a point of confusion as Disney revs up for the grand reopening of Animal Kingdom’s Pandora: The World of Avatar, which, although is a showcase of Walt Disney Imagineering’s sheer talent and visual creativity, the placement of Avatar, a non-Disney franchise in a Disney theme park dedicated to world conservation is still quite a baffling inclusion. However, Avatar is ironically more fit with the Disney brand than Guardians of the Galaxy, as Avatar features hardly any sexual innuendo and significantly less vulgar language than Guardians. While we would hate to suggest that all Disney movies be required to follow the same clear-cut rules for every single one of their films, it does leave us wondering if Disney’s evolution means anything for the future of the brand that Disneu once built it’s empire upon.
As Disney continues to release unconventional films that the company is unfamiliar with, whether it be remaking their classic films in live-action to the point of exhaustion, building theme parks with non-Disney intellectual properties, or films like Guardians of the Galaxy, which, while phenomenal in its own right, lives so far out from the brand and quality associated with Disney, it’s clear that fans are living in a new definition of what the Disney brand means to them. What this means going forward will unfold over the next few years and we’re thrilled to see what the company can continue to provide to us die-hard fans, but it will certainly be interesting to watch Disney come to terms about what direction they want to redefine their brand in. While we think that Disney is such a strong brand and the influence of Walt will never be lost, we hope that the company will always remember that behind it all, all of it was started by a mouse.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits theaters May 5th and The World of Avatar opens May 27th at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.