NYT Columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin and C.E.O. of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger speak during the New York Times annual DealBook summit on November 29, 2023 in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images
“Creators lost sight of what their number one objective needed to be,” Iger said at the DealBook Summit in New York on Wednesday. “We have to entertain first. It’s not about messages.”
Iger has recently pushed to better the quality of Disney films in 2024 and beyond. He is cutting back the number of movies Disney makes to focus on making better films. Earlier this week, he told Disney employees at a town hall that creating hit movies is the best way the company can change perception for investors and employees.
Iger said Disney’s prioritization of messaging over storytelling peaked “while [he] was gone” in 2022, alluding to the 11 months he left as Disney’s executive chairman. Iger had been in charge of “creative endeavors” in 2020 and 2021, even while Bob Chapek ran the company as CEO.
“We have entertained with values and with having a positive impact on the world in many different ways. ‘Black Panther’ is a great example of that,” Iger said. “I admire being able to entertain if you can infuse it with positive messages and have a good impact on the world. Fantastic. But that should not be the objective. When I came back, what I have really tried to do is to return to our roots.”
Disney has dealt with blowback from Republican politicians, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and critics on social media for including a same-sex kiss in 2022’s “Lightyear” and an openly gay character in 2022’s “Strange World.” 2023’s “Elemental” also includes a nonbinary character.
While Disney has a long history of infusing storytelling with positive morals, Iger acknowledged during Disney’s earnings conference call earlier this month that he believes the company’s storytelling has suffered as the company has increased the number of movies it’s made for both Disney+ and theatrical release. Iger reiterated he has stressed to his creative executives and production partners that making engaging stories has to be Disney’s first priority.
“I’ve worked hard since I’ve been back to reminding the creative community who are our partners and our employees that that’s the objective,” Iger said. “And I don’t really want to tolerate the opposite.”
Iger’s comments come as Disney faces pressure to turn around its business and boost its share price. Sustained box office troubles, including the recent disappointing showings of “The Marvels” and the animated film “Wish,” have weighed on the company’s performance.
Activist investor Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management said in a statement Thursday it will proceed forward with an effort to nominate new directors to the Disney board, concluding that “investor confidence is low, key strategic questions loom, and even Disney’s CEO is acknowledging that the Company’s challenges are greater than previously believed.” Trian will seek multiple board seats, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Disney named two new board members on Wednesday — former Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman and former Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch — as it gears up for a potential proxy fight. Current Disney board member Francis A. deSouza won’t run for reelection at the annual meeting.
WATCH: Iger speaks at DealBook Summit