Both casual fans and hardcore Disney enthusiasts are gearing up for this weekend’s D23 expo in Anaheim, California. The biennial event is expected to generate a ton of exciting reveals and teases for the future of Disney Theme Parks, Disney+ and Disney’s movie schedule, as well as some talk about the other properties it now owns. Some of the first whispers were revealed last night, and while a handful went over very well, there has been a general sense of “huh” following the reveal of Disney’s so-called “Secret Project”.
The so-called “Secret Project” has been a fertile source of theories and conversations among hardcore Disney fans since it was added to the D23 schedule at the beginning of August. It was given its own panel, and fans were told the subject would be announced on August 22nd. Theories ranged from a new park in India to new hotels at Walt Disney World to a 5th Park to a massive new ride. It turns out the real answer is a documentary and 52 episode short-form series on what it’s like to work at Disney, as well as an accompanying coffee table book. Huh.
Now I’m a huge Disney guy. I appreciate what the Mouse House’s best and brightest do. I will even watch these shorts (and the documentary) when they come out. I’m in on the concept. The project itself is not the problem, but like the rest of the Internet, I am confused and even kind of annoyed at the marketing strategy here. Disney is typically one of the best companies in the entire world at playing the hype game. Mickey and friends know how to tease an idea, build momentum and create a buzz. They certainly created the buzz here, but if you can’t deliver and are only going to disappoint people, why even create the buzz at all?
There are really only two different possibilities here. Let’s explore each one of them individually. The first is that Disney teased the project because executives thought fans would be much more excited about featurettes on Disney employees. Maybe the decision-makers thought the sheer scope of this project, per The Mercury News, (76 different photoshoots, all of which happened on the same day, plus video packages) was going to impress the target audience. And it is impressive. I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that there was tremendous effort put in here.
Thumbs up to whoever thought of doing this, but at the end of the day, it’s still a Disney streaming project and coffee table book about Disney employees produced by Disney employees. How could that possibly live up to the hype and speculation of a “Secret Project” coming from a company that routinely creates things that cost hundreds of millions of dollars?
Now the second option here is that this “Secret Project” was originally something else. It was going to be one of these ideas people have tossed out or a completely separate big ticket idea, but at some point, executives decided it wasn’t a good idea to announce it and turned this Cast Members documentary into the thing. That would make sense from a marketing standpoint. It would be better to get criticized for underdelivering on an announcement than for either cancelling the announcement or announcing something really cool that you can’t ultimately deliver and will get crushed for later. This course of action makes logical sense, but it also begs the question of what could have possibly changed in a month.
Ultimately, we don’t know what exactly happened here, and we may never know. There should be a ton of fun and exciting Disney announcements coming over the next few days, and by Sunday night, most of us will probably have forgotten this little mishap even happened. But for a company that’s normally so incredible at creating expectations and delivering on them, it’s hard not to be disappointed by the “Secret Project” turned out.