Since the announcement of Disney's merger with 21st Century Fox, film industry insider have been expecting shake-ups within the main Fox studio. Disney's in the business of surefire IP franchise films, and it was clear the House of Mouse's interest in purchasing Fox's movie studio was more in releasing X-Men and Avatar films than in continuing the diverse slate of films the studio traditionally released throughout the year.
It was believed, however, that the indie/arthouse division Fox Searchlight would be allowed to continue business as usual, with Bob Iger offering assurances of such as recently as earlier this month. A new article from Variety, however, reveals the culture clash between Disney and the Fox may be even more intense than previously believed... and that it's impacting Fox Searchlight as well. Many of the issues discussed in the article will be concerning to movie fans: the cancelation of the Lumberjanes film, ending a partnership with animation studio Locksmith after one movie, continuing confusion as to what on Earth will happen with New Mutants. However, the worst news for anyone concerned about the film ecosystem comes in the final paragraphs of the article, which mention Fox Searchlight and Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit.
Variety writes that the anti-Nazi satire might "prove a little too edgy for Disney brass accustomed to producing movies suitable for parents and kids. Searchlight has started to screen the film for its new parent company. Halfway through one recent viewing one executive grew audibly uncomfortable, worrying aloud that the material would alienate Disney fans."
Obviously Jojo Rabbit is too edgy to be released under the Disney logo, but it's not being released as such. The whole point of Fox Searchlight is that it can release films for adults that aren't surefire blockbusters, take risks and win awards. Why would "alienating Disney fans" be a concern when the movie isn't being sold to "Disney fans" but to fans of Mel Brooks-esque adult comedies?
Disney used to release such decidedly "un-Disney" films to great success under the Miramax and Touchstone banners. The early Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith films were technically "Disney" releases, which didn't seem to hurt the Disney brand in the '90s. It seemed as if Disney's interest in acquiring Fox Searchlight was to be able to release these types of films again. Searchlight has been consistently profitable, and four of its releases (Slumdog Millionaire, Twelve Years a Slave, Birdman and The Shape of Water) have won Best Picture, so why should Disney want to mess with its success?
Jojo Rabbit, which is set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, has been hyped up as a potential awards contender this year. Director Taika Waititi (who plays a buffoonish "imaginary friend" version of Adolf Hitler in the movie) is one of the hottest directors working today. Thor: Ragnarok revitalized Marvel's God of Thunder on the big screen, and his original comedy What We Do in the Shadows spun off into a successful FX series. Given Taika's already signed on for Thor: Love and Thunder as well as an additional original film for Searchlight and is working on Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Disney would be wise not to interfere with the release of Jojo Rabbit.
Perhaps we're overly anxious about what Disney might do with Jojo Rabbit because tensions are high in the aftermath of Universal's cancelation of The Hunt. Depending on your perspective, The Hunt's cancelation was either a reasonable response to recent tragedies or a cowardly response to pressure from the President of the United States. New reports from IndieWire indicate it was more likely the former, but there is still concern whether the presidential backlash will affect if the movie ever gets released. If it's gone forever rather than simply delayed, then it could be reason to be fearful that more movie studios will cancel films in attempts to keep their slates as safe and inoffensive as possible.
Jojo Rabbit, the passion project of a Jewish director of color, has been crystal clear in the targets of its satire; the only people Taika wants to offend are full-on Nazi sympathizers and other racists. If Disney is scared of offending such people, the studio should keep in mind those people already hate Disney for Black Panther and diverse Star Wars casting. Disney needs to stand by Taika and Searchlight when releasing Jojo Rabbit this fall. If Disney fails to support its talent on ambitious low-budget creative endeavors, that could hurt its relationship with Waititi, which might mean Love and Thunder gets a lot more interesting behind the scenes.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit stars Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo Betzler, Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa Korr, Taika Waititi as Adolf Hitler, Rebel Wilson as Fraulein Rahm, Stephen Merchant as Captain Deertz, Alfie Allen as Finkel, Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf and Scarlett Johansson Rosie Betzler. The film arrives in theaters October 18.