I’m really late with this, because it came out in late May, when I was super busy with a trip I was planning. I totally missed the announcement until I happened upon it recently. In past posts I had made a mention or two about Disney working on a sequel to Tron Legacy. Well, they announced that it isn’t happening. It’s been cancelled. The official announcement said that the movie release schedule in 2017 was just too full of other live-action films Disney is planning. “RaginRonin” on YouTube gave what I think is the best synopsis of movie industry pundit analysis. It sounds like it comes down to one thing: Disney is averse to live-action films that don’t relate to two genres that have been successful for them: Pirates of the Caribbean, and anything related to its classic fairy tale franchise. Other than that, they want to focus on their core competency, which is animation.
All pundit analysis focused on one movie: Tomorrowland. It was a Disney live-action sci-fi movie that flopped. They figured Disney took one look at that and said, “We can’t do another one of those.”
One thing contradicts this, though, and I’m a bit surprised no one I’ve heard so far picked up on this: Disney is coming out with a live-action sci-fi film soon. It’s called Star Wars: The Force Awakens… though it is being done through its Lucasfilm division, and it’s their staff doing it, not Disney’s. Maybe they think that will make a difference in their live-action fortunes. Disney paid a lot of money for Lucasfilm, and so of course they want it to produce. They want another series. No, more than one series!
Like with the first Tron film in 1982, Legacy did well at the box office, but not well enough to wow Disney. Apparently they were expecting it to be a billion-dollar film in ticket sales domestically and internationally, and it grossed $400 million instead. Secondly, Tron: Uprising, the animated TV series that was produced for Disney XD, and got some critical acclaim, did not do well enough for Disney’s taste, and was cancelled after one season. Though, I think the criticism that, “Of course it didn’t do well, since they put it on an HD channel when most viewers don’t have HD,” is valid, it also should be said that it wasn’t a “killer app” that drew people to HD, either. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that Tron as a genre is not a hot seller for Disney, period. It’s profitable, but it doesn’t knock their socks off.
One pundit said that he’s confident Disney will return to Tron sometime in the future, just as it did with Legacy, but the way things are looking now, Disney wants to focus on its profitable properties. I can buy that, but I wonder if the challenge was the story. Olivia Wilde, the actress who played “Quorra” in Legacy, mentioned this in an April interview. Shooting for the sequel, in which the original cast was slated, was scheduled for October, yet they didn’t have a screenplay. They had plenty of time to come up with one. Disney hired a writer for this sequel a couple years ago.
This has happened before. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, there was an attempt to make a Tron sequel back in 2003. It was supposed to be a combination release of a video game and a movie, called Tron 2.0. The video game came out for PCs, and later, game consoles. There was a clear, dramatic storyline in the game that jumped off from the characters, and a bit of the story, from the original Tron. The whole aesthetic of the video game was very nostalgic. A lot of the focus was on the subject of computer viruses, and various forms of malware, and some pretty interesting story lines about the main characters. I had to admit, though, that it took the focus off of what was really interesting about Tron, which was the philosophical and political arguments it made about what computing’s role should be in society. Steven Lisberger, who was driving the effort at Disney at the time, said that an idea he had was to talk about (I’m paraphrasing), “What is this thing called the internet? What should it represent?” He said, “It’s got to be something more than a glorified phone system!” Disney had developed some concept art for the movie. It looked like it might have a chance, but it was cancelled. Tron Legacy, which came out in 2010, was a worthy successor to the first movie in this regard, and I think that had something to do with it getting the green light. Someone had finally come up with something profound to say about computing’s role in society (I talk about this here). I think there’s more to this story than the market for live-action sci-fi movies from Disney. I think they haven’t found something for a sequel to communicate, and they were running up against their production deadline. I suspect that Lisberger and Kosinski did not want to rush out something that was unworthy of the title. Canceling it will give more time for someone down the road to do it right.