One Perfect Image: How Disney Uses Branding to Sell Its Live Action Remakes and Sequels

In his highly-recommended book The Big Picture, writer and journalist Ben Fritz chronicles how, of the last decade or so, Disney’s film operations have increasingly operated more as brand owner and manager than anything else. It’s still a movie studio to be sure, but with Pixar and then Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm under its management executives at Disney have been more focused on how to keep all those brands fresh and interesting to the audience, a goal that sometimes involve the production of a feature film release.

Along with those properties, all of which it acquired over time, Disney also realized it was sitting on a gold mine of recognizable and beloved characters and stories all its own, even if many were adapted from other works. That has lead, over the last four years and into the foreseeable future, to a series of remakes, sequels and reimaginings of classic Disney animated films like The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and more.

aladdin poster

Just recently the first teaser poster for the next movie in this lineup of titles being revisited was released when star Will Smith shared the initial key art for Aladdin, in which he plays the Genie. That artwork, along with that for previous as well as upcoming releases, shows just how keenly Disney is aware of how one single image can capture the attention and imagination of the audience and sell them something both new and familiar.

Consider these examples:

Aladdin (2019) – What could be more synonymous with the story of Aladdin, which Disney made as an animated feature in 1992, than the lamp from which Genie emerges? That’s why it’s the central focus of the first poster, with a soft blue smoke wafting from the spout while a strange purple light shines in the background.

Dumbo (2019) – If your heart doesn’t melt at the thought of the young elephant who could fly using his magic feather to escape the circus he was born into you need to see someone. That’s why the teaser poster uses the connection of those two, with Dumbo only seen in shadow with his trunk reaching up to where we see a small feather floating through the air.

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – While there are plenty of visual elements that could have been chosen, including any number of anthropomorphic furniture-based characters, the initial teaser poster used an image of the rose whose falling petals represent the time Beast has to break his curse and become human again.

Cinderella (2015) – It makes eminent sense that, when the poster designers wanted to distill the value proposition of the movie down to its simplest element, they chose the glass slipper that is so integral to the story, representing Cinderella’s time as a princess and the Prince’s quest to find her.

What Disney has done is effectively use a kind of visual shorthand in its marketing. Seeing the glass slipper immediately tells you this is a Cinderella story, even though the poster doesn’t feature the movie’s title. Same for the lamp on the Aladdin poster. You get it and understand what it is you’re being sold. That kind of shorthand is uniquely available in instances like this, where the studio is able to trade on a beloved classic movie’s widespread cultural awareness to sell the new version.

This approach shows how vital brands and properties are to the current movie industry, Disney in particular. The stars of these movies are not unknowns and include the aforementioned Smith along with Emma Watson, Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Michael Keaton and a host of other names you’d instantly recognize. Disney, though, understands that what will bring people into theaters is the brand and so leans into that preference.

It’s not as if Disney has stumbled into anything new here. Consumer products companies and retail brands have long understood the power one single image can motivate the buying public. That’s true for shoe companies, automakers, tool brands and countless others. But Hollywood has traditionally been reliant on star power to sell its movies. As that diminishes and people want to be pleasantly entertained by something passingly familiar, movie marketing has embraced the concept as well.

There’s little reason to think the teasers for upcoming remakes like The Lion King, Mulan and more won’t take the same approach. It works. Put an image that transcends language in the center of the frame, bathe it in a spotlight and let audience recognition do its thing, creating instant awareness and interest kick in almost immediately.

Picking Up The Spare: Justice League, The Florida Project, Coco and More

Justice League

Warner Bros. worked with GIF platform Tenor (a Giphy competitor) on a sponsored Justice League GIF keyboard app takeover, offering exclusive GIFs from the film. That effort was promoted with a social media campaign as well.

justice league poster 31That Superman’s part in the story was now public knowledge also meant the release of a new poster and banner that included him in the team lineup. These used the same artwork as was previously released, just with Superman now filling in a conspicuous gap.

Slightly spoilerish, but here’s a list of scenes from the trailers that didn’t make it into the finished film. Also kind of tipping the hat is a picture shared by Joe Manganiello of him in full Deathstroke gear.

Cavill was finally allowed to speak for himself and talk about Superman’s role in the story, including how the character changed due to the events of Batman v Superman.

justice league gilette twitter adGillette continues to run social media ads for its movie-branded products, with a link to purchase those items at Walmart.

More details on the IMAX virtual reality experience that was offered in select cities here.

Much like Suicide Squad last year, reports are starting to emerge that studio micromanaging heavily influenced the final structure and tone of the film, something that’s been much-discussed by fanboys who believe there’s some magical, unadulterated “Snyder Cut” of the movie sitting in an archive somewhere.

The Florida Project

Another profile of director Sean Baker that presents him as a Hollywood outsider who’s eager to maintain that status and keep making his indie features.


Insights from writer/director Lee Unkrich and others here on how he and the rest of the Pixar team worked hard to make sure the movie was respectful of the culture being portrayed as possible. The same topic is covered here as well.

Actress Natalia Cordova-Buckley shared her thoughts on voicing the late real life artist Frida Kahlo and the experiences that led her to embrace such a challenge.

Lady Bird

Writer/director Greta Gerwig has continued making media appearances like this one to talk about the film and the satisfaction she felt by finally directing.

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Director Dan Gilroy and star Denzel Washington talked here about how the former wrote the part specifically for the latter and how Washington boarded the project, helping to shape the character as filming went on.


Another interview here with writer/director Maggie Betts on the inspiration for the story and how she tackled such sensitive material.

Beauty and the Beast

The movie is returning to theaters in what appears to be not only an attempt to reach holiday audiences but also remind awards season voters of the costume design and more.

Call Me By Your Name

Buzzfeed posted a hit-piece on star Armie Hammer, pegging him as an entitled white guy who gets multiple shots at stardom because of his position while others are quickly discarded after multiple misfires. Hammer reacted to the piece in what is a pretty appropriate manner.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Director Martin McDonagh spoke here about how he found star Francis McDormand and worked with her to get the story’s tone right.

A new short TV spot hits some of the same beats as were seen in the main campaign but with the addition of plenty of positive critics quotes.

There have also been some new character posters released that show the three leads surrounded by positive quotes praising the movie.

Blade Runner 2049

Director Denis Villeneuve offers some time-enhanced thoughts on making the movie and developing the characters in this interview.

Beach Rats

Director Eliza Hittman talks about the view of masculinity and other topics taken in the film here.

The Disaster Artist

A couple new TV spots have been released by A24, one that shows the enthusiasm of Wiseau in making the movie and one that shows he refuses to accept the negativity of others.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.