Analysis: Why Did Disney Retain Bob Chapek Despite His Many, Many Errors?

Zinger Key Points
  • Filmmaker Kevin Smith once quipped, “In Hollywood, you just fail upwards.”
  • Disney was not willing to admit any of Chapek's multiple leadership flaws.

Walt Disney Co.'s DIS decision to extend CEO Bob Chapek’s contract for another three years might strike some people as being a tad peculiar. As detailed in Benzinga's "The Crisis at Disney," Chapek’s stewardship since taking the corporate reins in February 2020 included such notable failures as:

  • The repeated antagonism of the company’s workforce, including an online petition seeking his firing
  • A wretched attempt to humiliate a popular actress that resulted in industrywide rebukes of Disney
  • An unprecedented public feud with one of the most popular governors in the nation
  • And a stock that is trading near its 52-week low.

With that kind of a track record, why is Disney’s board chairwoman Susan Arnold declaring that “Bob is the right leader at the right time for The Walt Disney Company, and the Board has full confidence in him and his leadership team”?

Essentially, Chapek came out of his reign of error smelling like the proverbial rose and less like an olfactory assault. But such is the case in Hollywood where the traditional concepts of failure somehow turn into stepping stones. Filmmaker Kevin Smith once quipped, “In Hollywood, you just fail upwards.”

Consider the case of Matt Damon who, over the past five years, has starred in five films — of which “Ford v. Ferrari” (2019) was the only box office hit. “Downsizing” (2017), “Suburbicon” (2017), “Stillwater” (2021) and “The Last Duel” (2021) were expensive flops. 

Still, Damon is considered an A-list star and is currently signed on for a major role in Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer," due out in 2023. He is also starring in a new Amazon AMZN feature film with his frequent collaborator Ben Affleck, whose recent film work has centered on productions from streaming services like Netflix NFLX, which don't report financial results from their pricey productions. Affleck co-starred with Damon in “The Last Duel” for Disney’s 20th Century Studios, which grossed a pathetic $30.6 million on a $100 million budget.

Closer to home for Disney, Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story” for Disney’s 20th Century Studios and Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” for the company’s Searchlight Pictures were conspicuous box office flops for the studio, but no one assumes Spielberg and del Toro won’t be pursued for the next mega-project. And the film industry didn't see anything wrong with their stumbles, as both of their films received Oscar nominations despite an obvious lack of audience love.

See Also: Disney To Reopen Shanghai Theme Park On June 30

What Happened: Quite frankly, Disney is not going to admit that it goofed in replacing the popular and prescient Bog Iger with his polar opposite Chapek. Here is Arnold’s antiseptic praise for her chief executive:

“Disney was dealt a tough hand by the pandemic, yet with Bob at the helm, our businesses — from parks to streaming — not only weathered the storm, but emerged in a position of strength,” said Arnold. “In this important time of growth and transformation, the board is committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob’s leadership is key to achieving that goal.”

If Benzinga readers were following our recent original four-part series "The Crisis at Disney", they may have noticed a situation that doesn’t quite resemble Arnold’s bloviating. The problems are manifold, ranging from ill-will with the Pixar team for repeatedly shuttling their original IP to streaming to multiple complaints from visitors to the theme parks over rising costs and faulty facilities to sacrificing the streaming audience of the Indian subcontinent over the nebulous insistence that still-unproduced original content will save the day.

But, then again, what can Disney possibly say? That Chapek flopped? That they wished Iger never left? That Chapek’s abrupt dismissal of Peter Rice, the former chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content, effectively castrated the company talent pool and shut down a stream for future (and better) leaders? That the company's stock tanked and is not showing any signs of resurrection? What company in their right mind would admit failure?

In a statement from the company, Chapek claimed, “I am thrilled to work alongside the incredible storytellers, employees, and Cast Members who make magic every day.”

But is the feeling mutual? Keep an eye out for the latest leaks from the Mouse House…and don’t worry, we’ll be sharing them.

Photo: Courtesy of Disney; color effects by Joshua Clancy Hall

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Posted In: Analyst ColorEntertainmentNewsExclusivesAnalyst RatingsGeneralanalysisBob ChapekThe Walt Disney Co.