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Everything you need to know about Disney’s big week: Suing Ron DeSantis and more layoffs

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ oversight board of Disney World has voted to claw back authority over the company’s theme park properties
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ oversight board of Disney World has voted to claw back authority over the company’s theme park properties Copyright John Raoux / AP
Copyright John Raoux / AP
By David MouriquandAP
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Disney is suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and more films have been announced during this year's CinemaCon convention amidst further layoffs.

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It’s been a big week so far for the House of Mouse, with an escalating feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a new film slate announced amidst massive layoffs.

Here’s what you need to know.

Disney has sued Gov. Ron DeSantis over the Republican's takeover of its theme park district, alleging the governor waged a "targeted campaign of government retaliation" after the company opposed a law critics call “Don't Say Gay.”

The lawsuit was filed in Tallahassee, Florida, minutes after a Disney World oversight board appointed by DeSantis voted to void a deal that gave the company authority over design and construction decisions in its sprawling properties near Orlando.

"Disney regrets that it has come to this," the case said. “But having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.”

The move escalates the drawn-out feud between DeSantis, who is expected to become a top Republican contender in the 2024 presidential race, and Disney, which is among Florida’s largest employers – having opened the city-scale Walt Disney World in Florida in 1971.

The row began last year, when Disney came out against a Florida bill limiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity, a policy critics call “Don’t Say Gay.” This elevated the profile of DeSantis, with the governor and his allies targeting the special tax district that has allowed Disney to essentially self-govern its Florida operations since the 1960s.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisAP Photo

DeSantis has also vowed additional retribution, with proposals to enhance state oversight of the resort’s rides and monorail, as well as a suggestion to build a prison nearby.

The Florida Senate also passed a bill seeking to put those retributions in place and to undo agreements made by the Reedy Creek board before the state took it over. The House still needs to approve before it can move forward.

Disney has said all agreements made with the previous board were legal and approved in a public forum. Disney CEO Bob Iger has also said that any actions against the company that threaten jobs or expansion at its Florida resort was not only “anti-business” but “anti-Florida.”

The company noted its plans to invest $17 billion in Walt Disney World over the next decade, yielding an estimated 13,000 new jobs on top of its more than 75,000 current “cast members.”

The Disney lawsuit asks a federal judge to void the governor's takeover of the theme park district, as well as the DeSantis oversight board's actions, on the grounds that they were violations of company's free speech rights.

“A targeted campaign of government retaliation - orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech - now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights," the lawsuit said.

A new slate of projects amidst massive layoffs

Disney previously announced that would be laying off several thousand employees this week, a second round of cuts that’s part of a previously announced plan to eliminate 7,000 jobs this year.

Disney CEO Bob Iger had announced in February that these cuts were a part of an ambitious $5.5 billion companywide cost-savings plan and “strategic reorganization.”

The job eliminations are taking place across various business segments, including entertainment, ESPN, parks, experiences and products. The company stated that it anticipates a third round of job cuts starting before the beginning of the summer in order to hit the 7,000 eliminations target, as it will have reached approximately 4,000 job cuts when factoring in both the first and second rounds of layoffs.

Still, amidst these layoffs - which represent about 3% of the entertainment giant’s global workforce – the leadership team of Disney's film arm gathered in Las Vegas on Wednesday (26 April) to tout its successes and upcoming slate of films.

Chris Pizzello / 2023 Invision
Tony Chambers, the head of theatrical distribution for Disney Entertainment, addresses the audience during the Walt Disney Studios presentation at CinemaCon 2023Chris Pizzello / 2023 Invision

The presentation at the CinemaCon convention featured exclusive new footage from films like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and Elemental – both of which are heading to Cannes next month – as well as screened sections of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (released in theatres on 5 May) and The Little Mermaid (released on 26 May).

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In Las Vegas, Tony Chambers, head of theatrical distribution, said Disney has always “delivered a fantastic array of stories for your theatres and our upcoming slate is no exception.”

This year will mark the first time since 2019 that Disney will have theatrical releases for films from all seven of its production studios: 20th Century, Lucasfilm, Marvel, Disney, Pixar, Disney Animation and Searchlight.

Several recent Pixar titles were sent straight to Disney+ during the pandemic, including Soul, Luca, and Turning Red. Disney gave Elemental, a theatrical-first release a meaty showcase, debuting 20 minutes in 3D.

Harrison Ford even showed up in a pre-recorded video message, introducing a chase scene from the upcoming fifth instalment of the Indiana Jones saga.

“Playing Indiana Jones over the years has meant the world to me,” Ford said. “We’re thrilled for everyone to experience out film on the biggest and best screens June 30.”

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Melissa McCarthy, who voices Ursula in The Little Mermaid was in attendance to introduce a clip of her singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”

“Ursula is kind of everything. She’s dishy. She’s a conniving broad,” McCarthy said. “Maybe that’s why I relate.”

Chris Pizzello / 2023 Invision
Melissa McCarthy introduces a clip from the upcoming film The Little Mermaid during the Walt Disney Studios presentation at CinemaCon 2023Chris Pizzello / 2023 Invision

Other upcoming releases include a theme park-ride movie with Justin Simien’s Haunted Mansion (28 July), a Disney Animation musical Wish with Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine, Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting in Venice (15 September), the sci-fi drama The Creator (29 September) starring John David Washington, and Taika Waititi’s comedic football film Next Goal Wins (17 November), based on the story of a Dutch-American coach (played by Michael Fassbender) and his attempts to salvage the American Samoa national team, considered the worst football team in the world. The trailer was released after the presentation - see below. 

There was no mention of Magazine Dreams, with Jonathan Majors, which earlier this year was set for release on 8 December, after its successful Sundance debut. Majors, who is also the new main villain of the Marvel world, Kang, was arrested in March on an assault charge.

Disney has been the top-grossing studio globally every year since 2016. Last year, the company released four of the 10 top-grossing movies in the US. Those four movies - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Avatar: The Way of Water and Thor: Love and Thunder -  accounted for 27% of the domestic box office share. Globally, Avatar: The Way of Water grossed over $2.3 billion to become the third most successful film of all time.

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