The Walt Disney Company today has sent out temporary dismissal notices to staff members across the organization, according to reports on both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter and confirmed by a Disney spokesperson. An undetermined number of employees at Disney production units including Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Searchlight, will be furloughed as of April 19; reports noted marketing and distribution departments were hit the hardest, as the studio’s feature film release calendar has been thrown into disarray following mass theatre closings in the US and around the world in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
The move was expected; in an announcement last Thursday, a The Walt Disney Company spokesperson stated:
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on our world with untold suffering and loss, and has required all of us to make sacrifices. Over the last few weeks, mandatory decrees from government officials have shut down a majority of our businesses. Disney employees have received full pay and benefits during this time, and we’ve committed to paying them through April 18, for a total of five additional weeks of compensation. However, with no clear indication of when we can restart our businesses, we’re forced to make the difficult decision to take the next step and furlough employees whose jobs aren’t necessary at this time. The furlough process will begin on April 19, and all impacted workers will remain Disney employees through the duration of the furlough period. They will receive full healthcare benefits, plus the cost of employee and company premiums will be paid by Disney, and those enrolled in Disney Aspire will have continued access to the education program. Additionally, employees with available paid time off can elect to use some or all of it at the start of the furlough period and, once furloughed, they are eligible to receive an extra $600 per week in federal compensation through the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill, as well as state unemployment insurance.
Disney, more than many of its competitors, has been hit especially hard by the pandemic, suffering shutdowns of its cruise ship and theme park businesses in addition to production shutdowns and delays across its film business units. On March 20, the Los Angeles Times reported the company raised $6 billion in debt financing for general corporate purposes. 10 days later, on March 30, the studio broke news that all VPs across the company would have their salaries reduced by 20%, senior VPs by 25%, and EVPs / more senior staff by 30%.
That was followed with the April 2 furlough announcement as well as a news released the next day that Disney was overhauling its feature film calendar as it continued to juggle productions and distribution plans in the face of the pandemic.
Marvel’s Scarlett Johansson spy thriller, Black Widow was moved to November 6, 2020, taking the spot previously held by fellow Marvel adventure, The Eternals, which moved to February 12, 2021. In addition, Marvel’s Shangh-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings shifted to May 7, 2021; Doctor Strange 2, Benedict Cumberbatch, to November 5, 2021; and Thor: Love and Thunder, starring Chris Hemsworth, to February 18, 2022. Black Panther 2 and Captain Marvel 2 will now hit theatres May 6, 2022 and July 8, 2022 respectively.
Mulan, the live-action remake of Disney’s 1998 animated action-adventure, takes over Jungle Cruise’s July 24, 2020 release date; the Disneyland ride-inspired adventure, starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, has been pushed a year to July 20, 2021. Indiana Jones 5, starring Harrison Ford, moves from next summer to July 29, 2022.
The studio also announced that Artemis Fowl, a sci-fi fantasy adventure originally slated to open May 29, instead will be released directly on Disney+. Pixar and Pete Docter’s next outing, Soul, keeps its June 19 release date, though it’s hard to imagine that date will hold firm. Ryan Reynolds and 20th Century’s action-comedy, Free Guy, has been moved to December 11, 2020.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.