Disney No Longer Industry Leaders? Surprising Rivals Could Topple Animation Giants

in Disney, Movies & TV

Team Avatar, Avatar the Last Airbender sepia banner

Credit: Paramount

Perhaps Disney should be afraid.

Mickey Mouse holding a camera in anger from 'Mickey Mouse' season 1 episode 8, Panda-Monium
Credit: Disney Television Animation

Related: James Cameron Accused of Copying Beloved Franchise After Plot of ‘Avatar 3’ Revealed

There’s new competition on The Walt Disney Company’s horizon, and it probably should not be underestimated.

The Walt Disney Company began from humble beginnings, until its first animated feature film, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs released in 1937 — which changed the animation game forever. Walt Disney Pictures gave the animation industry (and the world) ground-breaking animation for its time, which in turn gave Walt Disney’s company its association with fantastic storytelling and quality. And the company has generally been loved by the public, considering Disney’s dedicated commitment to quality throughout the years.

Recently, the story has been a bit different, however.

Buzz Lightyear
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

It’s no surprise that Disney (and its acquired subsidiaries) has come under fire recently for putting out lackluster,”lazy” projects, as well as being under intense scrutiny due to its internal management shakeups. It’s common knowledge by now that Bob Iger’s return to The Walt Disney Company was so lauded because his predecessor (and simultaneously, successor) Bob Chapek was so universally disliked.

It must be admitted that Disney has always had a tight grip on our childhoods and nostalgia, however. And their obsession with gripping ever tighter could cost them.

The Lion King
Credit: Disney

Related: Netflix Cancels Another Beloved Original Show, Good News For Disney+

Who threatens Walt Disney Animation?

With competitors like DreamWorks Animation genuinely threatening Disney’s crown with recent forays into the fairytale and adventure animation genre with stellar outings like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022), Disney has seemingly doubled down on rebooting old animated franchises and nostalgic properties into (usually not-as-good) live-action films that rehash the original classics. Question: did the world actually need a Lilo and Stitch (2001) live-action remake?

Additionally, Disney has also come under fire from the public for their “trainwreck” working practices, while complaints of industry artists and creatives working on VFX for Disney and their myriad of properties (though mainly, Marvel Studios) sends a message loud and clear: Disney is losing its grip on the animation industry.

The Clade family explore a strange new land in 'Strange World' (2022). Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Although sleeper streaming hits like the recent Strange World (2022) have been well-received by critics and fans alike, it’s no doubt that Disney are seriously bungling their promotion and marketing to truly turn their genuinely original animations into real successes. Instead, their budget is diverted to properties that simply make the “most money” — while creativity and storytelling takes a backseat. But now, this black horse of animation might seriously sneak up on the ever-more-corporate industry giant — and it might happen in just a couple of years.

What is Avatar Studios, and what will their new movie be about?

Legend of Korra All the Avatars with Aang in the middle, Kyoshi (left) and Roku (right)
Credit: Nickelodeon

It’s no secret that Nickelodeon, owned by parent company Paramount, originated the massively popular franchise, Avatar: The Last Airbender (no, not the blue alien James Cameron one) — with the series so popular it has become one of the main mascots of Nickelodeon, along with SpongeBob SquarePants. The franchise began with Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who created Avatar: The Last Airbender (also known as The Legend of Aang in some regions) while at Nickelodeon Animation. The series’ initial run from 2005 to 2008 exploded in popularity, garnering serious critical acclaim, steadily and organically growing its base of kid and adult fans alike.

The beloved franchise even gained a “second wind” during the COVID-19 pandemic when the series came to Netflix, where it began gaining a whole new audience of adults re-watching the show or even just watching it for the first time, and surprisingly topping the streaming charts decades after release. It was likely then that Paramount recognized its potential — giving the old series creators control over their own production company, Avatar Studios.

The launch of Avatar Studios means that the fantastic universe of Avatar: The Last Airbender will expand into new series, short-form content, spin offs, and theatrical films on #ParamountPlus.

What makes Avatar Studios and Avatar: The Last Airbender so special?

Well, it’s frankly because details are slowly getting leaked about the studio’s first movie, and they sound very promising.

Avatar: The Last Airbender followed the story of war — and a group of kids living in a world where “Benders” with the ability to manipulate the four elements of Water, Earth, Fire, and Air to their will, walked among the population. The show featured kids growing up during war-time between the elemental Four Nations, depicting a grand arc where they ultimately changed the course of the war — after young Waterbender Katara (Mae Whitman), and non-Bender brother Sokka (Jack DeSena) discovered the Last Airbender, Avatar Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen), frozen in ice after a hundred years, left behind after a genocide of the Air Nomads. Aang turned out to be the Avatar, a being who could Bend all Four Elements, prophesied to bring an end to the Fire Nation’s terrible conquest — but the catch being he was an untrained twelve-year-old.

Looking determined, Avatar Aang (center) with Katara (left) and Sokka (right) with Toph and Hakoda in the background
Credit: Nickelodeon

Now, the latest film is set to follow their story as young adults — as leaked by the known source, Avatar News. It will feature the “Gaang” in the aftermath of the war, and follow Aang, Katara and Sokka, as well as Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation (Dante Basco) — now Fire Lord Zuko — and presumably, Kyoshi Warrior Suki (Jenna Kwan), and blind Earth Bender Toph (Jessie Flower). The young adult Team Avatar will have to grapple with what remains after Fire-Lord Ozai (Mark Hamill) and Princess Azula’s (Grey DeLisle) defeat at their own hands.

There are several promising items to take note of for this first Avatar Studios film — first, the title Hidden Kingdom, second, the attachment of award-winning writer and playwright Kenneth Lin (Netflix’s House of Cards), and third, Disney’s very own Marvel Studios hire — animation team Flying Bark, who worked on recent Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (2023). Additionally, Avatar Studios is using a “2D-CG hybrid” not unlike that of Sony’s Oscar-winning Spiderverse franchise:

Avatar Studios’ 1st movie
– Rumored title: “Hidden Kingdom”
– Release date: 10.10.2025 in theaters
– Director: Lauren Montgomery (Voltron)
– Writer: Kenneth Lin (House of Cards)
– Animation studio: Flying Bark (TMNT movie)
– Animation style: 2D-CG hybrid – Story: Gaang as adults

With this film the horizon, the hype is slowly becoming real — as the 2025 release date indicates that the much-anticipated film is coming sooner than expected. Imagine a world where kids are begging for a Paramount+ subscription.

Do you think Disney is slowly losing its grip? Could Avatar Studios be a threat? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

in Disney, Movies & TV

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