While The Walt Disney Company is one of the most powerful entertainment conglomerates in the world, even Disney has changed with the times, as illustrated by one of Disney’s marquee video series, Disney’s As Told By Emoji.
Featuring 16 videos to date, As Told By Emoji reimagines both classic and contemporary Disney films through the language of the contemporary digital age, with all the associated playfulness and humor, from Cinderella and Aladdin through Zootopia, Moana, and even Guardians of the Galaxy. Launched a little over two years ago with a take on Disney’s Frozen—which has amassed over 15 million views to date—the short-form series has been translated into 25 languages, racking up over 150 million views in total across platforms, with 250 million minutes watched.
Disney’s EVP of Publishing and Digital Media—which is itself part of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media—Andrew Sugerman recently oversaw the launch of the Disney Digital Network, “which is really where the Disney brand sits across a multitude of digital platforms, both owned and operated, as well as third-party social platforms.”
From Sugerman’s standpoint, while Disney maintains a classic feeling to its brand, this is the result of constant reinvention within the company over the course of decades. “My team and I are not just thinking about where audiences are or where audiences have been, but where we believe audiences are going, and Disney’s not going to necessarily dictate where audiences go,” he explains. “Audiences are going to evolve, technologies are going to evolve, how [media] is consumed is going to evolve, and I believe that by continually leaning into where audiences are going, we’re in a great position to have storytelling that always will deliver on their demands.The Walt Disney Company has done this time and time again for almost a century now.”
As relayed by Sugerman, Disney’s Told By Emoji is the embodiment of what the Disney Digital Network will strive to accomplish. “We are the storytelling engine for a new generation,” Sugerman says. “We focus on micro-content—short form content, everyday, across all these platforms, where we take, in many cases, stories that are as old as 80 years, converting them into newer, authentic, relevant, bite-size formats that are clearly the way that audiences across these digital platforms are increasingly consuming content.” With a network now reaching more than 1 billion followers, Sugerman and company aim to maintain the relevancy of Disney’s brands, stories and characters, while opening up commercialization opportunities through advertising and licensed content.
In developing As Told By Emoji—with what is, on the surface, a simple concept—there were a number of challenges at hand, the first being how to synthesize feature-length narratives into two-to-three minute segments that could be told through the language of pop culture today. “The second [challenge] was how to deliver that content across the multitude of different digital platforms so that it had residence across Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat,” the EVP says.
To get the Emoji shorts made, Sugerman works with a team of “Digitalogists”—individuals who are native to digital platforms. “They’re not coming from the world of linear or more traditional media. They really think and create in digital first on these digital-first platforms, but they’re also extremely steeped in Disney storytelling,” he explains. “But obviously for this type of series, it’s also critical that we work in close partnership with the actual filmmakers that created the original long-form content.”
When the process began with Frozen, Sugerman did come across some skepticism from these filmmakers. “Honestly, they were skeptical about emojifying their Academy Award-winning film,” Sugerman admits. “We worked in close partnership with them, and by the time we finished this first episode, the filmmakers really loved the execution, and they really got why it was being made and who it was for, and how it was fundamentally different than the long-form experience, much more for audiences that are on mobile platforms.”
The series that resulted is one that has played well with a “general” audience, not limited to any particular age demographic. “Obviously, for a number of the episodes there’s a nostalgia in the original stories, but the playfulness and the use of emojis give it a relevancy and authenticity for audiences that go all the way down into the younger viewers,” he says.
Going forward with the Emoji series, and the Disney Digital Network as a whole, Sugerman looks forward to “continually pushing the creative envelope on how to tell these stories.” The EVP recalls with particular fondness premiering the Nightmare Before Christmas episode at the Hollywood Bowl in a unique live viewing experience. “It was digital short-form being shown for the first time to an audience of tens of thousand,” he explains, “and I think it’s that ability to continually reinvent our storytelling that’s let the series, which is now in its third season, deliver the results that we’ve seen.”
To take a look at the As Told By Emoji series, click here.