Disney+ has already made its first cancellation, before the streaming service has even debuted. An adaptation of the Disney Villains book series by Serena Valentino called Book of Enchantment had been in the works for nearly a year, but 13 weeks into the writers room, Disney+ has decided to scrap the series altogether.
Deadline reports that Book of Enchantment was cancelled over concerns about the show’s tone and creative direction. Valentino’s books focus on various iconic Disney villains, like Beast and Urusula and Maleficent, so this is prime real estate that Book of Enchantment was dealing with. But the adaptation faced problems when the scripts went in a darker direction than executives expected. An effort was made to shift the direction mid-stream as the writers attempted to bring some levity back into the series, with producer Jason Reed brought on to help out. But when the latest script came in this week, the executives still felt it was too dark and shut the series down.
The show hadn’t yet been greenlit, but production was being eyed to begin in May 2020 in the UK. This isn’t the first Disney+ series to run into issues of tone. A High Fidelity adaptation starring Zoe Kravitz was moved to Hulu went it became clear it’d be too “adult” for Disney+, and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series changed showrunners earlier this year when the original showrunner attempted to tackle more adult themes.
Disney is facing a concern over branding with the launch of Disney+. While the feature film side has strict guidelines (no smoking, no R-ratings, etc.), the idea behind a streaming service is to offer a high volume of diverse content. As Disney+ readies to launch said content, it appears they’re trying to maintain their family friendly brand while also diversifying the tone of their shows.
It feels like Disney+ is destined to be something along the lines of PG-11, while Hulu will be the destination for more adult-oriented content. It’s a bummer that something like Book of Enchantment wasn’t allowed to embrace the darker themes of the Disney Villains lineup, but one can also understand how Disney would be protective of these characters. Especially at a time when so many of these characters are being reimagined on the big screen in live-action remakes, which means Disney will still need to move merchandise related to Beast, Urusula, etc. in the years to come. If a Disney+ series about these characters paints them as really troubled villains, that could knee-cap the merch ceiling on certain properties.
Indeed, when looking at Disney content it’s always necessary to consider the whole picture. Few if any Disney properties are created without also thinking about ramifications for merchandising, theme parks, etc. Such is the Disney way, and likely a factor that led to Book of Enchantment‘s demise.