Disney Cancels Tron 3--Can The Grid Survive?
It looks like it is the end of line for the Tron franchise for now. A few days ago, Disney announced that it will not launch the production of Tron 3. From what I've read, two excuses have been given for this decision:
1. The failure of Tomorrowland to become a box office hit during Memorial Day weekend has prompted Disney to back away from "riskier live-action science fiction offerings". (On the other hand, if this summer's video game-themed Pixels movie becomes a smash hit, would that prompt Disney to put Tron 3 back into development?)
2. Disney pulled Tron 3 because of its over-crowded movie release schedule, which is currently filled with Pixar movies, Marvel movies, Star Wars movies, and live-action remakes of its own animated movies such as The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast.
While I hate to see Disney putting Tron on hold, I've watched how Disney has handled the Tron franchise over the years (from the first film all the way through to the animated Tron: Uprising series) and I've gotten the impression that the most of the executives who have passed through Disney have never been supportive of Tron and the kind of strange, surreal cyber-fantasy that it depicts. Click below to read a list I put together of Disney's questionable--if not baffling--decisions regarding Tron and what it could mean for the franchise's future.
1982: The original movie performed poorly at the box office, but its arcade game tie-in by Bally Midway was a hit. It was followed by the Discs of Tron coin-op and a handful of Tron games for the Intellivision and Atari 2600 consoles. Disney could have used Tron as a means of expanding its business into video gaming (much like how LucasArts used the Star Wars license), but it didn't.
2003: Tron 2.0 and its spin-off Killer App were video games developed by Monolith Productions and published by Buena Vista Interactive in 2003. The games received good reviews, but they didn't sell well. On the other hand, Kingdom Hearts, a series of Disney-based fantasy games that were developed by Square Enix, fared much better in sales and used the Tron series as supporting content. This would begin the trend of Tron characters, costumes, environments and vehicles appearing in other Disney video games (e.g., Epic Mickey, Disney Universe) but not getting a game of their own.
2010: As a way to hype the Tron: Legacy movie sequel, a batch of multi-platform Tron: Evolution games were released to bridge the narrative gap between the events between the first film and its sequel. Each game covered key events between the two movies but they were released for different consoles; thus, to get the entire story, gamers would have to own at least one gaming console, one PC and one hand-held gaming device. Considering Disney's lackluster support of the franchise in the years leading up to the release on Legacy, suddenly dumping a load of games onto the market at once seemed like a very expensive and misguided marketing campaign to revive interest in the Tron franchise.
2012: Tron: Uprising arrived on Disney XD but was quickly rescheduled from the channel's prime time lineup to an early, early morning time slot (4 a.m., if I remember correctly). After it was cancelled, Uprising appeared briefly on Netflix until it was taken down in May 2014. No plans have been made yet for a DVD or Blu-ray release of the series.
2013: The first installations of Disney Infinity were released for PC and the major game consoles. Even though Tron would be an ideal addition to the Infinity system, Tron characters wouldn't become part of the system until the Infinity 3.0 line that's being released this year. In contrast, characters and a play set based on Disney's unsuccessful Lone Ranger movie were part of Infinity's initial launch.
It should also be mentioned that Disney has never fared well in the area of science fiction: The Black Hole, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet and John Carter either did middling business or completely bombed. With such a dubious track record, I can see why Disney would be happy to let Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel handle the sci-fi stuff. (Speaking of which, Disney XD will soon be airing episodes of Doctor Who, thus another example of a sci-fi title that Disney didn't create but is willing to make money from it.)
Nevertheless, it's a shame that Disney is putting one of its own franchises on hold simply because it can't figure out what to do with it or draw more people into the Tron fan base that already exists. The Tron cyber-verse has plenty of potential and I'm sure that there are many authors, directors, comic book artists and video game developers who would love to play around in it. Even though Tron 3 may never happen, I hope that somebody at Disney will see that value in this cyberpunk fantasy and find a way for it to keep going in some other medium.