Netflix ups the ante in race against Disney kids’ programming


Netflix’s announcement on Tuesday that it was rolling out six new original animated projects upped its war with Disney one more notch. 

The two companies have been at odds since 2017, when Disney announced that it would be ending its lucrative licensing deal with Netflix—whereby it lent the streaming company titles like The Incredibles and Guardians of the Galaxy—to start its own streaming service, dubbed DisneyFlix, which will debut next year. Netflix’s response to this move has been to deliver a stream of steady blows to Disney.

First it poached two top show runners from Disney subsidiary ABC: Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) and Kenya Barris (Black-ish). Netflix also nabbed Tendo Nagenda, an up-and-coming creative executive at Disney who oversaw such films as A Wrinkle in Time and Beauty and the Beast. The poaching of Disney (and other studio) execs continues as Netflix builds up its ranks in order to release 80 original films in 2019 and hundreds of original TV series. This year, it reportedly released 700 of its own TV shows. In September, Netflix hired Christie Fleischer, former Disney head of merchandise for parks, experiences, and consumer products, to lead its own consumer products team.

The companies are also competing on streaming projects. One source says that Netflix recently outbid Disney for a family movie by offering a higher budget and a better back-end deal. (Disney did not immediately respond to Fast Company‘s request for comment.)

As Netflix strategizes to compete with Disneyflix, volume is key—a reality that was underscored by Tuesday’s announcement. Here are the new animated Netflix projects, which you’ll notice include several former Pixar creatives:  

  • Kid Cosmic, from The Powerpuff Girls creator Craig McCracken, about a young boy whose dreams of becoming a hero come true when he discovers cosmic stones.
  • Trash Truck, from Max Keane (Dear Basketball), about a 6-year-old boy whose BFF is a truck.
  • Go! Go! Cory Carson!, based on the hit toy line Go! Go! Smart Wheels and created by Kuku Studios. It’s executive-produced by Alex Woo (Wall-E, Ratatouille​), Stanley Moore (F​inding Dory, Monster’s University)​, and Tone Thyne (W​onder Pets!, The Adventures of Napkin Man!​).
  • My Father’s Dragon, a 2-D animated family film based on the Newbery Award-winning children’s novels, will be directed by Nora Twomey (The Secret of Kells) and written by Meg LeFauve (Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur).
  • Maya and the Three, described by creator Jorge Gutierrez (Book of Life) as “a Mexican Lord of the Rings, but hilarious.”
  • The Willoughbys, a feature based on the Newbery Award-winning book by Lois Lowry, about four children who are abandoned by selfish parents and must learn how to adapt their old-fashioned values to the contemporary world in order to create a new and modern family. The film will feature the voices of Ricky Gervais, Maya Rudolph, and Martin Short. 

One major difference between Netflix and Disney is that the streaming company is not “focused on creating a singular brand identity,” according to what Melissa Cobb, who leads the kids and family team at Netflix, told Variety. “We want to produce a broad range of content that appeals to kids and families all over the world.” 

This mantra applies to Netflix’s overall content strategy, which is to make TV shows and movies for every demographic around the world, the idea being that everyone should be able to click into Netflix and find something they want to watch. 

Despite its recent agility in lining up executives and creative talent, Netflix is still playing catch-up. Of the six projects Netflix announced this week, only one is planned to launch in 2019: Go! Go! Cory Carson! Three are set for 2020 (Kid Cosmic, Trash Truck, The Willoughby’s); and two are being readied for 2021 (Maya and the Three, My Father’s Dragon). Netflix must also deal with the fact that Disney has its own killer lineup of streaming projects, including a Star Wars TV series directed by Jon Favreau, and Timmy Failure, an original movie based on the best-selling books about a boy detective.

Netflix ups the ante in race against Disney kids’ programming