Last year ended with a bang for Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) shareholders. From the return of Bob Iger as CEO and the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, both in November, to the release of Avatar: The Way of Water in December, Disney had a busy few weeks as it closed out 2022.
The year itself wasn't one that investors will reflect on fondly. Disney shares surrendered 44% of their value last year. It's the third-worst performer among the Dow components. Can the blue chip icon get back on track in 2023? It's a new month in a new year. Let's check out some of the dates that could help turn Disney's fortunes around in January.
After back-to-back months of releasing blockbusters to multiplex operators worldwide, Disney is taking January off to reload. It doesn't have a notable theatrical release until Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania hits movie screens in mid-February. This may lead some to believe that the media giant will turn its attention to beefing up its Disney+ catalog -- especially with a 38% price hike for U.S. viewers of its commercials-free platform and the introduction of a discounted ad-supported plan -- but that's not the case.
January is also fairly ho-hum for Disney+ in terms of new original releases. Disney's majority-owned Hulu has a more impressive lineup of first-run content. The most notable fresh content on Disney+ this month actually launched earlier this week. Star Wars: The Bad Batch kicked off its second season on Wednesday. Fresh installments will continue through the next few Wednesdays.
The animated series slides into the Star Wars canon, covering a squad of clones dealing with the aftermath of the Clone War. If Disney+ wants to keep churn in check after last month's price hike, it will need to do more than just send in the clones.
Disney World's Magic Kingdom continues to be the world's most visited theme park. There's a lot going on at the Florida theme park that opened 52 years ago but somehow is still celebrating its 50th anniversary through the end of March.
Increasing capacity is the key to keeping Disney's busiest park minting even more money, and it recently got a boost when it reopened its high-volume Walt Disney World Railroad attraction two weekends ago. That's not all. By the springtime of this year -- and likely before the end of the resort's 18-month celebration of its golden anniversary -- Tron Lightcycle Run will become Florida's shiny new coaster.
It's not all additions at the House of Mouse. Disney will be closing its popular but culturally suspect Splash Mountain flume ride later this month. The ride themed to "Song of the South" will close on Jan. 23, making the previous day the last day for guests looking for one last fling into the watery briar patch. Disneyland's version of the attraction will close later this year.
Once shuttered, the ride will go through a massive refurbishment. It will come back as Tiana's Bayou Adventure in 2024, themed to Disney's animated film The Princess and the Frog. Plenty of theme park enthusiasts have become attached to Splash Mountain over the years, but there's not much of a connection to the source material because Song of the South hasn't been available commercially since the 1980s. The film that blends animation with live action offers dubious stereotypical depictions of African Americans working in Southern plantations during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.
Defenders of Splash Mountain argue that the ride features the animated characters and classic songs of the film that aren't inherently racist, but the source material is offensive enough that Disney itself hasn't let stateside audiences view it for more than 30 years. Turning to The Princess and the Frog will make next year's attraction more marketable as well as give a Disney Princess a new ride that should be a big draw on both coasts.
It's not just Disney World celebrating big milestones. The Walt Disney Company was founded in 1923, and California's original Disneyland resort is where many of the festivities will take place to celebrate the media stock bellwether turning 100. Disney loves round numbers, and it's hard to get any rounder than 100.
Disneyland isn't phoning it in. On Jan. 27, it is opening the Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway ride, a crowd-pleasing attraction starring the Big Cheese himself that was introduced in Florida three years ago. A pair of new nighttime shows will kick off at the resort's two theme parks. It's also reintroducing a parade that had a brief run before Disneyland's pandemic-related shutdown in early 2020. Disney World has garnered much of the media's attention over the past year and some change. It's now Disneyland's moment to shine.
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Rick Munarriz has positions in Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2024 $145 calls on Walt Disney and short January 2024 $155 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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