In the 1950s, Disney adopted the making-of-documentary format for the television show Disneyland (ABC, 1954–1961). Disneyland featured old cartoons from Disney’s film library, new original content produced for the show, and making-ofs about forthcoming theatrical film releases and theme park attractions. As a “brand management platform” (Gillan 2014) that only had the purpose of advertising Disney products, Disneyland was in many regards a forerunner for Disney+. The subscription-based streaming service also offers access to old and new productions with insights into the inner workings of Disney’s entertainment complex through various behind-the-scenes programs (Pitre 2022).
Consider the first season of the series Prop Culture, which premiered in May 2020. In each of the eight episodes, filmmaker and prop collector Dan Lanigan selects props from one Disney film and explores their production history in conversations with filmmakers, actors, crewmembers, and private collectors. By combining scenes from the films with behind-the-scenes footage from the studios and workshops, Prop Culture follows established narrative and stylistic patterns of making-of genres (Cronin 2019). What is novel, however, is the show’s interest in the afterlives of props and the inclusion of those who take care of them: archivists and restorers.
Prop Culture invites archivists and restorers to participate in processes of self-theorizing that are common for making-of features (Caldwell 2008), as the series does not only show an interest in the craft of filmmaking but also in the work that goes into preserving them. Still, the show provides only superficial insights into archival workflows, primarily showing archivists and restorers skimming through catalogs, walking through corridors, opening boxes, taking out objects, explaining damages, or presenting restored objects at the end of an episode. Instead, archivists and restorers follow the example of cast and crew members in describing their admiration for Disney films and the privilege of being able to work with original props. As such, Prop Culture expands celebratory and nostalgic testimonies of the films’ cast and crew into the realm of the archive.
Nonetheless, the series further sophisticates Disney+ as a brand management platform. By producing programs on the Walt Disney Archives, Disney+ is not only providing original content for streaming that advertises the films on the platforms as much as the films on the platform advertise the show. Prop Culture also advertises other products that engage with Disney’s history and its material culture, including merchandise, coffee-table books, model building sets, and museum exhibitions.
Caldwell, John Thornton. 2008. Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Cronin, Jan. 2019. The Making Of … Adaptation and the Cultural Imaginary. Cham: Palgrave.
Gillan, Jennifer. 2014. Television Brandcasting: The Return of the Content-Promotion Hybrid. New York: Routledge.
Pitre, Jake. 2022. “The Magical Work of Brand Futurity: The Mythmaking of Disney+”. Television & New Media, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/15274764221128923.