...But amidst the familiar, one movie did stand out: Ross mentioned a teen comedy, "Prom," which, though it had been in development, wasn't thought to be much of a priority.
"Honest and authentic," is how Ross described the story of a group of high-schoolers just before the big dance, saying that the film would hark back to the vintage films of Cameron Crowe and John Hughes. Joe Nussbaum, who has some "American Pie" video experience under his belt and also is emerging as a go-to filmmaker for movies about growing up, is directing.
Citing Hughes and Crowe in reference to any modern movie carries an air of grandiosity, but it's also noble. That era evokes thoughts of movies that were funny, well-made, culturally relevant and made a nice chunk of change to boot.
But can Disney make a movie like that work? Producing a poignant but still commercial film about high school is a difficult trick for any studio to pull off these days. Most contemporary teenagers see movies about people who are a little older, and even then their preferences lie in the realm of fantasy, a la "Twilight," or melodrama, a la "Dear John," (or Disney's own attempt at same with the recent Miley Cyurs romance "Last Song"). When these movies do go for any dramatic-comedy realism, it's usually with a healthy dose of raunch, kind of in the Judd Apatow mold. ("American Pie" took care of that back in the late '90's.)
Of course, the fact that no one's doing quite these kinds of films is probably why Ross thinks he can; when there's a hole in the market, someone is always quick to jump into it. But this is an especially difficult task for Disney, which has specialized in capturing a grade-school and, at best, a tween audience in recent years. As one questioner noted Thursday, there's the raunch issue. Disney isn't exactly prepared to go all Apatow on its audience. (Ross was quick to point out that there will be little that's racy in "Prom.") But in eliding the more risque elements, Disney could risk a different problem -- namely, seeming out of touch with the more frankly sexual way that high-schoolers live today.
Ross isn't new to all this, of course. He has made numerous attempts to capture the teenage when, in his previous guise, he shepherded development on a number of Disney Channel shows, some of which at least were able to depict the high-school experience without resorting to cheap sentiment or easy genre metaphor. It's unlikely that Disney will be creating the new Ferris Bueller, but we just might settle for an elevated Lizzie McGuire.