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Filipinos take Disney fan engagement to the next level

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 15, 2023 5:00 am

When Disney released The Little Mermaid here, it caused an online sensation. A TikTok campaign featuring young lifestyle and content creators doing versions of Part of Your World—with flocks of Filipinos in mermaid costumes singing along to the screen and in their cars— gathered 10 million impressions in just six days, with over 167,000 engagements on social media.

It was so popular, Disney released a special sing-along version of The Little Mermaid in select local cinemas later that year—creating even more shared musical experiences.

Coinciding with the release of The Little Mermaid, A TikTok campaign of fans, little princesses and music lovers singing Part of Your World went viral.

And when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, a Star Wars x Globe YouTube campaign rallied the country’s top 25 influencers with fans to do an a cappella video of “The Imperial March” from Star Wars, racking up over 3 million views to date. (It’s epic, check it out here).

It’s no surprise that Disney’s 100-year history has been hugely felt in Southeast Asia, with fan events, musicals and custom-made Disney merchandise hitting big in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Yet the Philippines is somehow… next level. Just ask Vineet Puri, VP and GM for The Walt Disney Company Southeast Asia.

“Filipino consumers are among the most passionate Disney fans in Southeast Asia,” says Puri via email. “Our brand study (conducted in late 2021) revealed that consumers in the Philippines are the most knowledgeable about our brands, with close to 100 percent reporting that they know a lot about Disney, Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar—the highest percentage of all SEA markets.”

Filipino Star Wars fans made an a cappella version of “The Imperial March” for The Force Awakens release that had 1.63 million hits on YouTube.

And when it comes to music? “Consumers in the Philippines are among the most supportive fans when it comes to their local musical talents,” says Puri, citing Lea Salonga’s Princess Jasmine in the classic Aladdin to uplifting local remakes of Disney soundtracks like Janella Salvador for How Far I'll Go (Moana), Morissette and Darren Espanto for A Whole New World (Aladdin) and KZ Tandingan for Gabay (Raya and the Last Dragon), which had millions of views on YouTube.

SM Mall featuring a “Princess Engagement” event

Disney understands that content thrives when it has local context, so “we are continuously identifying new forms of collaborations with local musical artists so we can connect with our Filipino fans and, at the same time, showcase local talents and cultures to new audiences in the region and beyond.”

We are always looking for new and innovative ways to engage with our audiences, and will keep exploring new ideas to surprise, delight and connect with our Filipino fans through music.

For example, they launched an original soundtrack to coincide with last year’s Disney+ launch in Manila, also featuring Morissette. “For the very first time in SEA, we worked with Morissette for a Disney+ original song, Imagine More.” Performed live at the big event, dubbed “A Night of Wonder,” local artists including Janella Salvador, Christian Bautista, SB19 and Zack Tabudlo added their own renditions of popular Disney songs.

Imagine More, performed by Filipino singer Morissette for the Disney+ launch event in Manila, spawned a soundtrack with other Pinoy singers doing covers of Disney favorites.

That spawned an online sing-along challenge on TikTok, inviting Filipino fans to add their own covers of Imagine More on social media. In this way, Puri says, “We created a successful platform for Disney fans in the region (and beyond) to discover these talented local singers.”

More local content came with the “From Our Family To Yours” animated shorts—part of a global campaign aimed at supporting Disney’s long-term charity partner, Make-A-Wish. This trilogy tells a heartwarming story of how a Filipino family passes down festive traditions. (First episode “Lola” featured an apo making parol with her grandmother.)

And in 2021, in partnership with Globe Telecom, Disney launched Simulan, the Filipino version of the official anthem of Disney’s Ultimate Princess Celebration. “Through this, we spotlighted local singer Maris Racal as part of a global campaign and leveraged her voice to inspire and empower young Filipino women,” says Puri.

Filipino talent Raki Vega is part of the reason Hong Kong Disneyland packs them in to live shows.

Over at Hong Kong Disneyland, it’s no secret that Filipino talent is abundant, like Raki Vega, a key performer at its daytime show Follow Your Dreams and leading vocal at “Mickey and the Wondrous Book”; and Ceejay Javier, the park’s music director behind shows like Follow Your Dreams, Let’s Get Wicked, nighttime spectacular Momentous and the annual Christmas music show Disney Live!

“We are heartened to see Filipino fans’ continued passion for Disney films, and the strong performance of The Little Mermaid earlier this year,” where the Philippines emerged as the highest grossing market in SEA—joining past musical titles Frozen, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin as the top three titles of the Philippines’ top 15 highest global box office releases of all time. More musical titles—from Disney’s Wish in November to the live-action remake of Snow White, Mufasa: The Lion King—are coming in 2024.

And because K-pop is so huge here, Disney+ added new musical content like NCT127: The Lost Boys, BTS: Permission to Dance On Stage - LA, and coming up there’s BTS Monuments: Beyond The Star and Soundtrack #2. 

“We are always looking for new and innovative ways to engage with our audiences, and will keep exploring new ideas to surprise, delight and connect with our Filipino fans through music.”

As Disney celebrates its 100th birthday on Oct. 16, music is clearly part of the secret sauce that keeps Filipinos fans hooked.