It started in the '90s but was undeniable a decade later. Walking through the Disney store, customers would be bombarded with girls' toys and costumes. If you went to a Disney park, you would see them. Them being the countless little girls in their favorite princess' outfit or dress. Maybe it was 95 degrees out but they were going to wear it over their normal clothes. By noon, they were back at the hotel to cool off. Disney was definitely a feminine product platform. They have since fixed that. Marvel and Star Wars were acquisitions to create a boys line without organic R&D.
There is no overstating the princess dominance that Disney has enjoyed since the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989. If you review each subsequent release and combine it with re-releases of classics on video and DVD, there is a princess for every type of girl. Not personality type but looks. Redhead, brunette, alabaster skin brunette, wavy haired, Hispanic, blonde, and when they did the creole frog animated movie they finally added the black princess (with a little booty). There was a princess for every girl to identify with and project herself into not just for fantasy but for consumption.
Disney did not have this for boys. Hercules and Aladdin don't really grab boy consumption like the princesses did with little girls. Disney is not a dumb company, but the princess development was via steady animated films that they rolled out in the '90s. There is also massive competition now for the children's movie market, where other studios have edged in on a guaranteed money maker. Animated films are relatively cheap to make, and have a baseline audience that will make merchandise tie ins and future dvd sales or Amazon/Youtube downloads a great ROI.
Disney fixed this by buying Marvel and then Star Wars. With those purchases, Disney now has their "prince" line, but for boys they can call it "heroes". The Marvel heroes run the spectrum for physical features and personality type, so Disney made an acquisition to hit a new market. Now a walk through the Disney store isn't so feminine focused or old timey cartoon nostalgic. Yes readers, the NAM inserts for the new Star Wars flopped as the figures in Lego Store clearance sections reveal, but it becomes an identification entry point for NAM boys to buy into Star Wars. NAM families now see it as inclusive, so the many non-human items to buy that are Star Wars become palatable.
It does not stop there as Disney acquired in two purchases a plethora of story development. The entire history of Marvel comic stories and Star Wars universe is there to mine. Disney does not have to waste time developing new stories either as the writers for Marvel, who are paid peanuts, are churning out monthly tales and multiple issue story arcs for Disney to select from for future 90-120 minute movies. Disney has the next decade mapped out with blockbusters based on Marvel and Star Wars intellectual properties, and even if they are duds in the theater, Disney is going to make a mint on them on the merchandise back end. Has Disney already earned back its purchase cost for the entire Star Wars property? It's probable.
This all then feeds back into the parks. Besides an expanded Star Wars zone, Disney has Star Wars merchandise to push. Same goes for Marvel. A family that previously only had to deal with their daughter wanting a princess dress throughout the eight hours at the park now hears a son say, "If you bought Kayden a dress, can't I get a Thor hammer?" The Chinese and Vietnamese made plastic toys are where they get you. Leaving a park with cool air sweeping over you in one of the parking lot trams, you will see little girls asleep in their Belle dress. Now thanks to Disney's ingenious strategists, their brothers will be fast asleep holding a lightsaber or Captain America shield.