Controllers and the Magic Kingdom

Corporate Partnership, Synergy and the Limits of Cross-Promotion in Disney and Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts III (2019)


  • Rayna Denison University of Bristol


Kingdom Hearts, Synergy, Cross-promotion, Disney, Square Enix


Who controls the Kingdom Hearts franchise? This article examines this question using a mixed industrial and promotional approach to seek moments of revelation about the creation and status of the Kingdom Hearts franchise for both of its conglomerate co-creators, Disney and Square Enix. Disney’s conglomerated industrial practice has long been assessed for adherence to the concept of synergy. By examining where and how synergy was adopted as an industrial logic within the creation of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, and Kingdom Hearts III in particular, I argue that it is in moments of tension, that we can find the most instructive evidence for who controls the games we play. Following work by Janet Wasko (2001) and Barbara Klinger (1999) in particular, I first look across the shared discursive history of the franchise and then at the promotion of Kingdom Hearts III for instances where synergy breaks down or becomes contested. These, I contend, demonstrate the limits of the logical of synergy in cross-cultural, transindustrial production cultures.


Ahmed, S. (2018). Kingdom Hearts 3 hands-on. Telegraph. 18 May. Retrieved from

Alexander, J. (2016). Disney is ending its Infinity video game line, shutting down Avalance Software. Polygon. 10 May. Retrieved from

Anon. (2015). New Disney segment to combine consumer products and interactive divisions. The Walt Disney Company

Retrieved from

Anon. (2019). [Discussion] Possible reference to KH3 in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (very minor spoiler). Reddit. Retrieved from

Birdsall, H.L. (2019). The happiest play on Earth: theme park franchising in Disneyland video games.’ In J. Fleury, B.H.

Hartzheim and S. Mamber (Eds.) The Franchise Era: Managing Media in the Digital Economy (pp.77-104). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Brookey, R.A. (2010) Hollywood Gamers: Digital Convergence in the Film and Video Game Industries. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Budd, M and Kirsch, M.H. (eds.). (2005). Rethinking Disney: Private Control, Public Dimensions, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press

Buhlman, J. (2018). Kingdom Hearts III Opens the Door to the World of Monsters, Inc. D23. 11 February. Retrieved from

Cecily. (2019). Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania – Main Nomura Interview Translated. Kingdom Hearts Ultimania. 12 March

Retrieved from

Chayer, D. (2018). Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Eidos-Montréal for Square Enix

Clements, R. and Musker, J. (2007). Hercules. The Walt Disney Company

Consalvo, M. (2016). Atari to Zelda: Japan’s Videogames in Global Contexts. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

Docter, P. (2001). Monster’s Inc. Pixar

Eisner, M. (2001). Letter to shareholders. The Walt Disney Company: Annual Report 2001 (p. 2). Retrieved from

Fujii, D. (2005). The birth of “Final Fantasy”: Square Corporation. Okayama University Economic Association Journal 37(1), 63-88

Fujinaga, K. (2018). The Quiet Man. Human Head Studios for Square Enix

Futter, M. (2018). “Kingdom Hearts” director Tetsuya Nomura worked hard to bring you those Pixar levels. Variety. 13 June. Retrieved from

Grainge, P. (2008). Brand Hollywood: Selling Entertainment in a Global Media Age. London: Routledge

Gray, J. (2010). Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts. New York: New York University Press

Hein, K. (2006). Positioning: Disney sets rules for Kingdom Hearts II. Brandweek. 27 February, n.p

Hoggins, T. (2018) Kingdom Hearts 3: Tetsuya Nomura on working with Disney and catering to fans both old and new. Telegraph. 22 June. Retrieved from

Howard, B and Greeno, N. (2010) Tangled. The Walt Disney Company

Iger, R.A. (2006). Letter to shareholders. The Walt Disney Company: 2006 Annual Report. Retrieved from:

Iger, R.A. (2007) The Walt Disney Company: Annual Report 2007. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H. (2004) The cultural logic of media convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies 7(1), 33-43

JKMedia. (2012). Disney Interactive and Square Co., Ltd. join forces. Gamezone. Retrieved from

Khan, I. (2019). Kingdom Hearts III has shipped five million copies. Gameinformer. Retrieved from

Kingdom Hearts Ultimania. (2005). Kingdom Hearts Ultimania Interviews Kingdom Hearts II: Nomura Press Conference (OPM). Kingdom Hearts Ultimania. Retrieved from

Kline, S., Dyer-Witherford, N. and de Peuter, G. (2003). Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture and Marketing. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Klinger, B. (1997). Film history terminable and interminable: recovering the past in reception studies. Screen 38(2), 107-128.

Lasseter, J. (1996) Toy Story. Pixar.

Lee, J. and Buck, C. (2013) Frozen. The Walt Disney Company.

Lewis, D. (2007). Tokyopop top ten. Variety. 25 October. Retrieved from

Matsuda, Y. (2013). Square Enix: Annual Report 2013. Retrieved from

Matsuda, Y. (2016). Square Enix: Annual Report 2016. Retrieved from

May, C. (2019). How Square Enix convinced Disney to make Kingdom Hearts. Anime News Network. 23 June. Retrieved from

Meehan, E. (1999). “Holy commodity fetish, Batman!”: the political economy of a commercial intertext. In R.E. Pearson and W. Uricchio (Eds.), The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and his Media (pp.47-65). London and New York: BFI Publishing.

Moore, R. (2013). Wreck It Ralph. The Walt Disney Company.

Moore, R. and Johnston, P. (2018). Ralph Breaks the Internet. The Walt Disney Company.

Murray, S. (2005). Brand loyalties: rethinking content within global corporate media. Media, Culture & Society, 27(3), 415-435.

Nomura, T. (2019) Kingdom Hearts III. Square Enix and The Walt Disney Company.

Pallant, C. (2013). Demystifying Disney: A History of Disney Feature Animation. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Pereira, C. (2019) E3 2019: what does it stand for anyway? Gamespot. 5 June. Retrieved from

Playstation Magazine. (2005). Nomura: The Heart of the Game. Playstation Magazine.

Rønning, J and Sandberg, E. (2017). Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The Walt Disney Company.

Roost, F. (2005) Synergy city: how Times Square and Celebration are integrated into Disney’s marketing cycle. In M. Budd and M.H. Kirsch (Eds.), Rethinking Disney: Private Control, Public Dimensions (pp.261-298). Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Staiger, J. (2000) Perverse Spectators: The Practice of Film Reception. New York: New York University Press.

Steinberg, M. (2012). Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Games in Japan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Therrien, C. and Picard, M. (2015) Enter the bit wars: a study of video game marketing and platform crafting in the wake of the TurboGrafx-16 launch. New Media and Society 18(10), 2323-2339.

Verbinski, G. (2003). Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The Walt Disney Company.

Wada, Y. (2006). Square Enix: Annual Report 2006. Retrieved from

Wasko, J. (2001). Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy. Cambridge: Polity.

Wasko, J. and MacDonald, P. (eds.). (2007). The Contemporary Hollywood Film Industry. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.

Yamashita, K. (2002). Haley Joel Osment leads all-star voice cast for Square and Disney’s “Kingdom Hearts.” Square, Co. Ltd. Press Release. Retrieved from