To quote the late Queen of Blues, Dinah Washington, “What a Difference a Day Makes.” Just recently all anyone was talking about in the movie industry was whether The Final Destination was in indeed final and if Rob Zombie was done butchering horror films (to answer that last question, NO, he’s trying to tackle The Blob next – and I’m not referring to my first girlfriend from high school). But here we are, just a scant twenty-four hours later and the biggest fish in the marketing sea has just eaten the biggest fish in the comic book sea.
Of course, I’m talking about the news that Walt Disney Co. acquired Marvel Comics, Inc. for the meager sum of $4 billion dollars. It’s a great deal of money, and I don’t care what the nay-sayers out there gripe about, if I owned a prospering business and a mega-company offered to buy me out for an exuberant amount of money, I’d sell too. Heck, I’d go buy a special pen just to sign the papers! Anyone who says otherwise just isn’t being honest with themselves.
Let me start by saying that like most of you, I too thought this was pretty much the end of hardcore Marvel comics, films and cartoons. Disney isn’t exactly synonymous with violence, so at first I can see how this would be a cause for concern. Read this quote from Disney chairman Robert Iger:
“We believe that adding Marvel to Disney’s unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation.”
Wait – that didn’t make you put down the Rolaids yet? Try this one:
“The acquisition of Marvel offers us a similar opportunity to advance our strategy to build a business that is stronger than the sum of its parts.”
Still nothing? Well on the conference call with investors shortly after the announcement, Iger said, “I think there’s a phrase, if it ain’t broke.” This is nothing new to anyone familiar with Disney’s business practices. They did not spend this much money just to ruin what they bought. Saying that just because Disney now owns our favorite comic book superheroes it will water them down and ruin them, is like saying you would go out and buy a Rolls Royce and then paint it to look like an ice cream truck just to sell ice cream to kids. Much like the aforementioned high school girlfriend – that’s just plain crazy; and if anything can be said about Disney, it’s that they are not EVER crazy when it comes to a business decision. Want to know the real reason they bought Marvel? Read this statement:
“We believe that adding Marvel to Disney’s unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation. The acquisition of Marvel offers us a similar opportunity to advance our strategy and to build a business that is stronger than the sum of its parts. [These shows are] right in the wheelhouse for boys.”
Disney has always struggled to find its place in the world when it came to reaching the teen/young teen male audience. It’s no wonder, because shows like Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers and every freakin’ princess movie ever made is geared and marketed towards girls of every age. Disney finally started trying to hit the boy demographic when it started up the TV channel Disney XD, which already shows 20 shows from Marvel’s arsenal, but it was having trouble finding an audience with its current lineup of characters. I don’t think they have that problem anymore. Now, with more than 5,000 characters to choose from, Disney can now move forward with some interesting shows.
Let’s go through a list of possible new ideas Disney could be kicking around:
Besides the obvious fact that we could see many new cartoons on the Disney channel, let’s not forget that Disney purchased ABC a few years back and has had much success with its lineup of shows – or have you forgotten about Lost? This same argument about watered down, kid-friendly, ponies, rainbows and flowers nonsense was floating around back then too. I don’t hear too many people saying that now.
Imagine if you will no more Marvel origin movies in theaters. All of them are now shown on TV running on a regular series and the movies can now focus on just being pure bad ass-ness fun. Does an origin story really need two hours to be told properly or could it just be done in forty-five minute segments over the course of a TV season? Keep the major characters in theaters, Avengers, Thor, Iron Man and such, but now audiences would get the chance to see more of the Marvel Universe and appreciate and enjoy lesser known characters like some many hardcore fans already do. It would also give those lesser characters a chance to build an audience that would potentially follow them to theaters.
Punisher producer Gale Ann Hurd threw out the comment, “It’s more important to control unique and interesting characters.” She’s right on the money when it comes to addressing the unique characters of the Marvel Universe, because most of the bigger heroes have already been (or soon will be) given the big screen treatment and those same characters really can’t go to the small screen successfully. DC Comics and Warner Bros. successfully adapted Superman for TV with Smallville so why shouldn’t Disney do the same thing with the Marvel characters? How cool would it be to see an ABC Superhero show go head to head with NBC’s Heroes? That could now very well be a possibility and in case this article lands on the right Disney/Marvel desk, I think you should start with Excalibur, Alpha Flight or X-Factor.
Here’s where the merger is going to really shine but first we have to quell people’s concerns and fear regarding quality and the “darkness” of Marvel comics suffering now that Disney is in charge. Disney owns Touchstone, Miramax and Pixar now, and whereas Touchstone and Pixar are more known for lighter fare, Miramax has been known to release more R-rated films including Gangs of New York and both Kill Bill films. I honestly don’t think it is an issue.
People are complaining that we will start seeing bloodless comic book films, but have you forgotten so quickly about this summer’s bloodless fest X-Men Origins: Wolverine? There was hacking and slashing all throughout the film and not one drop of blood, digital or practical, was spilled; and that wasn’t produced by Disney, it was done by Fox and it’s a prime example of what happens when the studio gets too involved in the creative process.
Iron Man, however, is a prime example of what Marvel can do when left alone – but the problem is Iron Man was the first film completely funded by Marvel Studios and it took a lot of money to make that happen. That’s money Marvel didn’t recoup until well after the movie was made and released, so any other project they may have wanted to work on was on hold until the funds came back in. Now what if Marvel had access to Disney’s money during the time Iron Man was being made? If Marvel has access to that kind of coin, then we could have more than one or two high quality superhero films released every year.
It’s no surprise that Marvel is very tight-fisted when it comes to their own production quality – but not having the funding to release films; they were forced to make deals with other movie houses. This is why we see Sony with Spider-man, Fox with X-Men, and Paramount with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. This is also why the only truly awesome film so far was Iron Man, because Paramount was the distributor not the producer. When the studios try to get involved, audiences end up with X-Men 3, The Punisher and Fantastic Four.
Disney already knows this and I would bet they are happy to stand back and see how their investment can flourish with proper funding. They did the same thing with Pixar a few years ago and if anything Pixar movies have gotten better and they are being released more frequently. Think that would have happened if Pixar had tried to fund their projects themselves? Not a chance. Also, nothing Disney does is low budget, they pride themselves in doing things over and above how it should be done to keep up appearances. If a movie is going to suck, then it’s going to suck looking good.
I know what you’re thinking: “What about all of the movie studios Marvel already has contracts with? Won’t that affect how those are made and released?” Good question and here’s the answer: Nope. Marvel and Disney have both said they plan on honoring each contract and license until it expires but after that Iger said “in our best interests to be the sole distributor of the content.” In other words, the children are coming back home to live when their lease is up. I think that is a good thing.
Marvel already pays each distribution studio anywhere from $20 to $60 million per picture to distribute it, and with the way some of the Marvel properties have been handled, I would think Disney might consider buying the rights from Paramount, Sony and Fox to get the franchises home faster and begin gaining control of the marketing/distribution of their newly acquired investments. That is, however, just my opinion; there has been no talk of that happening. Paramount Studios said this in a press release earlier today regarding their collaboration with Disney/Marvel:
“Paramount Pictures has enjoyed a productive and fruitful relationship with Marvel Studios from the start of our distribution agreement in 2005. So much so, we announced a five-picture slate distribution deal last year which includes worldwide distribution rights for upcoming films: ‘Iron Man 2,‘ ‘Thor,’ ‘Captain America,’ ‘Avengers,’ and ‘Iron Man 3.’ This distribution deal will be unaffected by today’s transaction. We look forward to continuing to work with Marvel and, with today’s announcement, to working with Disney to replicate the incredible success of ‘Iron Man‘ on all our future collaborative projects.”
Honestly, I don’t see Disney messing with Paramount at all because, frankly, they really did do a kick-ass job with Iron Man. Same goes for Sony and the job they did with the Spider-man franchise but look out Fox, you could be in a world of hurt.
One of the first things readers started asking about was Pixar and what would happen with a partnering of them and Marvel. It’s a natural assumption though because, well, comic books and animation go hand-in-hand. I don’t think we have to concern ourselves with major titles getting the CGI animated treatment. Going back to my earlier reference, if a project does get the green light, then it very well will involve some of the lesser known Marvel characters – but either way, only good things can happen with a Pixar/Marvel partnership.
I know this has been a lot to take in and honestly it’s not over by a long shot. The deal still has to go to an anti-trust review board and then to the shareholders and all of that could take as long as the rest of the year to accomplish. Plus, the contracts with the other studios will not expire for several more years. I’m sure we will be hearing more news trickling here and there as time marches forward, but try not to be dismayed by the whole ordeal. I think this can only be good for all parties involved and that includes the fans.
Besides, now I can finally buy something at the Disney store that isn’t the Beast, the Genie, a prince (unless you count Namor) or a dwarf. The Sub-Mariner is a project that has long dragged its feet; maybe now it can get the funding to move forward – starring Zach Effron of course (*snort* I kid, I kid). After all is said and done I think “Walt joining the Bif Bam Club” (special shout out to Screen Rant writer Mike Wilkerson‘s dad for that line) is a good thing, but only time will tell if I’m correct.
After the initial shock has worn off and you’ve had a chance to think about it, what do you think about the merger/buyout of Marvel by Disney? Are there any ideas you would like to them see capitalize on?